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2006 UCI Track Cycling World Championships - CM
France, April 13-16, 2006
By Mal Sawford in Bordeaux
The pinnacle of track cycling returns to France for 2006, with the fast Bordeaux track to host the event after the last two years were held in Los Angeles (2005) and Melbourne (2004). Racing promises to be fascinating, with virtually all the defending champions returning. Close to 300 riders from 38 countries will participate across the four days of competition, with fifteen gold medals to be awarded.
Racing kicks off on Thursday with the first medal the women's 500 metre time trial. Australian World record holder and Olympic champion Anna Meares showed signs of a return to her 2004 form with a win in the Commonwealth Games, but will have to overcome not only her older sister Kerrie, but Russia's defending champion Natallia Tsylinskaya.
Katie Mactier, another of the Australian women, will be hard to beat in the individual pursuit, which will also be decided on day one. Since claiming the 2005 world title, Mactier has not been beaten over 3000 metres - but compatriot Kate Bates came within two seconds of an upset at the recent Commonwealth Games. English speaking riders will be hard to keep out of the medals in the pursuit, with Wendy Houvenaghel (Britain) and Sarah Hammer (USA) the top ranked riders in the World Cup standings after Mactier sat out most rounds.
Of the men's events to be decided on the first day, the team sprint will be the highlight. Britain has an enviable selection dilemma to deal with, with 2005 champions Jamie Staff, Jason Queally and Chris Hoy joined by Craig Maclean, Matthew Crampton and Ross Edgar in the team sprint squad. The home town support promised to the French squad including Mickael Bourgain and Gregory Bauge, and coached by track legend Florian Rousseau makes them hard to discount, while neither the Dutch squad led by Theo Bos, or the Germans can be discounted; and a rejuvenated Australian squad and the constantly improving team from Poland could also challenge. While it might be hard to predict the winner, there is little doubt that a near record time will be required just to make the medal rounds!
With the field still to be finalised for the men's points race, it is difficult to predict the winner. Many of the Madison riders will double up, with Mark Cavendish among the favourites, and expect to see young Aussie Sean Finning very closely marked after taking six laps out of the field at the Commonwealth Games.
Day two action will see Kate Bates, dominant winner at the Commonwealth Games, try to live up to the tag of 'best points racer in the world,' bestowed on her by Australian head coach Martin Barras. To claim her first world title, Bates will have to best '05 champion Vera Carrara and multiple former winner Olga Slioussareva. US riders Hammer and Becky Quinn, and Canadian champion Gina Grain will head a powerful North American contingent.
The men's individual pursuit will see new world hour record holder Ondrej Sosenka take on established stars Serge Escobar Roure (Spain), Robert Bartko (Germany) and British pair Rob Hayles and Paul Manning.
With the 'kilo' controversially cut from the Olympic program, the scheduling of both the men's keirin and kilometre time trial on day two will force a number of the fast men to choose between the two, further devaluing track cycling's ultimate race of truth. Bos, a medallist in '05 seems certain to give the 'kilo a miss, leaving Chris Hoy the overwhelming favourite. Hoy was equally heavily fancied to win the kilo at the Comm Games, however, and finished a disappointing third behind Ben Kersten (Australia) and Queally, and will no doubt be very keen to make amends. Kersten had announced his Commonwealth Games kilo would be his last, but has since left the door open for one last four lap dash before concentrating on endurance events.
Completing the day two program is the men's keirin. With Bos and team mate Teun Mulder, Olympic champion Ryan Bayley (Australia), Bourgain, Rene Wolff (Germany) on the start list, this is another event that promises to be action packed and difficult to forecast. Look for Australia's Shane Kelly to cause something of an upset amid rumours of an imminent retirement.
The Meares sisters will be back in action and in the hunt for medals on day three, in the women's sprint, where defending champion Vicky Pendleton (Britain) is hoping to record her second successive win. Others to watch for are Clara Sanchez (France), Tamilia Abassova (Russia), Elisa Frisoni (Italy) and Jenny Reed (USA). The same women will likely tackle the keirin on the final day, which Sanchez has dominated in recent years and the local rider will be looking to claim a hat-trick of wins in Bordeaux.
The British squad ended Australia's long run in the team's pursuit in LA, and after holding off a young team from the home country at the Commonwealth Games, will be confident of winning again this year. Russia and the Ukraine dominated team pursuiting at this season's world cup rounds, and could do well, while the young team from the US will have to do something special after TIAA-CREF manager Jonathan Vaughters told Cyclingnews that his squad, who from the backbone of the US team "was as strong, if not stronger than the Australians or British teams."
Held on Easter Sunday, the final day of competition kicks off with the women's scratch race. A similar field to the points race will do battle: if the race stays together look for Slioussareva to use her blistering speed; but expect a rider like Emma Jones-Davies (Britain) to go for the solo win.
The Madison could well be a similarly open event. The gold went Britain's way in 2005, courtesy of Cavendish and Ed Clancy, while experienced South American riders like Juan Curuchet and Walter Perez have great credentials. Australia will likely field a new team in Simon Clarke and Miles Olman; don't expect the youngsters to be overawed by the situation, however – they will be very aggressive and competitive.
The world championships wrap up on Sunday evening with the traditional blue riband event, the men's sprint. Again, the form riders are Bos, Bayley, Bourgain and Wolff, but the results of the keirin will provide an indication of who has hit peak form at the right time.