Preview: World track championships in Manchester

Britain, France defending crowns

Britain and France will stake a claim for at least two of the four gold medals on offer in Manchester, England on the opening day of the world championships on Wednesday.

In one of the anticipated highlights of the opening day France are expected to confirm recent form by successfully defending their team sprint crown.

Britain dominated the Worlds' medal table last year and will be looking to strike back when Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins bids to defend his individual pursuit crown.

Last year in Mallorca France beat the British trio of Craig McLean, Ross Edgar and Chris Hoy by just two thousandths of a second to claim the men's team sprint title.

This year flying Scot Hoy, who will finish off Britain's effort after second man Edgar and new start man Jamie Staff, admits he would be surprised if Britain capped an anticipated final between the British and the French with the gold.

"They (France) have had a really good World Cup series and they're definitely the favourites," said Hoy, who will not defend his kilometre title here as it is no longer part of the Olympic programme. "We're not expecting to win it, but it's not out of the question."

France have more than one reason to show they are worthy of the team sprint gold medal.

The recent ousting of track icon Arnaud Tournant from the team sprint in favour of Mickael Bourgain caused major ripples, especially as the reigning world kilometre record holder and 13-times world champion anchored France to their dramatic victory over Britain last year.

Bourgain will play a similar role to Hoy, finishing off the efforts of the hugely talented Kevin Sireau, who will take over from start man Gregory Bauge once he heads high up into the boards.

Yet as Tournant considers the possibility of only competing in the keirin here, Bourgain has been told he must be faster than all his rivals in Wednesday's qualifiers - or risk losing his place to Tournant.

France have also cranked up the stakes for Bourgain in the individual sprint competition.

So far, only Sireau, the recently-crowned World Cup sprint champion, has his sprint place assured for Beijing. France have an allocation of two places, meaning Bourgain must now beat Bauge to secure his individual sprint place for the Olympics.

France coach Benoit Vetu, who coaches Sireau and Bourgain at their training base in Hyeres in the south of France, diplomatically refuses to come out in favour of either rider.

"Any one of our three riders could win the individual sprint crown here," he said on Tuesday.

When it comes to winning sprint gold on Friday, however, Sireau is the man most feared by flying Dutchman Theo Bos, a three-time and defending world champion who remains a big favourite despite limiting his sprint racing this season.

"The one I'm most worried about (out of the French) is Sireau," said Bos.

The men's scratch race and women's 500 metre time trial will also be held on the opening day.

© BikeRadar & AFP 2008

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