Olympics: Danes set to gatecrash team pursuit gold party

Could they upstage favourites Britain and Australia?

With two days to go to one of the highlights of the Olympic Games, world record holders Britain are lining up yet another charge at track cycling gold in the men's team pursuit event.

But Denmark have promised to cap four years of solid progression in the 4000 metre race against the clock by securing a place for Monday's final and thus assuring either silver or gold.

"All our focus is on this race," said Alex Rasmussen, one of two riders considered to have the engine that will help drive their bid over the qualifying round and first round Sunday that give entry to Monday's final.

"We hope to live up to our expectations, and that is to at least qualify for the final," added Casper Jorgensen, the team's second main engine.

With the entire Danish delegation aiming at a modest haul of seven medals from the Games, the Danish quartet are under pressure to deliver. But they come into the Games ready to show the traditional giants of Britain and Australia that they mean business.

Australia's reigning Olympic champions have been bullish about their chances, but are apparently stuttering having lost one of their key members from Athens, Brett Lancaster, when he was considered too fatigued by his endeavours in the Tour de France in July.

Lancaster did not qualify for the first round of the individual pursuit, a fate that also unexpectedly befell the respected Bradley McGee on Friday.

Denmark, on the other hand, are a rising force.

At the Manchester world championships in March, the Danes set a stunning time of 3:57.734 to qualify for the final, where Britain took gold in a new world record time of 3:56.322.

Coached for the past three and a half years by the renowned Heiko Salzwedel, who hails from the former east Germany, Denmark have gone from dreamers to potential Olympic champions.

But it did not all start so smoothly. Salzwedel began by testing his proteges' will to succeed by forcing them to race on basic track bikes as he handled the team's "mickey mouse" budget.

"They didn't like it at first, but I told them 'it's not important what kind of bikes you have. The main thing is to work on your performances, the equipment will come later'," Salzwedel told AFP.

Now with roughly the same equipment as Britain, Salzwedel admits however they have openly accepted kind offers of charitable assistance during the training camps that accompanied their appearances at track's World Cup competitions.

"We've had a lot of things for free, and a lot of people are happy to help us," he added. "Now, we don't feel disadvantaged compared to the Brits or the Australians."

Jorgensen still doesn't quite believe the stage they have reached, and he admits that Britain - who dominated qualifying for the individual competition on Friday - will be a tough nut to crack.

"We didn't believe this was how far we'd get when we started this project four years ago," he said Friday after watching a few of the "very strong" British pursuiters.

He added: "Gold for us will be very difficult."

Salzwedel's no-nonsense approach is so respected that he has been forced to brush off rumours he is set to join the British set-up after the Games when his contract with Denmark expires. Negotiations, however, could take on a new dimension if his audacious plan comes together at the Laoshan velodrome, which he believes could host an upset.

"Britain are the big favourites, and I have a lot of respect for them," he said. "But I would say we have a fair chance to win gold."

© AFP 2008

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