A ten-year work in progress will be expected to come to fruition in glorious fashion next week when Great Britain’s team of track cycling stars prepare to burn up the boards of the Laoshan velodrome in Beijing for the Summer Olympics.
A total of 54 medals will be on offer from the 18 finals in cycling’s four disciplines of road, track, mountain bike and BMX, and 30 of those will be won at the 250-metre velodrome west of Beijing.
Of the 10 golds on offer, Britain are realistically aiming – some might say arrogantly – for six.
It’s a long way from the joy of winning two track golds in Athens four years ago when Scotland’s Chris Hoy and England’s Bradley Wiggins dominated the kilometre and individual pursuit respectively.
But four years on, Britain – as Australia and France have been forced to admit – have taken another massive stride towards world track cycling domination. At the world championships in Manchester in March, the hosts claimed 11 of the 54 total medals, including nine golds.
The British team’s performance director Dave Brailsford is not one for banding figures about. But with such track talent at his disposal – adding to the gold medal Shanaze Reade is expected to win in the women’s BMX competition, and a possible gold for Welshwoman Nicole Cooke in the women’s road race – there is no mistaking how high he has raised the bar.
“In Beijing, we’re going out there to perform to the best of our ability in each event,” Brailsford said last week as the team met for a pre-Olympics training camp in Wales. We’re expecting it to be difficult out there, and the challenge is for us to raise our game. No Olympic medal is ever given away.”
However, he added: “We are going there to be on the top step.”
If it all goes right on the night for Hoy and pursuit master Wiggins, the pair could come away with three golds apiece.
Britain will be hoping to qualify for the team sprint final against reigining world champions France, and then Hoy will be aiming to confirm his world champion status in both the sprint and the keirin on the Olympic stage.
Victoria Pendleton, also the reigning sprint world champion, will be pushed hard by the likes of China’s Shuang Guo but the Englishwoman is considered the big favourite in the demanding speed event.
In the endurance events Britain can realistically aim for a further three golds.
Wiggins will try to defend his Olympic crown in the individual pursuit while also spearheading the team’s bid to add Olympic gold to the gold they won in a new world record time at Manchester.
Finally, in the Madison Wiggins will team up with Manxman Mark Cavendish, a four-stage winner at July’s Tour de France, in a bid to succeed Australia, which, this Olympics, has no Madison duo qualified.
The spills and thrills on two wheels won’t all be seen in the velodrome.
There are four golds to be won in the men’s and women’s road events (road race and time trial), while there is one gold apiece for the men’s and women’s BMX and mountain bike races.
Italy’s reigning Olympic champion Paolo Bettini is being tipped to defend his title on a hilly course which suits his capabilities as a sprinter-cum-climber. But if the race over the tough 248.5km course pans out was expected, Bettini will face a tough challenge from the likes of Spain’s Alejandro Valverde – who is arguably even more suited to the course.
Valverde, a stage winner at the Tour de France, put his gold credentials on display by winning the San Sebastian classic – ahead of Bettini – last Saturday.
In the men’s time trial Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara – the world champion the past two years – will be favourite for a first Olympic title. However the CSC professional was shown during the Tour de France – when Germany’s Stefan Schumacher shocked him to win the race against the clock over 53km – that he will not have the course to himself.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008