Britain vs France: Track contests heat up

Preparations galore for world's and Olympics

Track rivals France and Britain set out markers for the men's team sprint event Wednesday as preparations for the upcoming world championships and Olympics Games continue apace.

Multiple world champions France have taken the "difficult" decision of making iconic world kilometre record holder Arnaud Tournant a replacement for the event at the world championships in Manchester next month.

Great Britain meanwhile will decide after Saturday's 'Revolution' event at the speedy Manchester velodrome who will win the hotly-disputed lead-out place for the championships, and possibly for the Olympics.

France are considered the pacesetters in the team sprint, having won the Olympic title at Sydney in 2000 and the world title eight times since 1997 - with Tournant the single common denominator in all of those victories.

Great Britain's coaches are hoping to end French domination of the event at the world championships on March 26-30, but first they will have to decide who gets the job of putting in the explosive, first lap start.

Former BMX star Jamie Staff is regarded a favourite after an impressive lead-out ride in the recent Copenhagen Track World Cup, though he is under pressure from Jason Kenny, and Craig MacLean.

All three riders will take part in a special standing-start 500m time-trial at the beginning of the Revolution, designed to simulate a competition environment.

And while Staff is confident, the lure of a place on the worlds team is likely to bring the best out of both Kenny and MacLean.

"This is serious head-to-head stuff and the coal-face for selection for the Worlds," confirmed British Cycling head coach Shane Sutton. "The rider who rides the Worlds will definitely have a head start on Olympic selection so the riders know how important it is."

Tournant meanwhile will find himself uncharacteristically on the sidelines as the French prepare to defend the title won in Palma de Mallorca last year.

Gregory Bauge will lead-out their bid, Kevin Sireau will relay on the second lap and Mickael Bourgain will finish it off on his own for the third and final lap.

"It was very close between Mickael Bourgain and Arnaud Tournant," France's national track director Patrick Cluzaud told AFP Wednesday. "On times alone, Mickael Bourgain has a slight advantage. Both have about the same amount of experience, but there's also the simple feeling of who we believe will make the strongest team."

Cluzaud said Tournant could be called upon after the qualification rounds at the world championships, if necessary.

But that may come as little consolation for the man who has been a vital cog in France's team sprint for nearly a decade - Tournant has been involved in all of France's victorious bids for gold in the three-man event.

Tournant, who is likely to come up against old foe, Chris Hoy of Scotland, in the keirin event at the world championships, is set to end his career at the end of 2008.

© BikeRadar & AFP 2008

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