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LONDON (AFP) — World team pursuit champions Australia are hoping to strike an early psychological blow in the battle for Olympic gold by qualifying fastest in the final World Cup event of the season Thursday.
Qualifying for the men’s and women’s team pursuit finals takes place Thursday evening at the London velodrome, marking the first of four days of a competition which also doubles as an Olympic test event.
A motivated Britain won seven of the ten gold medals in Beijing in 2008, including the team pursuit, however a young Australian team inspired by Jack Bobridge has since gone on to win the last two world championships.
Last year Bobridge, the world champion in the non-Olympic event of the individual pursuit, also shattered a long-standing record for the 4km race held since 1996 by Britain’s Chris Boardman.
Boardman set a world record of 4min 11.114sec for the 16-lap event at the world championships in 1996 using a ‘superman’ aerodynamic position, which was subsequently banned.
In February 2011 Bobridge knocked more than half a second off the mark when he scorched to a time of 4:10.534.
The team pursuit is one of the most coveted Olympic track titles, and this year Bobridge, Rohan Dennis, Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn are expected to provide the stiffest challenge to Britain.
On what is the first of two major stepping stones to London 2012, the second being the world championships next April in Melbourne, Bobridge is hoping to set their stall out early. “We’ll be looking to win in London and stamp a bit of authority there and do the same thing at the worlds,” he said.
In the absence of Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins, Britain will look to Welshman Geraint Thomas to help drive the pace in an event where speeds of 65 km/h are reached. He will be joined by Steven Burke, Ed Clancy and Pete Kennaugh.
Clancy, Thomas and Wiggins were part of the team, including Paul Manning, that set the world record of 3:53.314 on the way to Olympic gold in Beijing four years ago.
But Great Britain pursuit coach Dan Hunt believes that a time of around 3:50 will become the Olympic gold benchmark. “You’ve got to be close to that to be sure of winning the gold,” Hunt said last week.
The fastest two teams in pursuit qualifying Thursday go through to Friday’s final, while the third and fourth fastest teams qualify for the bronze medal match-up. A total of 14 gold medals will be contested over the weekend, including all 10 Olympic events — five each for the men and women.