No Olympics for Boonen; Rabobank Down Under

Belgian coach squashes rumour of Quick.Step team pursuit in Beijing

Boonen's audacious Olympic bid falls flat

Former world road race champion Tom Boonen will not take part in the Beijing Olympics' track cycling events, according to Belgium's national team manager.

Boonen announced last week his audacious bid to go for Olympic glory as part of a new Belgian track pursuit team - despite the fact he has little experience of the discipline. The Quick Step team's one-day specialist, a former winner of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, had been hoping to team up with Gert Steegmans, Sébastien Rosseler and Wouter Weylandt for the 4km event.

However Belgian team officials said from late on Friday that Boonen would not be part of their Olympic plans.

"I can confirm that he will not be with the Belgian track team," Belgium's English coach, Jon Wiggins, told AFP in Los Angeles at the track World Cup. "If that had been his objective, he would already be here with us."

According to a report in La Derniere Heure newspaper, Boonen - the winner of the points competition's green jersey at the Tour de France last year - had said he was confident of scoring a track upset in Beijing.

"If the four of us really get going ... I'm 100 percent sure we can come up with something in Beijing," said the 27-year-old. "The main obstacle in our way is learning the technique in a matter of three weeks, because we won't have the time to train together before August. But I believe that myself, Steegmans and Rosseler are the three fastest riders in Belgium, Europe and who knows where else."

Currently, Australia hold the Olympic track pursuit title having won gold in Athens ahead of Great Britain and Spain.

A total of 10 teams will contend the team pursuit title in Beijing - hosts China, the reigning world champions from the upcoming championships at Manchester this March, and the eight best teams in the World Cup rankings.

Rabobank underline Tour Down Under intentions

Australian rider Graeme Brown said Dutch team Rabobank's dominant performance during the warm-up to Tuesday's Tour Down Under cycling race showed they would be the team to beat in 2008.

Although the 50km Down Under Classic was won by Team High Road rider Andre Greipel, Rabobank's seven-man team spent most of the latter half of the race controlling the front of the field. Only some bad luck on the final lap prevented Brown from getting in a position to challenge for the win, a fact Greipel readily acknowledged.

However, Brown said Rabobank's performance gave him plenty to be optimistic about heading into the first UCI ProTour race to be held outside Europe.

"Maybe it was a little bit too much (effort), but it was also a good hitout for the week," Brown said. "The guys weren't overly concerned about it - the result wasn't as good as we would expect, but it's better to make mistakes yesterday than tomorrow.

"We tried to take control of the race, it didn't work out, sprints are always a bit different. They all have really good legs, which is a really good sign for us for the next week, which is ProTour, which is a lot more important than last night."

The race, which winds its way through some of Australia's most famous wine making regions, begins with a 129km stage from Adelaide to Angaston. It concludes five days later with an 88km circuit through the streets of the South Australian capital.

The stages have been kept shorter than in European races to take into account the heat of the South Australian summer, where temperatures often reach the high 30s and low 40s.

But Brown said he hoped the hot weather that has been a feature of the Tour Down Under over its 10-year history but which has been absent this week would return, creating challenging conditions for European rivals.

"I've won a few stages and the sprint jersey one year, I like it, especially the really warm weather," he said. "Now it's a bit cool (27 degrees) - I'd like it 10 degrees warmer. That makes it really hard, especially for the Euros.

"For Willunga (the second-last stage) I hope it's 45 degrees, it might slow them down a little bit."

The winner is expected to come from one of the Australians in the field, with Robbie McEwen and Matt Lloyd (Silence-Lotto), Stuart O'Grady (CSC) and Simon Gerrans (Credit Agricole) tipped to challenge Brown for the title.

© AFP 2008

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