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Olympics

London velodrome ready to rumble

LONDON (VN) – If there was ever a question of hometown crowds being an advantage for Team GB for the upcoming Olympic Games in London, they were definitely washed away Thursday night in a rowdy demonstration of the UK’s newfound love for cycling. More than 6,000 fans packed into London’s…

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LONDON (VN) – If there was ever a question of hometown crowds being an advantage for Team GB for the upcoming Olympic Games in London, they were definitely washed away Thursday night in a rowdy demonstration of the UK’s newfound love for cycling.

More than 6,000 fans packed into London’s brand-new velodrome for the fourth and final leg of the 2011-12 World Cup in what were qualifying rounds for men’s and women’s team pursuits. No medals, no ceremonies – qualifying rounds.

When Team GB hit the boards, the sell-out capacity crowd hit their feet.

“It was like a wall of sound when we rode our race,” said Team GB team pursuiter Ed Clancy. “It was pretty bizarre, because this was just qualifying. I cannot imagine what the Olympics will be like.”

Clancy said the noise was so loud during their 4000m race they couldn’t yell instructions to each other even if they had to.

“Usually the crowd gets rowdy at the start and it kind of tapers off,” he continued. “Here it was continuous. We were lucky that we were pretty smooth in our ride because didn’t need to try to say anything to each other. We couldn’t have heard anything if we did.”

Anticipation is building across London for this summer’s Olympic Games, where cycling will be taking center-stage.

Team GB brought home eight gold medals from Beijing in 2008, more than any UK sport.

With the rise of Team Sky on the road, led by reigning world champion Mark Cavendish and GC hope Bradley Wiggins, cycling is hitting unprecedented heights of popularity across the United Kingdom.

More than 700 journalist accreditations have been issued for this weekend’s World Cup competition.

Track stars Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton will be hitting the boards in Friday’s second day of competition, sure to draw even more fan passions through the weekend.

Whether that public fervor can equate into a medal haul equal to Beijing remains to be seen.

Team GB team manager Dave Brailsford told the English media that the priority isn’t this weekend, but later this summer.

“The temptation is that, because it’s a home crowd, we’d like to perform well and we’d like to raise it in our priorities, but if the fourth World Cup was in Greece, for example, the thought process in terms of training and conditions would be very different,” he said. “We’ve got to avoid the temptation of being put under pressure to perform at the test event when actually it’s not the right thing to do in the long-term for the bigger goal.”

Ironically, neither of Team GB’s pursuit squads posted the best times. Both the men’s and women’s teams qualified for the gold medal round, but they were bested by surprisingly gritty rivals.

On the women’s side, Canada posted its best-ever team pursuit time, led by veteran Tara Whitten and two relatively newcomers. On the men’s side, the reigning world champion Australian team knocked the Team GB back by less than one second.

“We know what it’s like to have the home crowd backing you,” said Australian Rohan Dennis. “The crowds can get you ‘G’d’ up for a race, but we don’t let it phase us. We know there will be a few Aussie fans here in August and they can be pretty loud, too.”