News feature, December 21, 2005
Top track sprinters prepare for Melbourne, but day jobs interfere with roadies' participation
Rogers okay with T-Mobile's call on Comm Games
By Gerard Knapp
Given the domination of 'Commonwealth' nations on the velodrome in Athens last year, next year's Comm Games in Melbourne (March 15-26, 2006) should be extremely competitive, with world-class times expected to be the norm for any medals.
From Scotland's Chris Hoy through to Australia's Anna Meares, reigning world record holders and Olympic gold medalists will be featured in many events.
But the somewhat lower international profile of the Commonwealth Games - compared to the Olympics - means that Australia's 'A team' will not line up for the teams pursuit, and other stars of the road with track pedigrees, like Stuart O'Grady, will be 'working' their day jobs.
So far, Graeme Brown, Luke Roberts, Brett Lancaster or Brad McGee - Australia's world record-holding, Athens gold medal-winning, team pursuit squad have not officially asked to be considered for selection.
While the Commonwealth riders may recognize the importance of these Games in their home market, their mainly European employers don't rate them so highly and the timing is too early for most.
The racing in Melbourne will require the riders to ramp up their preparation, compete against very determined fields, and then return to Europe, where the season proper is only really starting.
But McGee is so keen to represent Australia in the individual pursuit - chasing a fourth consecutive gold medal in the same event - that he is prepared to really push his employer, FDJ.com, for a release at a time when Milan - San Remo will be held.
Similarly, one of T-Mobile's signings for 2006, three-time world time trial champion Michael Rogers, also expressed interest in representing Australia in both the road race and time trial, but his employer has decided it's in his best interests to stay in Europe and build form for a long and important season.
Those objectives include the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, plus the world road championships in September. "Why stop at three?" Rogers said to Cyclingnews of his hat-trick of wins.
Rogers was concerned at how earlier comments in Australia had been misinterpreted in Germany. "I wouldn't say conflict was the right word," Rogers told Cyclingnews. "We had a discussion and I accept their decision. I wanted to do it but they believe it would be better if I did not (compete at the Commonwealth Games) and I accept that.
"It would make the season too long," he admitted. Rogers would need to be up to speed by the middle of March, perhaps too early for a rider expected to complete two Grand Tours, win TT stages and be a major supporter of Jan Ullrich in the Tour de France.
But there is similar pressure on these riders when they return home. Such is Rogers' profile in his home town - Australia's capital city of Canberra - that he and fellow Canberra cyclist, none other than reigning women's World Cup champion Oenone Wood - were recently presented with the 'keys to the city'.
But one rider still persisting is Brad McGee, who told Cyclingnews earlier this month his participation in Melbourne is "still up in the air. I'm debating with FDJ; at this stage, they're not positive about it at all, but I hope they see the importance for myself.
"I think most people can understand that these chances don't come around very often. To win one, two, three... and now maybe four in a row, it says it all."
Nonetheless, such is the depth among endurance track cyclists in Australia, Cycling Australia has accepted the high-profile stars of the road may not be able to make it to Melbourne. Still, there seems little doubt the host country will present a formidable team, with a pursuit squad containing riders who've already proved capable of a sub-four minute time.
(Cyclingnews was also told that Team CSC's Luke Roberts has asked to be considered in Australia's team for the 2006 world track championships, which comes after he's expected to ride in Paris-Roubaix, the brutal road race that finishes in a velodrome.)