Britain’s Chris Hoy could face his biggest test yet as the king of the keirin when he bids to add Olympic gold to his two world titles in Beijing on Saturday.
A day after aiming to give Britain the edge in the team sprint, the hotly-contested keirin will cap a day two schedule in which Bradley Wiggins will aim to defend his pursuit crown and several riders will bid to win the hard-to-predict points race.
Britain come into the Olympics with world crowns in seven of the 10 gold medal events that are set to blow the roof off the Laoshan velodrome. But just how well they fare could be partly determined by the psychological edge gained by some early wins – from the likes of Hoy, and the rest of his three-man sprint team, and Wiggins.
Hoy is the two-time reigning world keirin champion and, he claims, has the form of his life.
“I’m in as good shape as I can be; I’d be disappointed if I don’t go better than I’ve ever gone before,” said the Edinburgh-born rider, the reigning champion in the now defunct event of the kilometre.
Australia’s reigning Olympic keirin and sprint champion Ryan Bayley, as well as Frenchman Arnaud Tournant, will be among those looking to bust Hoy’s usual tactic using sheer power to ride at the front and keep his rivals at bay.
“Tactics wise I think I’ve got it over him, legs-wise I think he’s got it over me,” Bayley, who admits his form has been “up and down”, said here Thursday. “My tactics aren’t the best either, but I’m hoping to be one of the guys to challenge him.”
The keirin will be Tournant’s Olympic swansong and perhaps the perfect excuse for France’s fiery 14-time world champion to go that extra mile in a bid for his sole aim of “victory”.
“If you accept you’ve lost, it’s not a good mentailty,” said Tournant, who has three Olympic medals including gold from the team sprint in Sydney (2000).
Come Saturday, Wiggins – with four medals already Britain’s most decorated Olympic cyclist – will hoped to have qualified for his second consecutive Olympic final. The 27-year-old Londoner starts as the world champion, and the man to beat for the likes of Australian Brad McGee, who finished second behind Wiggins in Athens.
A host of other, ambitious pursuit riders will hope to feed off an atmosphere that could be turned electric by 6,000 screaming fans.
But to have any medal chances they will need to post times in the region of, or faster than 4:20 during qualifying, then a first round before making the final.
American eyes will be on 18-year-old sensation Taylor Phinney, who is hoping to continue his impressive first 10 months as a track pursuiter with the help of some useful genetics. His mother Connie Carpenter won gold in the women’s road race in 1984 while his father Davis Phinney is an Olympic bronze medallist in the 1984 time trial and one of only 10 Americans to win a stage on the Tour de France.
However Phinney’s team leader, Pat McDonough, has called for cool heads.
“He’s riding well and setting a new PR (personal record) every day. But he’s competing against professionals here and he only graduated from high school six weeks ago,” said McDonough.
The men’s points race pits 19-year-old Meyer, a three-time world junior champion on the track, against a strong bunch that includes reigning Olympic champion Mikhail Ignatiev of Russia, Belarussia’s world champion Vasili Kiriyienka and Dutchman Peter Schep.
Spain’s 39-year-old Olympic champion from 2000, and the Athens silver medallist, Joan Llaneras, also has his eyes on the prize in what must be his last Olympic campaign.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008