By Martyn Herman, Reuters
No sooner has the bunting been cleared from the streets of Paris after a dramatic Tour de France, than the world’s top sprint and pursuit cyclists are heading for Stuttgart, Germany, for the world track championships.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) moved the event to Germany from China because of the SARS virus – but the Hanns-Martin Schleyer Hall should provide a fitting venue for five days of fierce competition.
Australia will again be expected to dominate the medals table, although without Bradley McGee they face a strong challenge from a British squad, buoyed by three gold medals from last year’s championships in Copenhagen.
McGee will not defend his 4,000-meter individual pursuit title after suffering suspected hypoglycemia during the Tour de France, in which he won the prologue and wore the yellow jersey for three days.
“I do not feel in good enough shape to go straight from the Tour to the world championships,” the 27-year-old said before the end of the Tour, won for a fifth time by Lance Armstrong.
McGee’s compatriot Luke Roberts, runner-up at the world track championships last year, is capable of going one better, while German veteran Jens Lehmann would be a popular winner in his home country.
Australia’s Sean Eadie will face a stiff challenge from the French in defense of his sprint title. Despite being without multiple world champion Florian Rousseau, France have genuine gold medal hopes in Laurent Gane, Arnaud Tournant and Michael Bourgain.
The first medal up for grabs this year will see the quickest men duelling over the kilometer time trial on Wednesday. Defending champion Chris Hoy from Britain will start as the clear favorite, although the French sprinters, led by world record holder Arnaud Tournant, will be looking to make amends for a disappointing championships last year.
The women open with the points race, and the most likely outcome is another gold for world champion Olga Sliussarewa of Russia. In the men’s points race, to be decided on Friday, Briton Chris Newton will keenly defend his title.
The women’s 3000-meter individual pursuit is all about three-time world champion Leontien Zylaard van Moorsel. The Dutchwoman has left her rivals trailing for the past two years, although New Zealand’s Sarah Ulmer will challenge.
The men’s 4000-meter team pursuit takes center stage during the weekend, when the powerful Australian world record holders will try to withstand the challenge of their German hosts, who won gold at the Sydney Olympics.
The question of who tops the medal table will probably be decided on the final day when three golds are up for grabs.
Natalie Tsylinskaya of Belarus will start as favorite for the women’s sprint after taking gold in the explosive event last year. Her main challenger will be Australia’s Kerrie Meares, while local hopes fall on policewoman Katrin Meinke.
Britain’s squad of Jason Queally, Chris Hoy, Jamie Staff and Craig MacLean go for gold again in the men’s team sprint, but will be wary of a rejuvenated French outfit and the Australians.
The British team will arrive in Germany in fine form, however, with MacLean recently clocking the fastest standing-start 250-meter lap ever recorded.