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Photo ©: Sirotti

Commonwealth Games Cycling News for March 15, 2006

Edited by Anthony Tan

Let the Games begin!

By Mal Sawford, with additional reporting from Rob Jones

An Aussie whitewash in Manchester four years ago
Photo ©: Gerry McManus
(Click for larger image)

The opening ceremony of the 18th Commonwealth Games will be held in Melbourne tomorrow, with a full program of cycling events running through the ten day multi-sport extravaganza. Track cycling is first up, running from the 16th to 19th; while the road races will be held on the final day of the games, March 26.

Seventy-one countries from six continents will participate in the Games, and host nation Australia is expected to face stiff opposition for cycling supremacy in Melbourne after a virtual clean sweep in the Manchester Games of four years ago. In Manchester, eight of the eleven gold medals at the velodrome went Australia's way, and both the men's time trial and road race saw 1-2-3's for the Aussies, but the glory is expected to be a little more widely distributed in Melbourne.

On the track, both England and Scotland will field impressive squads, while Canada and New Zealand are also targeting gold on the road, in the bush and the velodrome. Top ranked cyclists, including world, Olympic and reigning Commonwealth champions, will compete in all disciplines, with only the men's road events suffering a little from Australia's geographical isolation from the European pro scene. ProTour riders such as Robbie McEwen, Brad McGee, Stuart O'Grady and Michael Rogers weren't able to secure releases from their professional teams.

Click here to read the full preview.

Bessette tumbles in training

By Rob Jones in Melbourne

With the 18th Commonwealth Games set to get under way tomorrow, the riders had a chance to do some training today. The biggest news was the crash that Canada's Lyne Bessette suffered. Bessette, a favourite for the road race and time trial, was training on the mountain bike course in the mid-afternoon. According to Canadian Technical Director Kris Westwood, "It was a rocky, technical section and she just missed a turn and went off the edge of the course. It was slow speed - less than 10 kilometres an hour - but she went down on her shoulder."

Bessette suffered a dislocated shoulder (her left). It is not the same shoulder she crashed on a few weeks ago at the Geelong stage race. Westwood added, "It is the least damage that she could suffer with this type of injury. Right now, she is hurting pretty badly, but it appears that she should be able to race the road race. We are playing it day-by-day, but she has 10 days to recover before the road race (March 26th). Lyne is in the best spirits than can be expected, given the circumstances."

Bessette was scheduled to race the time trial on March 21st, but that is more doubtful (and the mountain bike race on March 23rd is extremely unlikely).

Barras predicts tough kilo

By Rob Jones in Melbourne

Hoy and Qeally
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Moving back to the track; tomorrow (March 16th) the opening session runs from 6 pm to 10:30 pm local time - 2 am to 6:30 am EST. Three events will take place (with medals awarded in all three the same evening): Women's 500m time trial, men's kilo and men's individual pursuit.

Martin Barras, the head coach of the powerhouse Australian team, points to the kilo as being possibly the most competitive event of the entire track program.

"You've got the three top kilo riders in the world here - Chris Hoy (Scotland), Jason Queally (Great Britain), Craig Maclean (Great Britain). Two Commonwealth Games champions, two Olympic champions...the kilo is where it is at."

Barras also points to the women's individual pursuit as a very competitive event. "Katie Mactier and Kathy Bates (both Australia) are very strong, so I think it will be those two in the final."

What about the rumour that world record holder and Olympic champion Sarah Ulmer (New Zealand) will ride?

Barras laughed, "That's the kiwis paying us back for the trick I tried on them in Athens. I told Kurt (Innes, the New Zealand track coach at the time) that Katie (Mactier) was planning on catching Sarah in the first six laps. So Sarah went out two seconds faster in the first laps, and we thought it was good because she would tire at the end. But then she ended up breaking the world record by three seconds. I don't think Sarah will do the pursuit, it hasn't been in her program, but if she does, it will be a very interesting race!"

In other news, Scotland's Chris Hoy is entered in four events - kilo, team sprint, sprint and keirin - but it is only the first two events that are certainties, according to team personnel. Hoy may enter either the sprint or keirin as well, but is unlikely to do both.

Canada has 7 athletes scheduled to compete in 7 events:

Mandy Poitras - points race
Gina Grain - points race
Zach Bell - individual pursuit and points race (also road time trial)
Martin Gilbert - points race and scratch race (also road race)
Travis Smith - team sprint, sprint and keirin
Yannick Morin - kilo and team sprint
Cam Mackinnon - sprint, kilo and team sprint

Battlelines drawn on the boards in Melbourne

By Les Clarke

Riders circle the track
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

With some of the world's best track riders competing at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, one of the most hotly contested events will be the men's team pursuit. England, Australia and New Zealand will be the teams to watch, with many tipping an England-Australia final, much in the mould of a traditional rivalry that exists between the two countries.

England's team will include Steve Cummings, Rob Hayles, Chris Newton and Paul Manning, the four riders who won gold at last year's world championships for Great Britain. They bring great experience to the team and will be the big hitters of the squad, joined by several quality young riders.

The Australian squad consists of five riders, and according to Cycling Australia's high performance manager Kevin Tabotta, all five may ride if track endurance coach Ian Mackenzie decides that different combinations should be utilised throughout the competition. Matt Goss, Mark Jamieson, Peter Dawson, Stephen Wooldridge and Ashley Hutchinson are the five riders selected for the team pursuit, all five having trained and raced together in the past.

Mackenzie will nominate the four starting riders after this afternoon's training session where there will be some 'fine tuning' done to the crew before track competition begins in Melbourne on March 16. Australia has enjoyed success in the event in the past, with a strong combination of power through road sprinters such as Graeme Brown, and quality endurance riders such as Brad McGee, whose strength in the individual pursuit makes him such a valuable asset to a team.

These two riders will be missing in Melbourne, however, but Mackenzie and Australian team management are confident that this fairly young Australian quintet have improved on their bronze medal performance at the 2005 world championships and are well-drilled and ready to race. Tabotta believes it will come down to the old adage of 'whoever is best on the day will take home the prize'; all that's left to do is sit back and enjoy what should be one of the most exciting events of the games.

Queally predicts a clutch of cycling golds

Jason Queally believes England's track cyclists can win a "clutch" of gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, even though the country has not won a gold medal in cycling since Victoria in 1994 when Yvonne McGregor won the women's points race.

"We got medals in Manchester, we just didn't get any golds," said the 35 year-old Chorley-based cyclist. "Australia were going very well that year. But I think we can win at least half a dozen medals on the track this time and I hope we'll get a clutch of golds here as well."

Queally shot to fame two years earlier when he became Olympic 1k time trial champion in Sydney, but he has never won a Commonwealth Games gold medal, despite claiming two silvers in Kuala Lumpur eight years ago and another in Manchester when his British team training partner, friend and rival Chris Hoy beat him to the 1k title by just 0.221 seconds.

Hoy succeeded Queally as Olympic champion in Athens in 2004 and will be cycling for Scotland again in Melbourne, resuming the pair's friendly rivalry when the time trial final takes place on Thursday. The two were training together in Perth for six weeks before arriving in Melbourne so Queally knows better than anyone how tough his task will be.

"Chris is going exceptionally well at the moment," he said. "He'll be the boy to beat in the kilo. I'm not quite where I was last year [when he set a personal best to claim silver at the Los Angeles World Championships], but I'm pretty close.

"At the end of the day we both want gold and will be going to win. But there are others as well so it's not a foregone conclusion that it will be one of us. I just want to go across the line knowing I've used every ounce of energy out of my system - if that only brings me silver, so be it.

"The Olympics are the be all and end all in cycling. They're the pinnacle of what we can achieve and my long-term aim is still Beijing in 2008. But these are not easy medals. This will be a great event and my last championship kilo as they're taking it out of the Olympics. I've got three Commonwealth medals already, but I've never won a gold so if I get one here I will be a happy chappy."

Although Queally made his name in the individual time trial event, he insists he's more of a team player and that winning the team sprint on Sunday is his main aim.

"For me personally, the pressure of an event like this has become less because I've learned to deal with it," he said. "But what's exciting is we've got a good clutch of young riders coming through who'll do the business for us in the future. Since Sydney cycling has snowballed and is now one of our key sports. It's helped us all flourish.

"I am a better rider now than I was in Sydney. After those Games my life changed and it was difficult to cope for a while. But I love it now; I really enjoy what I'm doing."

The cycling programme on day one of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games gets underway with the men's individual pursuit qualification round at 18.00 Melbourne time, followed by the women's 500m time trial finals at 19.25. The men's 1k time trial finals are scheduled for 19.45, with the final event of the night, the men's individual pursuit finals, at 21.00. Track cycling events are held at the Multi Purpose Venue.

Also see: An interview with Chris Hoy.

Staff in mood to bury Athens disaster

Jamie Staff aims to put Olympic disappointment firmly behind him when he goes for gold in the keirin and team sprint events in Melbourne this week. The 32 year-old from Ashford in Kent was reigning world keirin champion when he was controversially disqualified from the event at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.

So great was the disappointment for the former world and European BMX champion that he didn't ride a bike for six months after the Games and considered quitting the sport altogether before his coach persuaded him to get back on the saddle.

"The Olympics was a weird experience for me, not what I expected at all," said Staff. "I still think they robbed me because they didn't even give me a warning. I started working for a carpenter friend of mine in America, but I guess the novelty of getting up at 4.30am every day just rubbed off after a while."

Staff returned to action in style, helping Britain to a world team sprint title in Los Angeles last year, and now believes he's on course for a medal here. "I'm over Athens now, it's not a motivation for me here," he said.

Staff switched to track cycling in 2002 because BMX was not an Olympic sport and was soon winning Commonwealth medals in Manchester - a silver in the team sprint and a bronze in the 1km time trial. But Staff claims he didn't know what he was doing back then. "I didn't feel like a track cyclist," he said. "I do now. I enjoy it more now I'm more experienced."

Staff says his main focus in Melbourne will be the team sprint event, but before then he'll be going for gold in the keirin. "I'm really happy with my progress this year," he said. "I definitely think I've got a good shot."

Staff also praised the progress of his team sprint team-mate Matt Crampton, at 19, the baby of the cycling squad. "Matt's young and coming on really well," said Staff. "He's definitely looking good."

Crampton will ride third in the team, behind Staff and Jason Queally, and admits he'll feel the heat of responsibility for having to bring home the gold. "There is a little extra pressure," says Crampton, from Manchester. "But I've really stepped up a gear in recent months. My times have been really good and I've built up my strength."

The keirin is on Friday 17 March in Melbourne's Multi Purpose Venue, with the team sprint on Sunday 19 March.

Pendleton prepared to make a difference

You wouldn't guess it from her relaxed, chatty manner, but world champion track cyclist Victoria Pendleton admits to feeling a bit of pressure as she prepares to peddle for Commonwealth gold in Melbourne.

The 25-year-old from Hitchin in Hertfordshire, became world sprint champion in Los Angeles last year and competes in Melbourne as one of the favourites for a medal in the women's sprint and 500m time trial events. She'll be going for a medal in the time trial on Thursday (16 March) and in the sprint two days later.

"This is my first major championships as a world champion so there is a bit of weight on my shoulders," said the 12-time national champion. "People expect results here. The world title was a confidence booster really though. The sprint is like one-to-one combat on the track so you have to be confident going in. Without that you've got no chance."

Pendleton will need all the confidence she can get as she comes up against the Australian sisters - Anna and Kerry Meares. Anna is world record holder and Kerry Commonwealth champion. But Pendleton feels she's ready for the challenge.

In Manchester four years ago she finished fourth in the sprint and fifth in the time trial but says the Games came too soon in her young career. "I didn't really know what I was doing there," she said.

It was a similar story in the 2004 Olympics in Athens where Pendleton finished sixth in the time trial, well below her own expectations. "I was disappointed," she said. "But I learned a lot from Athens. I do know what I'm doing now."

Her victory at the World Championships and at a World Cup event in her home town of Manchester in December has made all the difference, and now Pendleton has became a figurehead for Team England's women cyclists.

"There hasn't been much focus on the women before," she says. "There are few more coming through in the Olympic development programme and the talent team. I think I've opened the doors a bit."

It's a position Pendleton finds "kind of weird". As a teenager she never even imagined she could be a full-time athlete, never mind a world champion and emerging role model for women cyclists. "I never thought I was athlete material," she said.

Pendleton started cycling as a hobby with her twin brother, Alexis, and by 16 had been identified as a talented prospect. "I didn't take it seriously even then," she says. "I just hadn't thought of being an athlete, I thought I might be a veterinary nurse. I enjoyed sport but I never thought I had enough talent to be elite.

"Maybe that was because there were no female role models. I'm sure there are a lot of girls out there now who are the same."

Pendleton's inspiration came from two sources, four years apart. In 2000 she watched her Team England team-mate Jason Queally win the men's 1k time trial gold medal at the Sydney Olympics from a motorway service station. She'd stopped to buy a hot chocolate while driving from her home to Newcastle where she was studying sport and exercise science.

Four years later she was in the Olympic stadium in Athens when Kelly Holmes won one of her two historic track golds. "It was just electric," she says. "Things like that give you goose bumps. It's inspiring because you think, I want to feel like that.

"Role models are important. People like Kelly Holmes can make all the difference."

Tough decisions for NZ track coach

The day before the opening ceremony was a day of tough decisions and an opportunity to let the special occasion sink in for the Kiwi cyclists.

The team dinner held at Moonee Valley race course was an opportunity for most of the NZ cyclists to mingle in a relaxed environment among athletes of all Games sports, icon New Zealanders and major sponsors and supporters. It was also an opportunity for the specialist road riders to visit the team village for the first time, albeit briefly, as they flew in from Tasmania especially for the dinner before heading back to Launceston first thing Wednesday morning.

The evening began with words of encouragement from Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, followed by an inspirational speech from Sir Murray Halberg and Chef de Mission Dave Currie. Currie then announced that the team captain and flag bearer will be Hamish Carter, breaking the recent trend of cyclists - the previous three Commonwealth flag bearers were cyclists. The function ended with a popular surprise appearance by Dave Dobbyn who sang a few songs that reminded all present that the Games proper were now only hours away and that all the hard work was now about to materialse.

However earlier in the day at the Velodrome, among tight security, track coach Terry Gyde had to make some tough decisions. With so much talent on hand Gyde had to decide which athletes were going to ride in which events.

The decision that was causing most interest was who would ride in the teams pursuit team. Gyde went with current form and selected Hayden Godfrey, Marc Ryan, Jason Allen and Tim Gudsell. The Individual Pursuit will be contested by Allen, Hayden Roulston, and Ryan. Richard Bowker, Roulston and former world champ Greg Henderson will ride in the Points race, with Henderson, Godfrey and Gudsell all competing in the Scratch. Pete Latham missed out, but will ride in the road events.

Today, the 15th and day of the opening ceremony, will see the track cyclists practice at the track between 3 and 5.00pm, the road cyclists return to Tasmania and the mountain bikers practice on the bits of the course that are currently accessible. There is certainly a lot of excitement, confidence and energy within the NZ team, with everyone now just wanting to get on with it!


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by AFP Photo

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