British track stars set for Olympic gold test
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

British track stars set for Olympic gold test

by Agence France-Presse at 10:10 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Track
Track giants Britain, France and Australia are putting the final touches to preparations for a five-day rivalry that is set to thrill fans at the flying saucer-shaped Laoshan Velodrome beginning Friday.

Global pacesetters Britain set the bar high by winning a record nine of the 18 gold medals at the Manchester world championships four months ago.

But despite good chances of winning gold in eight of the 10 track finals, they have been warned not to take anything for granted.

"When it comes to the Olympic Games, the counters go back to zero," said former sprint great Florian Rousseau, now the coach of the formidable French sprint team that could be the first to test that theory in Friday's opener.

Britain might be the kings of the track, but they will be racing knowing that Australia, France and the Netherlands have them in their sights.

Ryan Bayley was crowned king of the Athens Velodrome in 2004 when his sprint and keirin titles were the centrepiece of Australia's stunning tally of six golds, two bronze and two silver medals.

Since Athens, the Aussies have been playing catch-up to a British squad whose track programme is the envy of the world.

Although hesitant to shout from the rooftops, the reality is that the 'Brits' currently hold world titles in seven of the ten Olympic events to be contested here from August 15-19.

Scottish sprint and keirin king Chris Hoy and pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins both have a chance of winning three golds, while Victoria Pendleton is favourite in the women's sprint.

Rebecca Romero - a former world rowing champion who won silver in the quadruple sculls at Athens - will become only the second woman ever to win medals from two different sports at the Summer Olympics if she wins a medal in the individual pursuit, in which she is the reigning world champion.

Hoy, the reigning champion in the now defunct Olympic event of the kilometre, will compete in the team sprint, keirin and sprint - in which he will face stiff competition from Dutchman Theo Bos and France's Kevin Sireau.

Bayley has ground to make up and admits Hoy is the sprint favourite. But he isn't planning to surrender his title so easily. "A lot of people have been settling for second best instead of trying to beat him (Hoy). But everyone has weak points and I'm going to try and find them," said Bayley.

Wiggins is favourite to defend his Olympic pursuit crown, and will then saddle up as part of a world record holding pursuit team in a bid to wrench the title from the Australians.

At the world championships in March Britain set a new world record of three minutes 56.322 seconds. Australia took bronze ahead of New Zealand while Denmark took the silver.

Paul Manning, one of the British world champion quartet, says they will be hard to catch. "The team is still going quick and we are training around world record pace," said Manning after training here.

Assuming they both get that far, Hoy and Pendleton will aim for sprint gold on the final day of competition.

That is also when Belgium-born Englishman Wiggins will team up with Mark Cavendish, a quadruple stage winner at the Tour de France, in the Madison.

Already buoyed by Nicole Cooke's gold medal from the women's road race, the Brits' track campaign would benefit psychologically from a team sprint gold on Friday.

Germany are the Olympic champions while France are the world champions and the dominant force in the three-man, three-lap power event in the past decade. "The French team is the best around," added Bayley. "They're beatable, but you must pull out one hell of a miracle to do it."

In his last Olympics, world kilometre record holder Arnaud Tournant is expecting only one result from Friday's contest. "Victory. It's not a good mentality if you consider you are going to lose. That's not part of my strategy," said the Frenchman.

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