Our track cyclists in Olympic medal contention
Australia is a medal contender in every Olympic track cycling event according to Cycling Australia's National Performance Director speaking after the final round of the UCI World Cup raced on the Games velodrome in London.
Kevin Tabotta's prediction came after the men's 4km pursuit team rode the third fastest time in history to defeat arch rivals Great Britain and rising star Annette Edmondson claimed a surprise silver medal in the women's omnium competition on the fourth and final day of racing.
The Cyclone's quartet was made up of reigning world champions Jack Bobridge, 22, Rohan Dennis, 21,and Michael Hepburn, 20, with 18 year old Alex Edmondson completing the line up. They qualified fastest on Thursday night and in the final cranked up the pace to win gold in a time of 3:54.615. That was almost two seconds quicker than Britain's Steven Burke, Edward Clancy, Peter Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas who clocked 3:56.330 for second place. It was also the third best time ever ridden behind the world record time of 3.53.314 set by Great Britain in Beijing and the time of 3.54.395 ridden by the Brits in the Manchester World Cup in 2009.
"Our main purpose was to come here and win," said Bobridge who despite his own youth is the elder statesman of the team dubbed a 'boy band' by some British media because of their tender years. "It's the quickest we've ever gone before and it's a massive stepping stone for the whole team and the whole group. To be five six months out from Games and to do that is a good sign.
"We knew the track was obviously really quick and that it would take a (3.) 54, 55 to win (so) being able to do it was awesome," said Bobridge who is the world record holder in the individual pursuit and who, since stepping into the senior team in 2008 has won two world titles and a Commonwealth Games team pursuit gold medal. But he says at no point can the team afford to become complacent.
"We're never going to give them an inch, they're a world class team and world record holders," said Bobridge. "We wouldn't give any team an inch starting from the beginning, through to the finish and to race across the line. Never for one minute in the race do we let our guard down."
He says he expects the world record will fall if not at April's worlds titles in Melbourne, then in London in August.
"I think come the Games we are going to see around the 3:51, 3:50 mark," he said. "We have proved it over the past few years, we are getting quicker every time we get on the boards."
Hepburn said the event felt more like a world championship than a world cup because of the crowd support for Britain and complimented teenager Edmondson for maintaining his calm before and during the race.
"Alex is the fastest 18 year old in the world now and it must have been pretty intimidating lining up alongside three world champions but he did a great job," said Hepburn as the object of his praise lay prostrate on the concrete floor of the media interview area trying to get air back into his lungs.
"I gave it 110 percent and I couldn't see straight by the end," said Edmondson at a later media conference. "I was seeing stars."
"Alex hasn't got the physical maturity of the other three guys so his job was to do half lap turns and make sure he maintained the speed so the next guy coming through behind him didn't have to pick it up and he did it perfectly," said Cycling Australia track endurance coach Ian McKenzie who left the remaining member of the 2011 world champion team, Luke Durbridge, out of the starting four in favour of Edmondson and has multiple world champion, Cameron Meyer, Glenn O'Shea and Mitchell Mulhern also waiting in the wings.
"We'll always run five or six guys in the mix all the way through and that's important for them and they understand that internal competition drives them along," said Tabotta of the fierce competition to earn a men's pursuit berth for London. "But there will come a time when we'll settle the team in and move forward towards August.
Tabotta says he wasn't surprised by the fast time ridden by the Australian team considering their credentials.
"We've really been on top for the last couple of years but it is always a challenge to stay on top," said Tabotta. "When you're coming from behind it is sometimes an easier task, easier to keep people's heads on and expectations at a level but when you're competing from the front you have to keep the wolves at bay and keep lifting it a notch every time.
"The challenge for the Olympics in August is whether we can go two or three seconds faster to win the gold medal," he said predicting Australia would also challenge across the other nine events on the program. "We've worked pretty hard over the last four years to give ourselves more options and I don't think I'm being unrealistic in saying we believe we're in the hunt in most Olympic events but the difference between first place and fourth place is really up to them on the day.
"It's easy to be favourite going in and run fourth or fifth but also quite possible for riders on the fringe to step up and win medals," Tabotta said. "I think we're a medal chance in every event."
One of the events that perhaps hadn't been on the medal radar for Australia before this week is the women's omnium but Annette Edmondson, 20, the elder sister of pursuit rider Alex, has changed that with her silver medal performance in a world class field in what was her first omnium at international level.
"Three or four months ago we weren't sure what we could do with the women's omnium but Nettie has come on so quickly it's put her right in the mix and with young talent you can see big turnarounds in six months," said Tabotta. "I think the youth, in not just our team but across a few teams, could bring some surprises at the Olympics."
Edmondson backed up for the six race omnium after riding in the women's pursuit team that claimed the bronze medal on Friday in a world record time that was later broken by Great Britain in the gold medal race.
Edmondson firstly had to earn a place in the final through yesterday's qualifying points race after which she kicked off her omnium campaign with the fourth fastest time in the flying lap. In the points race she placed eighth and was fourth in the elimination race to put her in the lead going into today's second and final day of omnium competition. Fifth in the pursuit moved her back to second overall and she was still in second after finishing sixth in the scratch race. That put her in medal contention with only the 500m time trial to race.
"Four days of racing and seven races the last two days is a big ask but I felt most of the others were in the same boat so it was just keep your head and understand they're feeling it too," said Edmondson.
In the end her 500 metre time was good enough to put her at the top of the table on 20 points and equal with America's Sara Hammer. But when officials tallied the times posted in the flying lap, pursuit and time trial events, Hammer came out two seconds ahead of Edmondson.
"My 3.41 in the pursuit I wasn't that happy with and when it came down to the count back that's where I suffered," she said. "It's the next thing I'll work towards for the next shot I get at it but it was definitely a great opportunity to be able to ride against these girls and for it to be my first one and for me to show I can keep my head and mix it with the big names."
While the endurance riders were on the podium it was a hard day in the office for the sprint group.
Reigning world champion, Anna Meares, fought her way into the keirin final through the repechage but after two days of world class performances wasn't able to match her fresher opponents and finished sixth. Her team sprint world champion partner Kaarle McCulloch didn't progress through the repechage round.
In the men's sprint Shane Perkins qualified seventh fastest in a time of 10.162 but in his first round match up was relegated after he and rival Matthew Crampton (GBR) both rode into the sprinter's lane at the same time which saw an accelerating Perkins unable to stop himself from riding into the back wheel of Crompton. Perkins was then out paced in the B-draw quarter finals.
Scott Sunderland was eleventh fastest with his flying 200 metre qualifying time of 10.250 but that put him in a first round clash with reigning sprint world champion Jason Kenny of Great Britain. He raced well in the B-draw though to eventually finish in tenth place.
At the end of racing Britain emerged on top of the medal table with five gold, one silver and two bronze medals while Australia finished second with two gold, three silver and two bronze medals.
340 riders from 48 nations and 18 trade teams contested the four-day competition that was the official test event for the 2012 Olympic Games. It is the last round of the four round series that kicked off in Astana last November before heading to Colombia in December and China last month. After the World Cup Series the world's best cyclists will head to Melbourne to contest the 2012 UCI Track World Championships from 4 to 8 April. The Australian Cyclones for the world championships will be named on 14 March.
The team for the London UCI World Cup round and results summary is listed below:
Cyclones Australian Team