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By Connie Carpenter
The heat is on in chilly Manchester.
The British press says it was the coldest Easter in 40 years but inside the velodrome it is definitely starting to warm up. You can feel the heat pouring from the vents. A hot track is a fast track: the air is less dense. It’s physics — bodies hurl through space faster with less resistance. This storied Manchester track is the British national cycling center. It’s the home of SEVEN current world champs. And it is proven that, in the right conditions on this track, world records will fall.
The world championships begin with individual pursuit qualifying Wednesday afternoon and 27- year-old Bradley Wiggins will take to the starting line last in his bid to defend his 2007 title.
Yesterday in training, he appeared to effortlessly eat up the 250 meter board track as he flew ‘round in 15-second flat lap times — or nearly 37 mph. Wiggins is reminiscent of a hungry carnivore, not to be denied as he circles in on his prey. He is lean and lithe, with long legs that appear impossibly thin in comparison to many here. His sideburns and seemingly aloof demeanor give off a rock star aura. On the track and at full pursuit speed, he rides with little apparent effort, sitting far forward on the tip of his saddle with no extraneous motion.
The word among the coaches is that he’s shooting for a 4:12 pursuit. That’s three seconds faster than his own very fast time in winning the worlds last year and only a second shy of the heretofore unbeatable world record of fellow Brit Chris Boardman — a phenomenal time, but one done using the infamous Superman position, now banned due to safety and aesthetic concerns. Boardman’s record was set here in Manchester a decade ago, but with the track having been recently resurfaced (and supposedly faster), what better place to flirt with the possibility?
Another coach suggests that anyone riding under 4:20 will medal. I have my doubts. After watching several training sessions — and in this Olympic year — I imagine that at least six riders will go under 4:20. Only three will medal.
There’s more at stake here than medals. Many riders are here to earn their spot in Beijing, still months away but on the forefront of everyone’s mind. Unlike previous Olympics where nearly every country is guaranteed a starter, in this Olympic year there is a complicated set of points that must be earned through the year or precious few victories (World Champion, World Rankings winner, World Cup winner, “B” Worlds winner) that earn you your place. Impossibly, some of the top riders may NOT race in Beijing, unintended casualties of careless wording and/or a lack of forward thinking by those who wrote the rules.
Here’s the wording to describe the age limits from the UCI rule book: “The age of the rider shall be determined by the difference between the year of the last leg of the applicable world cup and the year of his birth.” It could be much easier to say: “you must turn 18 in the year of the Championships.” In Taylor Phinney’s case, it allows him to race now while he’s 17 because he’ll be 18 during this calendar year.
Taylor must race well here to keep his position (currently third in the World rankings) in order to qualify for Beijing. Despite his top showings, including a world cup win, a start in Beijing is not guaranteed. More on his mind, to be a contender at this event, he’ll have to drop his personal best time by at least 5 whole seconds. No small feat. Yet we’ve seen him do it before, and as normal limits seem not to apply to him, we remain optimistic. He’s focused and fit, with consistent lap times that have been very very fast.
Back to the casualties, the Aussies have two fine endurance women — one is Athens Silver Medalist Katie Mactier and the other Kathy Bates. The former is world class in pursuit, the latter in points race. But if the pursuiter qualifies — and she will — then the only way for the points racer (Bates) to qualify is by winning the worlds points race (which she did in 2007). The winner will go automatically. If she is second in the worlds — and even second in the world rankings — she will not go unless the Aussies take Mactier off the pursuit. Both ladies are sure medal candidates. If reason prevails, there will be some ‘wiggle room’ for the riders as the final selections occur. However reasoning and the UCI are not always synonymous these days.
Our own Becky Quinn (USA) has a similar problem as Sarah Hammer will most likely qualify in pursuit, which leaves Becky out unless she wins the race here on Saturday.
On the other hand, our USA men’s sprint team stands a very good chance of qualifying not because they are at the top of the heap but because of the points they built up early season in the team sprint — a three man event. They skipped all the World Cup team sprints but will race it here which should ensure their place in Beijing. The top 12 teams qualify.
Complicated? You bet?
It puts the stakes up higher than average here in Manchester and that along with the heat, should have everyone sweating.
It’s going to be a fast start to these World Track Championships — and a blast to witness.
Connie Carpenter is reporting from the Manchester world track championships for VeloNews. Her husband Davis Phinney — Taylor’s Dad — is providing photos. Please visit Taylor Phinney’s blog at www.taylorphinney.com and the family business at www.bikecamp.com