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By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse
Australian hopes of striking a pre-Olympic psychological blow could be kept in check by an on-form British men’s pursuit team at the world track championships on Friday in Palma de Majorca, Spain.
The second day of the competition features four gold-medal finals in the women’s individual pursuit, the men’s team pursuit, the keirin and the men’s 15km scratch.
But it is the team pursuit, an event in which defending champions Australia also hold the Olympic title and world records (3 minutes, 56.610 seconds), that is most likely to thrill the spectators here at the brand-new Palma Arena.
However, the likelihood of a final pitting Britain against Australia, which thrilled the fans in Bordeaux last year, is far from certain.
Britain have been going from strength to strength in the 16-lap endurance test in the World Cup, having recently welcomed back Olympic individual pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins with open arms.
The Belgian-born Englishman has a career in road cycling, but having won three Olympic medals in Athens his return after a long absence from the World Cup track circuit is crucial to Britain’s Olympic ambitions.
Wiggins proved at the Manchester leg of the World Cup in February he has lost none of his track talent, winning the individual competition and contributing to the team’s gold in the event ahead of Russia.
Australia, who had fielded a young and relatively inexperienced quartet, finished sixth in qualifying and out of the medals.
But that does not mean they won’t be in medals contention here.
The Aussies’ World Cup strategy is all about making sure they meet the necessary championships qualifying criteria and give their young riders some international experience.
The Olympic champions did the same last season before beating Britain in the final.
And at least three of that world title-winning team – Mark Jamieson, Matthew Goss and Peter Dawson – are already lining up for Friday.
Nevertheless, Britain’s form, shown by a rare sub-four minute time (3:59.876) during qualifying in Manchester, is coming to the boil nicely.
Wiggins has not been part of a team pursuit in competition since the Athens Olympics, and while admitting they are spoiled for choice in selection terms, he added: “It is certainly the best team I’ve ever ridden in. We have been hitting the numbers in the team pursuit and I can’t see us being beat.”
In the women’s individual pursuit, Sarah Hammer approaches the defense of her historic world title for the United States last year full of confidence.
However, Hammer is likely to be pushed all the way by Russia’s multiple world track champion Olga Slyusareva, Australian Katie Mactier and Swiss iron man specialist Karin Thurig.
Britain are also looking to medal in that event through Cornwall-based Wendy Houvenhagel, who won gold at the Manchester track meet a month ago.
Australia’s best chance of gold could come through either double Olympic champion Ryan Bayley or Shane Perkins in the keirin.
That is if they manage to get past the likes of emerging keirin rider Chris Hoy, the Scottish former kilometer specialist, Frenchman Mickael Bourgoin, and above all Dutch master Theo Bos, the reigning world champion.