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World Track Championships - CM
Melbourne, Australia, May 26-30, 2004
Men's Individual Pursuit finals - May 27, 2004
Escobar turns bronze into gold for Spain
By Mal Sawford
Spain’s Sergi Escobar, the fastest rider in both the qualifying round and the first round, claimed a well deserved Gold Medal in an exciting final to close the second day of competition at the World Championships.
Escobar powered off the start line smoothly, with his opponent Robert Hayles (Great Britain) also starting well. The Spaniard opened a lead of half a second in the opening laps and based on times for the earlier rounds, was expected to keep pulling away. Hayles was able to limit the Spaniard's lead and after the half way point began to slowly reduce the lead.
The British camp went crazy when their rider drew level, but Escobar responded well and narrowly reclaimed the lead in the final kilometre, before flying home in the final lap to claim the win by almost one second.
Escobar (and the entire Spanish team) has proven to be one of the more approachable riders at the Championships, and was happy to tell Cyclingnews through an interpreter about his win. “I’m very happy and content to have won. It was more of a test for me ahead of the Athens Olympics”.
When asked if he was concerned that Hayles had stayed so close he revealed, “I intentionally eased off in the third kilometre. I wanted to hit him hard in the last few laps, and it worked out exactly as I planned.”
Looking to the Athens Olympics, Escobar nominated Australian Brad McGee as the favourite. “I very much recognise that he will most likely be the most powerful opponent, but I also recognise that Luke Roberts and Bradley Wiggins are also very strong opponents”.
Robert Hayles certainly gave everything in his ride, saying "In the last two laps I had tunnel vision, and couldn't walk off the steps to come off the track. This (Silver Medal) is a bonus. I wasn't expecting it because it's not my pet event. It was a nice surprise. I felt good in the warm up and was hoping for under 4:20.00 - that would have been better.”
The Bronze medal ride off was equally exciting, with the large crowd urging Australia’s Luke Roberts on. A slow starter, Roberts lost half a second to Germany’s Robert Bartko in the opening laps, but gradually reeled the 1999 World and 2000 Olympic champion in, bettering the German's time with five laps remaining.
Bartko refused to concede, and the virtual lead changed again with Bartko 0.134 seconds up at the bell. As the parochial crowd tried to lift the roof urging the Aussie home, Roberts lifted again, and was within 0.034 seconds in the back straight.
The final result was too close to call without the aid of electronic timing, but the Bronze Medal went to Robert Bartko by the slim margin of 0.019 seconds, leaving the host nation without a medal from the first two days of competition.
Bartko was happy with the result, commenting, “My form was good leading into the race but I wasn’t so sure. This is a very important race for the Olympics qualification. This is a good start. The time for me is very good. I will also ride the Teams Pursuit tomorrow. I want to ride the Individual Pursuit and Teams Pursuit in Athens and perhaps the Madison, but I will not ride any more track races now until the Olympics”
Roberts, while disappointed to miss out on his third successive medal, looked to the future for success. “I knew he started a little bit faster than me. That was to be expected as I am not a fast starter. I prefer to do it slowly, bringing him back. When he hit back I was giving it everything I had but I didn’t have enough. Still, Australia has qualified a second spot (in the Individual Pursuit at the Olympics) with my fourth tonight. I hope we can put two on the podium there.”
Images by Mark Gunter
Images by Shane Goss/www.licoricegallery.com