Thu, Jul 05, 2012 - Page 19 News List

LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS: UK-Australia rivalry set to dominate cycling

AFP, PARIS

Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish, center, celebrates on the finish line as he wins ahead of Australia’s Matthew Harley Goss, right, at the end of the 207.5km second stage of the Tour de France, starting in Vise and finishing in Tournai, France, on Monday.

Photo: AFP

As former teammates, Mark Cavendish and Matt Goss could spin a yarn or two about how to beat one another in cycling’s hotly contested road races.

However, at the London Olympics, their widely anticipated duel for gold on the opening day could set the wheels in motion for a Britain against Australia rivalry that has the potential to dominate the cycling events in London.

In all, 18 gold medals spread across four cycling disciplines — road racing (four), track (10), BMX (two) and mountain bike (two) — will be contested at the Games.

Going on recent form, Britain and Australia are gearing up to hog the Olympic spotlight.

Now racing with different trade teams, Cavendish and Goss are among the favorites to claim the first cycling gold of the Games at the 250km men’s road race on July 28.

It culminates on the pancake-flat home straight of The Mall, meaning the teams with sprint specialists — such as Cavendish, Goss, Germany’s Andre Greipel and Belgium’s Tom Boonen — will be doing everything they can to stymie dangerous late attacks.

Isle of Man sprinter Cavendish, who won the second stage of the Tour de France on Monday, is widely seen as the man to beat, especially after his triumph, ahead of Goss, at the world road race championships last year.

“I want to have a great season,” Cavendish said. “I would be telling a lie if I said I was not dreaming of the Olympic race. I have strong patriotic feelings and the Games in London is for me the chance of a lifetime.”

In the women’s road race the following day, Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead — locked in an internal leadership battle with reigning champion Nicole Cooke — fancies her chances in the event of a bunch finish at the end of 140km.

“I think I’m the fastest of the British girls,” said Armitstead, who will still have a job in holding off the challenge of Dutchwoman Marianne Vos, Italian Giorgia Bronzini and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg of Germany, among others.

It is on the track, however, that Britain and Australia’s rivalry will be given top billing during six successive days of competition (Aug. 2 to Aug. 7).

Crowned kings of the velodrome at the Athens Games in 2004, Australia are once again among the world-beaters, having flopped in the cycle leading up to Beijing, where Britain ruled the roost.

In part because of rules changes, meaning only one competitor per event is allowed, Britain have little chance of winning seven of the 10 track golds as they did in the Chinese capital.

Nevertheless, some mighty battles are on the horizon with both countries fancied to challenge for gold in most of the finals, with France (men’s sprint) and Germany (men’s and women’s team sprint) looking to muscle in.

“I don’t think I’m being unrealistic in saying that we’re in the hunt in most of the Olympic events,” Australia’s high-performance director Kevin Tabotta said after the London leg of the World Cup.

After the two nations fought a close battle for track supremacy at April’s world championships in Melbourne, his British counterpart, Dave Brailsford, was just as bullish.

“If we were maxing out, then there would be cause for concern,” Brailsford said. “But I think there’s no reason why we can’t step up again.”

Australia and Britain’s medal hopes in BMX are respectively Sam Willoughby (men) and Shanaze Reade (women), but in the high-octane sport known for its spills and thrills anything can happen on the day.

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