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Going back to the drawing board won’t be an option for Team Australia at the end of the world track cycling championships this week.
With the Beijing Olympics just around the corner, the Australians — and fellow track giants Britain and France – know it’s now time to set down markers or forget dreaming about gold medal success in China this August.
Australia set a blistering pace on the Athens Olympic velodrome in 2004, but for the past two years the Aussies have been playing catch-up to the new track pacesetters Britain.
The Brits’ domination of last year’s world championships bodes well for this week, and before a pedal has been turned in anger on the speedy Manchester velodrome it seems to be the team to beat in Beijing.
Bradley Wiggins, who won two world titles in individual and team pursuit in Mallorca, told British cycling’s website: “We haven’t been in a position like this for a long time or been this confident going into a major Championship.”
Certainly, the Brits have got a lot to live up to.
Last year the combined exploits of Victoria Pendleton, Chris Hoy, Wiggins and his fellow team pursuiters helped hoist Britain top of the medals table with seven gold and 11 in total.
Australia’s double Olympic champion Ryan Bayley meanwhile failed to qualify for the finals of the sprint and keirin, and the once-feared Australian pursuit team, albeit in experimental formation, failed to qualify for the medals rounds for the first time since 2001.
It is perhaps a sign of Australia’s intentions that three of the country’s Olympic gold winning pursuiters from Athens – Brad McGee, Luke Roberts, and Graeme Brown – are all in the squad for Manchester.
As well as fighting for places, the Australian ‘Cyclones’ will have to make amends for last year when only Anna Meares and Katherine Bates’ gold-winning exploits on the final day avoided embarrassment and hoisted the team up to second on the medals table, with two golds and six podium appearances in total.
Meares has vowed to be big in Beijing, but will unfortunately miss the world’s as she continues to recover from a nasty crash at the Los Angeles World Cup which left her with severe back, neck and arm injuries.
In a recent diary posted by the 23-year-old Olympic 500m time trial champion, the dangerous side of track racing came painfully to the fore.
“These past few weeks … have again seen a lot of firsts,” she said. “My first roller session, first track session, first sneeze or cough or cold shiver without pain, first sleep without waking up from moving, first trip to the hairdresser, first time driving my car and many more.”
The Netherlands last year finished third, thanks mainly to the gold of flying Dutchman Theo Bos – who could pip both Britain and Australia’s men in the Manchester speed events of the keirin and sprint.
But a few eyes will also be on Bayley.
The Perth sprinter starred at the 2004 Olympics with a double gold haul from the sprint and keirin as Australia dominated with five gold, two silver and two bronze.
After last year’s below par performances, the word is that Bayley is on form and ready to put in a big performance.
Two of the other highlights in Manchester will be the battle for team pursuit supremacy, and the honors in the men’s team sprint – in which France is the currently world champion.
Australia hold the world team pursuit record, setting a time of 3:56.610 at the Athens Olympics. That’s a time the British edged closer to last year at the world’s in Mallorca.
Wiggins said he is going “as fast, if not a bit faster” in the individual pursuit. And he believes the British team has the speed to set a new world mark on home turf.
“The boys are going just as fast as I have ever seen them go,” said Wiggins, part of the quartet who set a new British record of 3:57.468 last year. “I think we’ll be faster than we were at the world’s last year. If ever there is an occasion to do it, it’s here because of how fast the track runs, the conditions, the way everyone is going.”
Schedule March 26-30:
- Men Individual Pursuit
- Men Scratch Race
- Men Team Sprint
- Women 500m Time Trial
- Men Team Pursuit
- Women Individual Pursuit
- Women Team Sprint
- Men Sprint Rounds & Quarter Final
- Men Points Race
- Men Sprint Semi-final & Final
- Women Team Pursuit
- Women Sprint Rounds & Quarter Final
- Men Madison
- Men Keirin
- Women Points Race
- Women Sprint Semi-final & Final
- Men Omnium
- Men 1 Kilometer Time Trial
- Women Scratch Race
- Women Keirin
The world’s reigning track champions:
- Sprint – Theo Bos (Nl)
- Individual pursuit – Bradley Wiggins (GB)
- Kilometer time trial – Chris Hoy (GB)
- Keirin – Chris Hoy (GB)
- Team sprint – France (Gregory Bauge, Mickael Bourgain, Arnaud Tournant)
- Team pursuit – Britain (Edward Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Paul Manning, Bradley Wiggins)
- Scratch (7.5km) – Kam-Po Wong (HK)
- Points race (40km) – Joan Llaneras (Sp)
- Madison – Switzerland (Franco Marvulli/Bruno Risi)
- Omnium – Alois Kankovsky (Cz)
- Sprint – Victoria Pendleton (GB)
- Keirin – Victoria Pendleton (GB)
- 500m time trial – Anna Meares (Aus)
- Individual pursuit – Sarah Hammer (USA)
- Team sprint – Britain (Shanaze Reade/Victoria Pendleton)
- Scratch (10km) – Yumari Gonzalez (Cub)
- Points race (25km) – Katherine Bates (Aus)