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Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games
Manchester, England, July 27 - August 3, 2002
International stars line up for Commonwealth cycling events
By Gerry McManus
The opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games took place on Thursday July 25 in Manchester, and the cycling program gets under way soon after with the road time-trials in nearby Rivington on Saturday July 27.
Seventy-two countries from six continents participate in the games but just seven will largely dominate the cycling events.
Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are fielding strong teams, with many individuals being released by their professional sponsored teams for the 10-day event.
Most of the cycling disciplines are featured on the track and road with the exception of the Madison. Mountain biking makes a well-deserved debut. Although there have been reports of poor entries in some of the athletic events both in quality and quantity, cycling entries include some seriously world-class contenders.
Stories are already emerging of the lesser-known cycling teams for different reasons. A pair of Gambian cyclists travelled to the games without their bicycles but have been bailed out by kind cycle trader Ribble Cycles. Chris Hedges from Bermuda is hoping for a pro contract after the road race. The 22-year old has told BBC online that it is his dream after he finished fourth in the B world championships.
The indoor velodrome in Manchester hosts the track race series starting on Sunday July 30 and this culminates in the expectation of some scintillating finals on the Thursday and Friday for the men's team pursuit, 20km scratch, points and sprint.
The host nation will be looking to continue the track renaissance that's now being steered by coach Heiko Salzwadel [see interview, May 2002]. England's Jason Queally will be among the favourites for the kilometre TT and FDJ's Brad Wiggins will be looking to buy a bigger trophy cabinet if he can regain the form that gave him pursuit Olympic and World Championship medals.
With Mapei-Quick Step releasing Mark Renshaw (Australia), he must be one of the favourites on the track endurance events of the points and 20km scratch races. Australian track coach Martin Barras [see interview, May 2002] fields a strong team that also includes world kierin champion Ryan Bayley and
The women's track program is strong too, with the sprint, points, 500m TT and the 3,000 individual pursuit finals spread throughout the week. New Zealand's Sarah Ulmer [see interview, June 2002] is among the favourites in the pursuit, while Australia may yet decide to unleash Rochelle Gilmore's [see interview, 2001] sprint on the track as well as the road.
Strong national teams will fiercely contest the men's road events.
Mark Wohlberg, USPRO Champion Mark Walters (Navigators) and Gordon Fraser (Mercury) line up for Canada. Fraser has a deserved selection following the Arizona-based rider's successful season in the U.S. including the ultra-fast First Union classic in Trenton NJ in June.
Northern Ireland's team selection has been meticulous with David McCann (Volksbank - Ideal) and Tommy Evans (VC La Pomme) being supported by home-based riders Brendan Doherty and Denis Easton (Total Cycling). McCann put has clearly put his disappointment of finishing fourth in the Irish national championships behind him by winning the UCI ranked Manx International just over a week ago. His win in the Irish time-trial championships on a similar style course is evidence enough of his ability against the clock and he rides this event too.
Mark Lovatt and John Tanner (Compensation Group RT) get a break from dominating the UK scene by representing England and get another deserved chance for medals on the road race circuit that hosted the GB championships in June. However, Gordon McCauley (New Zealand) will be keen to beat the pair as he has done on many previous occasions in the UK. The RDM Flanders man has ridden as guest rider with Domo - Farm Frites this year supporting Fred Rodriguez in the US and was tipped for a fill-time spot next year. He is supported by a full road squad including Julian Dean.
The Australians boast a squad deep in professionals including Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole) [see interview, July 2002]. His performance in the Alps in the Tour de France must have set alarm bells ringing with the competition who thought he was just a sprinter. Nathan O'Neill is a consistent performer against the clock at international level, including a top 10 at the World Championships in Portugal, and two top 10 results in the Tour of Spain. These games are an opportunity to show what he could have done in the Sydney Olympics if he hadn't crashed. The road squad also includes Cadel Evans, Brad McGee and Baden Cooke, all of whom have done extremely well on the road this year.
The Australian women's squad will also be one to be reckoned with, led by Anna Millward, who won the Gold Medal in the Women's Time Trial at the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur. Top track and road sprinter Rochelle Gilmore, Australian road champion Margaret Hemsley, Australian criterium champion Hayley Rutherford, and the highly experienced Elizabeth Tadich round out the formidable team.
Nicole Cooke [see interview, 2001] will be wearing the colours of her native Wales and this should make her even more determined to add to her world and national championship gold medals in the road race.
England's perennial key challenger is Sarah Symington, who also has home-town advantage. The 33-year-old from Cheshire joined cycling from triathlon and is noted for her climbing ability as well her finishing sprint and as a veteran of the '98 games, will know what to expect.
The mountain bike race will see the only example of a reigning world cycling champion competing in his discipline as Canada's Roland Green lines up for the men's race. Green will have strong competition from the likes of New Zealand's Kashi Leuchs and Australia's Paul Rowney, but realistically, it's likely to be a race for second.
A number of road riders will be doubling up with the mountain bike cross-country including favourites Caroline Alexander (Scotland) and Susy Pryde (New Zealand). Alexander is a seasoned professional and has used her experience to sixth place in the World Championships in Colorado last year and her 2002 season has yielded some continued success including a stage win in the Sea Otter Classic in California in May. Australia's Mary Grigson has had disappointing results so far this season, buit she has been aiming to peak for the games, and if her preparation has gone to plan the form that took her to several NORBA victories last year will be hard to answer.
With a three-day gap between the cross-country and road race, it should be enough to see best efforts in both events.