Preview: Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games

English, Australians set to dominate

Cycling at this year's Commonwealth Games is set to be as notable for the big names missing as much as the riders gunning for glory, because a string of top stars have pulled out.

Hosts India are competing for the first time in 32 years but are not seen as serious contenders, with Australia and England expected to dominate.

Cyclists were putting their final preparations together at the velodrome today ahead of tomorrow's opening track cycling events, when three gold medals will be up for grabs.

Double European track champion Rebecca James, of Wales, who will compete in the 500m time trial and the sprint, said: "I'm taking this as an experience, so I'm just going out there to do my best. It's a big step for me; there are some awesome girls competing."

Cycling, first included in the 1934 London Games, will feature 14 track events and two road events, with 30 medals up for grabs for the men and 24 for the women. England go into the road events with a team including young world-class stars Lizzie Armitstead and Alex Dowsett.

They line up with experienced riders such as Jeremy Hunt, Russell Downing and Emma Pooley, who arrives fresh from winning the world time trial title in Australia. But the International Cycling Union's (UCI) decision to use next month's European Championships as a qualifier for the 2012 Olympics has meant some top names, including Olympic champions Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy, will be absent.

In addition, Olympic team pursuit gold medallist Geraint Thomas has pulled out, saying he wasn't prepared to risk his health in New Delhi amid reports of an outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever and sanitation concerns in the athlete village.

Sarah Storey, meanwhile, will be the first Paralympian to compete for England in able-bodied sport at the Commonwealth Games, as part of the track team. She has 14 world titles in swimming and cycling.

Mark Cavendish, of the Isle of Man, who brings the curtain down on his season in Delhi, took a gold in the men's track cycling scratch event at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006.

Seven world champions, led by 2004 Olympic and reigning Commonwealth Games champion Anna Meares, have been named in the Australian team. They'll look to replicate their dominant performance on both road and track at the Melbourne Games and the recent World Track Championships, where they finished as the number one ranked country.

However, Mark Renshaw, who was famously thrown off the Tour de France for head-butting a rival, has withdrawn because of health reasons. He has been replaced by Michael Matthews, who won the world under-23 road race title in Geelong last week. New Zealand road cyclist Greg Henderson has also pulled out, due to concerns about health and security.   

© AFP 2010

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