Britain's track cyclists target test event as vital season begins

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Olympic sports reporter
Victoria Pendleton
Victoria Pendleton hopes to have three shots at Olympic gold in 2012

Britain's track cyclists enter the final phase of their battle to reach the London 2012 Olympics at this week's national championships in Manchester.

Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton are among those competing.

Many riders are targeting a place in the GB team for February's 2012 test event at the new Olympic velodrome.

"I think the London test event team will be the Olympic team," said Britain's Lizzie Armitstead. "So it's going to be a fight to get into it."

Next month's European Championships in the Netherlands and the 2012 World Championships in Melbourne are other key dates for the British team.

The London test event doubles as a major World Cup event and carries Olympic qualifying significance - as well as providing a first opportunity to race on the 2012 track.

This week's racing in Manchester will help to determine the team for the European Championships, with the most important races in Olympic categories being staged from Friday to Sunday.

Hoy and Pendleton are both set to race on all three days.

"This week is a good stepping stone to see where I'm at. It's a good indicator," said Steven Burke, a bronze medallist at Beijing 2008 and member of the three-man pursuit team which won bronze at the 2011 World Championships.

Britain won team pursuit gold in Beijing but Australia have dominated the event over the last two years.

Burke, 23, added: "We've got the Europeans coming up, the Olympic test event and the Worlds. That's only three competitions before the Olympics.

"It's about time we started beating the Australians again. We need to start winning and getting that morale going again.

"We have to win team pursuit gold at London 2012. It's win or nothing."

The track squad has two concerns as the new season begins: earning qualifying points which open up places for British riders at the Games, and fighting to be selected to take up those places inside the Olympic velodrome.

Riders have already had a year to earn qualifying points and Britain is ranked among the top four nations for each of the 10 Olympic events - barring the women's omnium, where GB are currently seventh.

That form must be maintained and, beyond that, internal competition is exceptionally fierce for every event.

Hoy, 35, has recently been bested by younger compatriot Jason Kenny, 23, in the sprint. That was one of three gold medals the Scot won at Beijing 2008.

But, under new rules for London 2012, British Cycling can only choose one of them for the event at the Games.

The women's and men's team pursuit squads each have seven or eight serious contenders for just three or four places respectively in their starting line-ups.

Sprinter Jess Varnish, who won the women's 500m time trial title on the opening night of this year's nationals, said: "I've got to make myself be on that team [for London in February].

"I'm going for that with everything I've got."

Varnish is looking to cement her place alongside Pendleton in the women's team sprint, with Australia their main rivals for Olympic gold next year.

"We're not just going after Australia, we're going after the whole world," she added.

"I've got Europeans coming up and I'm doing the first World Cup in Kazakhstan. I've got to show that I mean business there."

Sam Harrison, who broke into the senior ranks last season but now faces a fight with better-established team-mates to reach the Games, added: "They're going to take the best team to the London World Cup.

"It will be a sort-of preview six months out from the Olympics. If you get into that team, it'll be a real confidence boost going into the World Championships."

Meanwhile, in Thursday's races Matt Rotherham won the men's one kilometre time trial and in the process became the first rider to win both a senior and junior title in the same year with pursuit champion Steven Burke second.

Former world team pursuit champion Joanna Rowsell won gold in the women's individual pursuit, while Paralympic cyclist Jon-Allen Butterworth broke a world record in clocking 10.897secs to take gold in the MC5 category 200m time trial.