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2008 UCI Track Cycling World Championships - CM

Great Britain, March 26-30, 2008

First stop Manchester, next stop: Beijing

By Ben Atkins, UK Editor

The Australian team pursuiters
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

The UCI Track Cycling World Championships return to Great Britain's National Cycling Centre for the first time since 2000. This year's championships should proved to be the most competitive for a long time, with just over four months – and no more major events – before August's Olympic Games in Beijing. Host nation Great Britain was the dominant country in Mallorca, Spain last year, and will be hoping to maintain that dominance with a bit of home-track advantage.

While many riders will wish to avoid peaking their form too early, at the expense of possible Olympic medals, the highly psychological game that track racing can be will mean that the favourites will still want to impose themselves over their rivals.

As well as riders from other countries, many riders will also face stiff competition from members of their own national squads, a poor performance here could leave the door open to others and cost them a place in the team come August. For this reason, we should be in for some fascinating competitions.

Sprinting: the kings and queens of speed

Arnaud Tournant (France)
Photo ©: John Pierce
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On of the most fiercely competitive events should be the Men's Team Sprint. Great Britain was pipped on the line by France at last year's championships by just two-thousandths of a second, and so will be out for revenge. The two finalists form Mallorca won't have it all their own way though as resurgent teams from Australia and Germany will be challenging, and the team from the Netherlands has finally managed to organise itself around the supreme talent of individual champion Theo Bos.

The women's race should be as hotly contested between hosts Great Britain and the Netherlands. The British are the defending champions – with Pendleton and Shanaze Reade – and may feel they have the upper hand after a very close (six-hundredths of a second) victory in the Copenhagen World Cup last month.

Despite bring voted the third most exciting event of the entire Athens games, the Kilometre and 500m time trials have been removed from the Beijing schedule to make way for the BMX events. The result of this is that Olympic and World Champion Chris Hoy (Great Britain) sill not be competing, preferring to concentrate on events that promise glory in August. Hoy won the competition by a country mile (more than eigth-tenths of a second) in Mallorca last year and his absence leaves the competition wide open.

Anna Meares will not defend her 500m time trial crown after crashing in Los Angeles and fracturing her neck, but last year's silver and bronze medallists Lisandra Guerra Rodriguez of Cuba and Belarusian Natallia Tsylinskaya, as well as Great Britain's Reade and Anna Blyth will be battling to follow in her footsteps. Competition may not be as hot in other years because of the event's exclusion from Beijing, but a rainbow jersey is a rainbow jersey after all.

The women's sprint will see some red hot competition
Photo ©: John Pierce
(Click for larger image)

The Sprint is probably the most psychological event in all of cycling, so victory here will prove a huge boost to the confidence of the winner on the way to Beijing. This is doubly important for the women, as this will be their only event come August. Great Britain's golden girl from Mallorca last year, Victoria Pendleton will be out for revenge over Willy Kanis (Netherlands) after the Dutch sensation bested her in two rounds at the last World Cup event in Copenhagen. China's Shuang Guo and the United States' Jennie Reed should also be in the mix for the medals.

Dutch World Champion Theo Bos should again be the man to beat, but will face stiff competition from all sides as riders from France, Australia and home nation Great Britain will be looking for success and – more importantly – selection for their respective teams in Beijing.

Probably the hardest of the sprint events to call is the Keirin. Despite being a somewhat sanitised version of the big Japanese gambling spectacle, thrills and – more seriously – spills abound, ruining more than one favourite's chances over the years. For this reason, the top women – especially reigning champion Pendleton – may ride a little more circumspectly to avoid a crash that could affect Olympic preparations, especially after her close encounter with the boards at the Beijing World Cup last year.

It is an Olympic event for the men though, and so the psychological battle that started in the Sprint should continue here. Hoy is the reigning champion here, and will be spurred on by a home crowd to try and retain that title in the men's race, while American Reed has the best chance to give the USA a gold medal in the women's.

In pursuit of gold

Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain)
Photo ©: AFP
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Current World and Olympic Champion Bradley Wiggins, competing on his home track, should start the Individual Pursuit as overwhelming favourite. His leading competition may well come from Australian former team-mate and namesake Bradley McGee. McGee seems to have put the injury problems of the last few years behind him and is looking to complete his set of Olympic medals this year and add gold to the silver he won in Athens and the bronze from Sydney. Other medal contenders include Ukrainian World Cup winner Volodymyr Dyudya, American youngster Taylor Phinney and Spanish former World champion Sergi Escobar Roure.

Sarah Hammer (USA) hopes to recover from back problems
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
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The women's individual event should come down to a duel between reigning World champion Sarah Hammer of the USA, and fast improving Rebecca Romero of Great Britain. If either woman fails to deliver on the day though, riders like Australia's Katie Mactier, Lithuanian Vilija Sereikaite and Romero's team-mate Wendy Houvenaghel will be only too pleased to step in.

In the men's team event, the Great Britain team will be looking to continue its dominance of recent years, but the return of road riders like McGee and Brett Lancaster could see Australia return to something like its World record breaking best of a few years ago. Other teams featuring could include a rapidly improving Denmark – who broke its own national record in Copenhagen last month, and the Ukraine.

This will be the first time that a women's team pursuit has featured in the World Championships and so the race is something of an unknown quantity. Rest assured that the Great Britain women will be looking to emulate the success of their male team-mates, and a squad that includes Romero, Houvenaghel, and the two up-and-coming powerhouses of Lizzie Armitstead and Joanna Rowsell should be the one to beat. Teams like Germany, the Netherlands and Russia have enjoyed success in the World Cups this season – the former two battling in a closely fought final in Copenhagen.

Bunch racing: getting to the point

Roger Kluge (Germany)
Photo ©: John Veage
(Click for larger image)

The World Championship Madison should take on a six-day flavour with returning champions Bruno Risi and Franco Marvulli of Switzerland looking to carry over the form of a successful winter campaign. A strong challenge should come from Spain's Joan Llaneras, who looks likely to be partnered with Carlos Torrent. Llaneras is the reigning Points Race champion but will return to the Madison, having missed the event last year after the death of his racing partner Isaac Galvez in the 2006 Gent Six. The home nation should be represented by Wiggins and Mark Cavendish who will be looking to combine the enormous engine of the former with the phenomenal leg speed of the latter.

The men's points race favours the endurance riders with a strong kick, and Australian Cameron Meyer has shown that he has the audacity to make just the right breakaway and then pile on the points, but don't overlook Russian Mikhail Ignatiev, Kiwi Greg Henderson or Dutch rider Pim Lighthart - all of whom had stellar World Cups. Missing – due to being doored while out training – is Great Britain's World Cup series winner Chris Newton.

The Scratch Race will be even harder to call; its simple first-over-the-line format means that a single breakaway rider can win over a superior sprinter if they time it right. The big German Roger Kluge and the wily man from Hong Kong, Kam-Po Wong are some of the best, but American Mike Friedman has shown brilliant form on the road, and could well repeat his victory from the Beijing World Cup round.

The big story in the women's bunch races is the emergence of the Netherlands Marianne Vos as a major force in track racing. The 2006 road race World Champion is looking to add one – or even – two rainbow jerseys from the track to the two she has from road and cyclocross. If she can bring some of her road dominance from last year on to the track you wouldn't bet against her gaining glory here, and in Beijing.

Vos will have to overcome a concerted opposition from fast women such as Australian Katherine Bates, the defending Points race champion, as well as the highly motivated Chinese riders such as World Cup winner Yan Li and American Rebecca Quinn.

Omnium – a man for all seasons

The return of the Omnium at last year's championships after an absence of nearly forty years saw the strange spectacle of riders like kilometre specialist Ben Kersten taking on riders like Brad Huff and Robert Slippens. Consisting of five events in a single day, the Omnium is the test of the true all-rounder, testing both sprinting and endurance characteristics – as well as tactical know-how. Sprinters will try to do well in their own specialist events and hang on in there in those that suit them less – the endurance riders do the opposite. Alois Kankovsky of the Czech Republic – who managed to do well in almost all events last year – returns to defend his jersey.

As usual Cyclingnews will be on the spot to bring you all the action and results as they happen, so stay tuned – you'll read it here first!