By VeloNews Interactive
Cyclists from 43 nations have arrived in Melbourne, Australia, to contest this week’s 2004 UCI Track Cycling World Championships at the Vodafone velodrome.
More than 200 cyclists will contest 15 Championship events, six individual disciplines for men and women and three men’s team events, over the five days of racing as they battle for the honor of a gold medal and the right to wear the coveted rainbow jersey of World Champion. The Championships is also the last chance for nations to qualify places for the Athens Olympic Games and for the cyclists their opportunity to earn a place on their respective Olympic teams. There will be great attention paid this week to the contest for the women’s pursuit title on Friday, but defending champion Leontien Zijlaard- van Moorsel said her only goal is to finish well enough to qualify for the Olympics in Athens. Zijlaard-Van Moorsel says her pursuit world record will fall at this week’s world track championships here — but it won’t be broken by her.
The four-time world 3000m individual pursuit champion and reigning Olympic champion said New Zealander Sarah Ulmer and Australian Katie Mactier will be the main contenders to claim her record.
Zijlaard-Van Moorsel expects she will clock a time of three minutes 34 seconds or 3:35, well short of her world mark of 3:30.816.
That time should put her in the top 12 in the event, meaning she achieves her goal of qualifying a pursuit berth for this year’s Athens Olympics.
“I just want to qualify here, it’s a nicer feeling to be Olympic champion than world champion again,” said Zijlaard-Van Moorsel, who has won the last three pursuit world crowns.
“When I see the times that Ulmer did in Sydney, it was really good – people say it was really cold on the track. “When this track is a little bit warmer and it’s a little bit warmer inside, she can do it – also Katie Mactier can make it.”
Ulmer was only three-tenths of a second outside the world record last week at the World Cup round in Sydney.
Mactier, who surprised with her second placing to Zijlaard-Van Moorsel at last year’s worlds, is also in strong form.
When asked if she was in world-record form, Zijlaard-Van Moorsel insisted that she was not even close.
“No, no, no,” she said. “In Athens, yes. When they break the record here then I break it in Athens again.” Before that contest, though, action kicks off on Wednesday night when the men’s endurance stars line up for the 40km points race with Austrian, Franz Stocher here to defend his crown. The second medal of the night will be awarded in the men’s teams sprint event where Australia, Great Britain, France and defending champion’s Germany are the hot medal tips.
One of the crucial events for Olympic qualification, a top ten finish will not only secure a start for the nations in the event in Athens but will also earn one starting position for each of the sprint, kilometer time trial and keirin events in Greece. Thursday will see the kilometer time trial specialists in action and this is tipped to be one of the most hotly contested events of the week. In an event where the gold medal can and has been decided by a mere thousandth of a second, the starting list includes at least half a dozen possible winners. The Australian hopes will rest with three-time kilometer World Champion, Victorian Shane Kelly who is vying for a place at a fourth consecutive Olympic Games, and Ben Kersten of Wollongong. Germany’s defending champion Stefan Nimke is keen to keep the jersey in his wardrobe but his team mate Soren Lausberg has claimed four silver medals in the event since 1996 and has gold on his mind. Great Britain pair Chris Hoy, the 2002 World Champion, and Craig McLean have been in sizzling form in recent weeks and, despite a recent bout of illness, Frenchman Arnaud Tournant is fired up to win back the title he held for four years between 1998 and 2001. The women’s keirin and men’s individual pursuit are also being decided on Thursday. For the past two years South Australian Luke Roberts has earned a silver medal in the event.
In 2002 it was behind teammate Brad McGee and last year Great Britain’s Bradley Wiggins earned the crown but neither is here this week and that makes Roberts the hot favorite to move one step higher on the presentation podium. However Germany, Russia and Spain are sure to have other ideas. The fastest men on two wheels will then go head to head and shoulder to shoulder in the thrilling keirin showdown where Frenchman Laurent Gane and Australian Jobie Dajka are two of the riders to watch. Dajka won the crown in 2002 but last year Gane put the French anthem on the sound system when he pushed Dajka into second. The men’s scratch race will also be decided on Friday night.