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World track championships preview: Brits playing coy as Aussies target more track gold

PARIS (AFP) - Britain, France and Australia will be among the nations expected to give an early glimpse of their Olympic potential for London 2012 at the track cycling world championships this week.

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Reigning national omnium champion
London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe and British Cycling's Dave Brailsford post on the newly opened London velodrome last month as the British team passes by. AFP Photo

PARIS (AFP) – Britain, France and Australia will be among the nations expected to give an early glimpse of their Olympic potential for London 2012 at the track cycling world championships this week.

Worldbeaters Britain, however, continuea to keep fans guessing as the countdown to the London Games gathers momentum.

World track championships program

Wednesday, March 23
Women: 500 meter time trial, Points Race (25km)
Men: Scratch (15km), Team Sprint, Team Pursuit
Thursday, March 24
Women: Team pursuit, Team Sprint
Men: Individual pursuit
Friday, March 25
Men: Points Race (40km), Sprint
Women: Individual pursuit
Saturday, March 26
Men: Keirin, Omnium
Women: Sprint, Scratch (10km)
Sunday, March 27
Men: Kilometer time trial, Madison (50km)
Women: Omnium, Keirin

Britain’s team was crowned kings of the Olympic velodrome in Beijing but since their total dominance in 2008 their competitors has been working hard to redress the balance.

Australia arrive at the March 23-27 event in Apeldoorn, Holland, with no fewer than nine defending champions in a squad of 17, having topped the medals table at last year’s worlds in Copenhagen.

France, whose strength traditionally lies in the men’s sprint and keirin events, boast the formidable trio of Gregory Bauge, Kevin Sireau and Mickael Bourgain.

Veteran Brit Chris Hoy, who won a record three golds in Beijing, won only one title in Denmark, from the keirin, last year as Germany won the team sprint and Bauge defended his sprint title.

Despite celebrating his 35th birthday this week, Hoy maintains his sights are set firmly on London but hinted it may be best to guage his true potential a year on from now.

“I expect to go well next week, for sure, but I expect to go better at next year’s world championships in Melbourne, which is the most important meeting in terms of Olympic selection, and better still in London,” said Hoy.

“In two years, people won’t remember how I fared in Apeldoorn but they’ll know all about London.”

Along with Hoy’s keirin gold in Denmark, Victoria Pendleton and Ed Clancy helped save British blushes last year, the pair dominating their respective events in the sprint and Omnium.

Pendleton is bidding for a fifth world sprint title, but will face a strong challenge from Australian Anna Meares.

Meares, Australia’s only track medal winner in Beijing with a sprint silver behind Pendleton, recently handed a straight heats defeat to the Englishwoman in the semi-finals of the Manchester World Cup round.

She then went on to win a third heat decider over China’s Shuang Guo in the gold medal round.

Meares will also team up with Kaarle McCulloch to bid for a hat-trick of golds in the team sprint having won the event in both 2009 and 2010.

Australia is also the reigning world champion in the men’s and women’s teams pursuit, although all eyes could be on Jack Bobridge in the individual event.

Bobridge recently broke Chris Boardman’s 4000-meter pursuit world record, which the Briton set in 1996 in a position which is now banned, in a time of 4min 10.534sec.

Although the Aussies are taking these championships seriously, with 16 months and another world championships to go, the British appear to see things differently.

“These world championships are a further stepping stone towards the Olympic Games in London, and whilst the team is building momentum there’s still plenty left in the tank,” said British Cycling Performance Director Dave Brailsford.

“The pressure is really on the Australians and the French to deliver, and it’s a nice feeling for us to be going out there as the challengers.”

While Britain can enjoy that luxury, the rest of the world will be going out to display their Olympic potential — and grab as many qualification points as possible for the ensuing competitions which lead up to the London Games.

Germany, China, New Zealand, Lithuania, Spain and Argentina all have a chance at claiming medals.

One notable absentee will be Malaysian keirin sensation Azizulhasni Awang, who was forced out of this week’s competition when his leg was pierced by a jagged splinter from one of the Manchester boards last month.

Hammer leads U.S. squad

USA Cycling is sending 10 athletes to worlds.

Defending world champion in the individual pursuit, Sarah Hammer (OUCH) will lead the team. Her status as reigning world champion earned her the automatic nomination to represent the U.S. in the individual pursuit. She also automatically qualified for the international Omnium by virtue of her gold medal performance at the Manchester World Cup last month.

Joining Hammer as the only other automatic qualifier on the women’s team will be Jennie Reed (OUCH). Reed earned a spot in the scratch race with her silver medal performance in Manchester.

In addition to their individual events, Hammer and Reed will team up with discretionary picks Lauren Tamayo (OUCH), Dotsie Bausch (OUCH), and Cari Higgins (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) to train for the team pursuit. In Apeldoorn, three of these riders will be chosen to compete.

Rounding out the women’s side of competition, Higgins earned a discretionary nomination to compete in the points race.

On the men’s side, Bobby Lea will compete in the omnium and the scratch race. Giddeon Massie (Bike Religion) and Dean Tracy (Rubicon Cycling) grabbed automatic nominations to represent the U.S. in the team sprint by meeting the time standard at the Manchester World Cup. The pair will be joined in training for the event by discretionary nominees Michael Blatchford and Kevin Mansker (Momentum Coaching Group). Three riders will be chosen from the four to compete for the world title. Massie will then go off on his own to compete in the men’s sprint.

Lea (The Sports TEAM) is a discretionary selection to represent the USA in both the international omnium and scratch race in Apeldoorn.