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2009 UCI Track Cycling World Championships - CM
Pruszkow, Poland, March 25-29, 2009
Brits definitely beatable
By Les Clarke
The first major meet since the 2008 Olympics, this year's world championships in Pruszkow, Poland, is a chance to gauge who is still suffering a post-Games hangover and which nations went back to work after Beijing.
Great Britain is still the team to beat, although there are some notable absences from its squad for these world titles; after its domination of the Olympics last year it comes as welcome news for those riders also making their way to Poland.
Sir Chris Hoy and Garmin-Slipstream pro Bradley Wiggins, who took five gold medals between them in Beijing, won't be making the trip. It certainly leaves the door wide open in both the men's sprint and endurance events.
Wiggins' Madison partner at the Beijing Games, Mark Cavendish, has been the talking point of these worlds thus far; thanks not just to his win in last weekend's Milano-Sanremo classic but for his surprise selection in the Great Britain squad after unequivocally announcing he wouldn't be riding the track after the Olympics.
"We're putting no pressure on him, but we're very excited to have him in the team," British Cycling's track performance manager, Heiko Salzwedel, told The Guardian. "We're keeping it very low key... He's doing no special preparation for the track, but coming straight from the road."
He won't have it easy, however. Australia's Leigh Howard, who has been mixing it up with the big boys of the pro six-day circuit this season, is primed and ready for a big performance in the Madison. He told Cyclingnews, "The Madison is my number one focus."
Although he'll be missing regular Madison partner Glenn O'Shea, who is suffering from chickenpox, look to one of the talented Meyer boys to be a suitable replacement and a possible medalist with Howard.
Endurance provides anticipated match-ups
The points race should again provide an excellent highlights reel, with Olympic bronze medalist Chris Newton and Australia's Cameron Meyer up for another bout on the track.
Meyer's teammate Leigh Howard believes his colleague is due for a big result. "Cameron is a good shot for the point score," he said recently.
"He's taken that many fourths - unbelievable fourths, mind you - and he's right up there and so much stronger this year than previous years. I think he could take out the world title this year.
We're going to throw our reputations on the line and say that Chinese rider Kam-Po Wong may pull something special out of his bag of tricks - he's a wily veteran and won the event against Newton and American Colby Pearce in the final world cup in Copenhagen last month.
Blisteringly fast young riders Jesse Sergent and Taylor Phinney are the standout characters in the men's individual pursuit. The absence of master pursuiter Bradley Wiggins really leaves the door open for the youth brigade to take glory over four kilometres. Phinney's time of 4.15.22 in qualifying during the Copenhagen world cup has put him in pole position to take his first senior world title at the tender age of 18.
Add Australia's Jack Bobridge, who has proven his speed over the distance so far this season, and we may be looking at a glimpse of what to expect in London in three years' time.
The same applies to the team variety of this discipline - Wiggins' absence should help provide an even four-way contest between the likes of the British, Australians, New Zealanders and Danish, minus their acclaimed manager Heiko Salzwedel.
Another exciting match-up may come with the women's team pursuit; the British outfit of Wendy Houvenaghel, Lizzie Armistead, Joanna Roswell and Katie Colclough has proved itself in world cup competition, while New Zealand's representatives Alison Shanks, Kaytee Boyd and Lauren Ellis have quickly established a reputation for themselves and shouldn't disappoint.
Sprint surprises on the cards
Like the men's endurance, the absence of one British rider - Chris Hoy - has opened the field in the men's sprint events. "With him [Hoy] out it certainly increases our chances, but you don't hope that someone isn't going to be there because they've been injured," Australian sprinter Scott Sunderland told Cyclingnews.
"It's very unfortunate that Chris Hoy cannot participate as he was very motivated to show his outstanding capabilities following the increase in public interest," Heiko Salzwedel explained upon announcement of the British squad. "This opens up the opportunity for younger riders to show their potential."
"They certainly have a good lineup, regardless of who isn't in - they've still got some big names in there. Having said that, we've got a good chance, as do the French and the Germans, so it should really be a case of who has the best legs on the day will be on top of the podium," said Sunderland.
The likes of Jamie Staff and Jason Kenny will be tough for Australian riders Shane Perkins, Daniel Ellis, Sunderland and Jason Niblett to overcome, while French stars Michael d'Almeida, Kevin Sireau and Gregory Bauge are the standout men for the tricoleurs.
"You can never rule out the French - they're always likely to pull something out of the bag," added Sunderland.
"We heard that Bauge had retired and moved over to running, but then he comes out mid-season and does times he's renowned for, like 17.4 seconds...it really depends on how they are on the day. If they have a red-hot day they should do alright."
The Australian also explained a rumour surrounding French tactics for one of his events, the team sprint, and the key to each nation's medal chances. "I've heard they may be riding D'Almeida in third wheel, but sometimes he can't get on [the wheel] so it'll all come down to that - teamwork."
Sunderland also provided a little insight into the track's 'speed', and the sort of times we're likely to expect. "I heard that when they did the European track championships on this track it was pretty electric - a month after the Olympics Sireau was doing 9.9 seconds, and Sandie Clair did a high 33 [33.872 in the 500m TT]... they're pretty amazing times."
Speaking of the women's 500m time trial, Australia's Anna Meares will be looking to recapture her crown after not competing in last year's world titles. She enjoyed a long, and deserved, break after Beijing, but she's a natural competitor and will surely be on the podium in Pruszkow.
Her rival in the women's sprint gold medal ride in Beijing, Victoria Pendleton, will be in Poland hoping to add another set of rainbow stripes to her gold medal from Beijing. Like her Australian counterpart, Pendleton enjoyed a break after the Olympics, and admitted that her form in the Copenhagen world cup wasn't optimal, so look to a more open battle in her events after a couple of seasons of domination from the affable Brit.