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Hammer and Phinney: Chasing gold among friends

Taylor Phinney en route to his pursuit crown in 2009. Photo: Casey B. Gibson (file)

American Taylor Phinney will be racing against a few of his friends on Thursday. It should be a good-natured match, which just happens to have a world title on the line. Similarly, countrywoman Sarah Hammer said she’s happy to be injury-free again, and is looking forward to racing on Wednesday against some of the young women she regularly trains with at the World Cycling Center in Switzerland.

As an 18-year-old, Phinney won the 2009 individual pursuit world championship in Poland with a time of 4:17.631 over the 4km distance.

Hammer won the 2006 and 2007 world titles in the women’s individual pursuit, which covers 3km.

Defending the title

Phinney said his form is coming around just in time.

“I’ve put a lot of focus and effort into the pursuit, trained more specifically and at a higher volume than last year, and it is nice during these training sessions leading up to the big day to see it paying off in very fast lap times,” Phinney said. “I’m excited to be here, excited to be defending my crown, and also excited to see what I can pull off in the omnium.”

The Copenhagen track was recently sanded, and riders reported that it feels fast.

“The temperature inside the velodrome is higher than last year, and temperature has a big effect on speeds — higher being better due to there being less friction,” Phinney said. “If everything goes as I expect it to, we should see some blazing fast times!”

Phinney’s competitors include Australia’s Jack Bobridge, the world record holder in the “standard position” (read: non-Superman a la Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman) with a time of 4:14.4. (Boardman holds the record of 4:11.114 with the Superman position.) Another Australian, Rohan Dennis, has ridden a 4:15. Phinney also points to his road teammate Jesse Sergent of New Zealand as a rider capable of posting a 4:16.

“The cool thing about this line-up for me is that we are all really good friends; Jesse is my teammate on Trek-Livestrong, and I’ve raced in Europe with Jack and Rohan and had some great times hanging out with the both of them,” Phinney said. “For me to be racing with and against good friends just makes it even better. Yeah, of course I want to win, we all want to beat each other, but at the end of the day we can all go celebrate each other’s successes together.”

Bobridge was second to Phinney last year.

Three-time individual pursuit world champion Bradley Wiggins is now focusing his efforts on the road with Team Sky. Wiggins last raced track worlds in 2008, when he won the individual pursuit and, with Team Britain, won the team pursuit in world record time of 3:53:314.

Sarah Hammer would like to relive this rainbow moment from 2007. Photo: Casey B. Gibson (file)

Dropping the Hammer

Sarah Hammer, the world champ in 2006 and 2007, suffered a discouraging back injury in the lead-in to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where she placed fifth in the pursuit and then broke her collarbone in a crash in the points race. This year, however, Hammer said her health and training have been “fantastic.”

Hammer’s husband, Andy Sparks, works as the head track coach at the World Cycling Center in Switzerland, which has made for an ideal situation for training and logistics.

“My trip to worlds this year was much more enjoyable than in years past due to not experiencing jetlag,” Hammer said.

“My training has been going fantastic and my training group at the UCI World Cycling Center has been a great fit and one I have always dreamed of; and of course Switzerland is amazing,” Hammer said. “I have several young riders I train with, two of which will be competing here (Sofia Arreola from Mexico and Ahreum Na of Korea) and it provides an inspirational and motivating training environment. For me, a dream come true, and this will certainly give me a great platform for success from now until the London Games in 2012.”

At the Olympic Games in 2005, Kiwi Sarah Ulmer set the women’s individual pursuit world record of 3:24.537. Last year, New Zealand’s Alison Shanks won the world championships with a time of 3:29.720. Hammer holds the U.S. record of 3:30.2.

For this year, Hammer declined to pin herself down on a targeted time.

“Sorry, no predictions, but I have certainly been very happy with my training numbers, now I just need to focus on executing on race day and riding the best ride I can on the day,” she said. “But I am hopeful and confident. After my back injury in the run-up to the Olympics I am now much more focused on enjoying the process, and the love of riding and competing, than in years past. I am happy to be back riding injury-free and riding my bike for a living. Life is very good right now!”

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