The Brits fully expect that one of their sporting heroines, Shanaze Reade (a five-time world champion with three BMX titles and two team sprint titles on the track), will snag a gold medal in London. But after Reade easily won the Olympic test event last August, she criticized the 450-meter-long BMX track that starts atop a 25-foot-high structure next to the new velodrome in London’s Olympic Park.
“I’m happy with the win,” she told the BBC, “but for the females the track is on the limit when the wind changes… there’s a little work to be done.” Others said the course could “get ugly” on a windy day (more likely to blow the lighter-built women on the many jumps), and that seemed to be confirmed when current world women’s champion, Mariana Pajón of Colombia, crashed heavily and had to be stretchered away.
Assuming the problems are sorted out by this August, Reade, 23, and Pajón, 19, look set for an epic battle. Pajón will be in her first Olympics after years of dominating world junior competition. Reade was close to winning at her first Olympics four years ago, challenging eventual French gold medalist Anne-Caroline Chausson in the final turn, when the tall Brit touched wheels with the multiple-time world downhill champ and crashed out.
Crashes were also a problem in Beijing for American BMX star Mike Day, who eventually took the silver medal in the men’s final behind Latvian Maris Strombergs. Day, now 27, should again be battling Strombergs along with the winner of the London test event last August, Marc Willers of New Zealand.
The 6,000-seat velodrome was the first of the new structures to be completed at the Olympic Park in the East End of London last February, but it won’t be used in competition until a year later (February 16-19) at the finale of the 2011-12 UCI Track World Cup. One reason for the delay was that the contractors didn’t hand over the whole project until late 2011, but it has the upside of allowing the Siberian pine track surface to dry out and probably fulfill the organizers’ prediction that it will be the world’s fastest. Controlled temperature and humidity will also help that goal.
Britain’s reigning Olympic champions Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Jason Kenny have all ridden the track, and Hoy noted that the “wraparound” seating will help create a better atmosphere for the riders and the fans that will pack the stadium every day. “Instead of having the back straight and home straight as you go around,” he said, “you get this wall of noise the whole way. It creates this gladiatorial arena. All of the Union Jacks will be out and, hopefully, the noise and the atmosphere will give us an advantage, maybe put the fear of death into the other countries.”
Hoy is hoping that the home support will help him retain his titles in the match sprint, Keirin and team sprint (with Kenny and probably Jason Queally), the only men’s events (along with the team pursuit) that are retained from Beijing.
The races that have been controversially axed — the individual pursuit, Madison and points races — have been replaced by the six-event omnium that will be contested over four sessions in two days. It’s being billed as cycling’s equivalent of the decathlon, but that track & field event has a sophisticated points system that rewards the performance differentials in individual disciplines whereas cycling’s equivalent has a simplistic one point for a win, two for second, et cetera, which rewards the most consistent (and blandest?) performer rather than the most outstanding athlete.
The omnium (modified last year) is now made up of three time trials (a one-lap flying start 250 meters, a full-distance 4km pursuit and a traditional 1km TT) along with a 30km points race, a 15km scratch race and an elimination (or miss-and-out) event.
The likely British challenger in the omnium is team pursuiter Ed Clancy, who won the world title when it consisted of just five events in 2010, while Phinney (third that year) could be the American challenger, should he not gain the road time trial selection.
The women have lost both the individual pursuit and points race from Beijing, but gain the team sprint (Britain is favored), team pursuit (Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. are all contenders), Keirin and omnium as Olympic medal events.