Australia's Team Pursuit squad for 2018 Commonwealth Games taking shape

Coach Decker testing riders during Melbourne Six-Day

Forgoing the 2017/18 Track World Cup, Australian men's track coach Tim Decker has instead been putting his riders through their paces to finalise a squad for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Gold medallists in the Team Pursuit at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Decker is aiming for a successful defence in April next year and to bury the memories of silver in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Assembling for the Melbourne Six-Day are Sam Welsford, Alex Porter, Kelland O'Brien, Rohan Wight and Nick Yallouris, Jordan Kerby, Leigh Howard and Cameron Scott. Cameron Meyer and Callum Scotson are also part of the larger squad but have been racing madison events during the European winter and are absent from the meet.

"The main priority [this week] is setting ourselves up for the Commonwealth Games," Decker said of the Melbourne racing. "We are always looking to create opportunities for younger athletes coming through, but we are also looking create some in-house pressure for the Cycling Australia riders to make selection for the Commonwealth Games.

"I wanted to give all riders some exposure, to see how everyone is progressing, and to give everyone a fair and even chance for team selection. And importantly, we are making sure they get in an element of Team Pursuit racing before we actually get to the Games."

Decker added that he wanted to test his riders in unfamiliar conditions and has been pleased with the results so far.

"Also, the other idea is that it is not ideal conditions, we haven't done an ideal taper for this event," he said. "We have come here wanting to see how they performed right off the back of some hard work. So to see the CA teams have gone well under four minutes, and the developing riders around the 4:05 to 4:08 times, it is pretty promising."

In November, the quartet of Yallouris, O'Brien, Kerby and Howard rode to Oceania gold with the eighth fastest Team Pursuit time in history - a 3:52:421. It was a result Decker described as "pretty special". The four riders, though, aren't guaranteed a place in April for the Commonwealth Games, with Decker keeping the pressure on.

Pleasingly for Decker, his riders are still posting fast times despite a large turnover in his squad since taking the job. There are no riders from the Glasgow gold medal-winning squad, and from the Rio silver medal team only Welsford and Callum Scotson remain. However, Meyer and Howard have returned to the team after stints on the road, adding experience to an otherwise youthful set-up.

"It is a good mix at the moment," Decker said. "The older athletes bring in a different way of operating, they are more settled in their lives, they have had different influences. So it is about trying to respect that, while at the same time as working with the youth who just want to go full bore. How you do that is really challenging, it brings challenges, but because we have done a lot of work on our team culture, how we respect each other, talk to each other, it has helped people understand each other.

"While there might be riders that have earned certain things, they never take it for granted. The minute you do that, someone will take it straight off you. Everyone in this squad holds each other accountable."

At the last two editions of the Olympic Games, Australia has finished second to Great Britain in the Team Pursuit final. At the Track World Championships, 2012 and 2015 are the only times Australia has missed the gold medal since 2010. For Decker, the ultimate aim is to turn the Worlds and Commonwealth Games form into Olympic gold medals. And to get there, Decker emphasises hard work and discipline and won't be resting on his laurels.

"You try to evolve a little bit of the program, but there are still some key philosophies that don't change," Decker said. "Not forgetting the core parts to performance - hard work, discipline, the ability to win, to race and win, and the part where it is team-oriented.

"But at the end of the day, you can never shy away from hard work, you can never shy away from the pressure of racing. But we aren't afraid of that. We want to bring that on."

Decker and several of his riders will line out next weekend at the Omnium and Madison national titles in Melbourne before heading back into camp and preparing for the Australian national championships on the Anna Meares velodrome in February. From there, the focus is squarely on the Commonwealth Games and claiming that gold medal. 

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