AMBITIONS UNCHANGED: Rivals out to test British track supremacy
BRITAIN'S Olympic track cycling supremacy will be put to the test from today when six days of fierce competition, with world records and decades-old rivalries on the line, start in London.
Four years after Britain dominated the boards of the Laoshan velodrome in Beijing by winning seven gold medals out of 10, rule changes mean a repeat for the hosts is unlikely.
In the new Olympic track cycling programme, both men and women compete in the same five events of the sprint, team sprint, keirin, team pursuit and omnium.
But while Britain have lowered their expectations, their ambitions at the venue known as the 'Pringle', because of its curved shape, remain unchanged.
Qualifying with one of the fastest times for the men's team pursuit today, when the fancied Australian, New Zealand and Russian teams will look to do likewise, will be their first priority.
Beijing gold medallist Geraint Thomas was part of the British quartet -- with Ed Clancy, Peter Kennaugh and Steven Burke -- who broke the world record in Melbourne in April against Australia with a time of 3:53.295s
And he believes that benchmark will tumble again.
"I think we will (go faster than the current world record) and the Aussies will," said Thomas, who completed the Giro d'Italia in June before settling down to working for the Games.
"We are just looking to keep going faster all the time and we are confident we can step up and go knock a chunk off that again."
Jack Bobridge, the only member of a young Australian pursuit team -- dubbed the 'Boy Band' by British media -- to compete in Beijing, where they finished fourth, says a podium place is not enough.
"We don't just want to finish one place better. We haven't come here to run second or third, we've come here to win," Bobridge said on Tuesday.
Britain have equally high hopes in the men's three-lap, three-man power event of the team sprint, and the women's two-lap equivalent.
Sir Chris Hoy, who won three gold medals in Beijing to add to the 1km gold he won in Athens, has a chance to take his tally to five on the opening day.
He is the anchor man in an event in which German-born Philip Hindes, known as 'man one' in track jargon, will aim to give them a crucially fast start before peeling off and handing over to Jason Kenny for lap two.
France, Germany and Australia will be knocking on the door, however, and Frenchman Gregory Bauge is hoping to steal their thunder.
"Let's hope it's us, and not them, who emerge with the biggest smiles," said Bauge, the three-time world sprint champion who will bid to succeed Hoy as champion in the individual event.
The team sprint can be won by one-thousandth of a second, a fact not lost on Hoy. "I think we have to be realistic. A bronze medal, or any medal would be an achievement and we'd celebrate that," he said.
The women's two-lap event, which Britain, Australia and Germany have virtually made their own, will be just as tight.
Britain's Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton set a world record of 32.754s during the Olympic test event in February, only to see Germany's Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel clock 32.549 on their way to beating Australia's Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch to world gold in April.
The potential for more Britain v Australia rivalry will continue with both Anna and Victoria going for three gold each from the sprint, keirin and team sprint.
Victoria claimed her sixth world sprint title in Melbourne, where Anna won keirin gold, but knows that on her Olympic swansong her title might be heading to Australia.
"Her (Anna's) performances on the whole over the last 12 months have been a lot more solid than mine," said Victoria.
The women's team pursuit, an event in which three riders aim to set the fastest time over 3km (12 laps) of the 250-metre velodrome, will be hard to predict.
Britain own the world record of 3:15.720, and while Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand should all be in the mix, Australian Melissa Hoskins says the hosts are the "team to beat".
She added: "Not only do they have home-soil advantage, but they have proven that they are the strongest team in the world.
"To beat them, the whole team is going to have to be on song." AFP