Australia’s dual-world champion cycling pursuit team must now be considered favourites for Olympic gold, having beaten their British rivals on the London Olympic velodrome.
This week’s London round of the UCI track world cup was the first major international competition at the new velodrome, and Australian riders showed some good form, with the women’s team showing the most promise.
The men’s team pursuit squad of Jack Bobridge, Rohan Dennis, Michael Hepburn and Alex Edmondson defeated the British team with a time of 3:54.615, the third-fastest time in history, stamping themselves as Australia’s best chance of track cycling gold in London.
Melissa Hoskins also won a daring gold medal in the women’s 10km scratch race, breaking away for a solo victory. Hoskins has performed well this year on the road with the GreenEDGE-AIS team, and her track form is an encouraging sign.
Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch sizzled to a world record in qualifying for the team sprint, only to see the British pair of Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton break it while defeating the Australians in the final.
Pendleton’s storming finish had her home crowd in patriotic raptures. London has a strong cycling community with a long history of track racing, so if the locals can beg, borrow or buy Olympic tickets it will be an intensely partisan crowd in August.
Meares returned the favour in the individual sprint, defeating Pendleton 2-1 in the semi-finals.
The rivalry between Pendleton and Meares has to be one of the best in world sport, and this close encounter only ratchets up the tension before the World Championships in Melbourne, and of course the Olympics.
Pendleton, one of the glamour girls of British sport (she has appeared on the cover of FHM), is the reigning Olympic champion in the event, but Meares is the world champion and has had the better of their recent contests.
China’s Guo Shuang ultimately won the gold medal, as Meares was unable to recover from her duel with Pendleton in time. Guo’s intelligent race tactics were enough to edge out a tired Meares.
The Australian women’s team pursuit team also rode brilliantly to set a world record in their bronze-medal race, destroying the Netherlands outfit comprehensively. However, like their sprinting compatriots, they had to watch a fresh world record wither under a British counter-attack, with Canada also going quicker than the Aussies.
Hopefully a closer race will help the Australians lift their intensity over the final laps; it’s hard to give it everything when you know you’ve got the medal in the bag.
Annette Edmondson’s silver in the women’s omnium was nearly-but-not-quite enough to gain family bragging rights over her brother Alex, but it was a promising performance from another emerging star.
Australia’s male sprinters were underwhelming, showing little form in the individual, team sprint, or the keirin.
The men’s team pursuit, however, rode magnificently under pressure from Great Britain, setting a new Australian record while stamping their authority on a race they have dominated since Beijing.
Even better, they did it with 18-year old Edmondson in his first major international competition. Swapping in a Luke Durbridge or a Cameron Meyer is tantalising prospect.
This young team could do magical things this year. A world record at the world championships in Melbourne might be one of them.