Britain, desperately searching around Athens for an Olympic gold medal, gets their big chance with an assault on the men’s kilometer time trial on the opening day of the track cycling on Friday.
The British look strongly placed to break through as they did in Sydney four years ago with world champion Chris Hoy, Craig MacLean or, possibly, defending Olympic champion Jason Queally in strong contention for gold.
Back in 2000 it was a similar scenario before Queally became an instant hero when he claimed the kilo ahead of German Stefan Nimke and Australian Shane Kelly.
Hoy has the form on the board to rate as a major contender following his second world kilo title in Melbourne last May when he trumped French four-time world champion Arnaud Tournant in the final. It was the second time the Scotsman had got the better of Tournant, having prevailed by one-thousandth of a second for his first world crown in Copenhagen in 2002.
That was the same year Hoy also defeated reigning Olympic champion Queally to win the gold medal at the Manchester Commonwealth Games.
Queally may not get the chance to compete in the kilo in Athens even though the British will have two riders made possible by Hoy’s world title triumph in Melbourne. Hoy has usurped Queally as the top rider in the kilo and his Scottish compatriot MacLean has leapfrogged him into the No. 2 rider after breaking the national kilo record at the Olympic trials.
MacLean further pushed his claims by winning the Manchester World cup event this year and competing in his first world championships at the distance.
“I’ve tried hard, but haven’t been quick enough and it’s all down to form,” Queally said. “But I do know that if there’s something wrong with someone, I’m next in line, because we’re all so good, there’s only a tiny difference between us. We’re all got a chance of a gold.”
Dutchman Theo Bos has taken great strides this year following his sprint victory at last May’s world championships when he twice crashed but still went on to conquer seven-time world gold medalist Laurent Gane of France 2-0 in the gold medal ride.
Bos, the former world junior kilo champion, was the bronze medalist behind Hoy in the kilo in Melbourne and will be in the medal along with Tournant, who was the first to run the kilo in under a minute in 2001.
Kelly, remembered for slipping his foot out of the pedal at the start of the kilo at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when he was a gold medal favorite, believes he’s ready to break through in his fourth Olympics.
The 32-year-old Kelly, Olympic silver medalist in Barcelona and the bronze winner in Sydney, said: “I believe I’m much stronger, much faster, much fitter than I was in Atlanta. But again, the race has changed since then, you’ve got to be running a second to a second and a half quicker now to be in the top three. So I have to be quicker, faster and stronger. I believe I am.”
Australian Anna Meares is favored to win gold in the women’s 500-meter time trial after her world championship success in Melbourne this year. Her main rivals appear China’s Jiang Younghua, Natalia Tsylinskaya of Belarus and Lithuania’s Simona Krupeckaite.
Bayley ready for keirin
Australian Ryan Bayley says he loves the hurly-burly of track cycling’s keirin event and intends having some fun at his rivals’ expense at the Athens Olympics.
The fiercely competitive 22-year-old sprinter from Perth won the keirin at the 2001 world championships in Belgium and puts his body on the line in the adrenalin-charged event.
Bayley believes Australia has a top medal chance in the team sprint, but it’s the keirin that gets him pumped up.
“I want to win everything possible. Being realistic I reckon in the team sprint, we’ve got a reasonable chance, the sprint I believe I have a very good chance. I believe the top three is a definite for me,” Bayley said on Thursday. “The keirin, it’s just go out and have a whole heap of fun, try knock a few people off their bikes. The keirin is full contact. It’s definitely a race suited to me. It’s a lottery, like the dodgem cars, it’s insane.”
Bayley was one of the few Australian track cyclists not to be immersed in the recent drugs controversy, which cost Jobie Dajka his place on the Athens team.“It knocked a few people around, it has knocked me around a little bit, but I believe we’re all coming out stronger,” Bayley said.
The keirin takes on place on the final night of the track slate next Wednesday.
TRACK CYCLING SCHEDULE
Friday: women’s 500m-time trial, men’s 1km time trial
Saturday: men’s individual pursuit, men’s team sprint
Sunday: women’s individual pursuit
Monday: men’s team pursuit
Tuesday: men’s points race, women’s sprint, men’s sprint
Wednesday: women’s points race, men’s Madison, men’s keirin