They were out of the medals or on the bench in Athens, but two of Australia’s younger track riders have shown they are well on the way to leading at the highest level following their performances in the UCI Track World Cup in Manchester. With three gold medals from wins in the 3km individual pursuit, the points and scratch races, Australia’s Katherine Bates was the undisputed star of the three-day Manchester Round of the UCI Track world Cup held last weekend.
Meanwhile, Scotland's world champion and Olympic gold medallist, Chris Hoy, had Ben Kersten breathing down his neck as the young Australian posted a personal best in the one kilometre time trial (kilo), finishing a close second to the reigning king of the kilo. But it was Bates who impressed in Manchester, taking out all the women's endurance events. The 22 year-old was unbeatable on what has become one of her favourite tracks in the world.
"I've raced here six times and won five gold and a silver so I'm always happy to line up in Manchester," said Bates, who admits her success came despite her being only 90 percent race fit. "In the individual pursuit my times are not quite up to standard but the win has given me great confidence and has let me see how I am travelling in relation to the other women in the world."
"She basically blew everyone away in the final sprint," said Australian track coach, Martin Barras, of Bates' ride in the scratch race. "I am extremely happy with her performances and with the way she and Alexis (Rhodes) worked together in the points and scratch races to maximise Australia's chances."
"The scratch race was pretty cool and it was great to have Alexis helping out," said Bates. "It all came together and it was a great feeling knowing I was stronger than everyone out there on the track. It has given me a huge confidence boost going into World Titles (Los Angeles in March) and it's made me a lot hungrier for the points race rainbow jersey of World Champion," she added.
Bates was in the hunt for a points race medal in Athens before heat exhaustion struck. She battled on to finish seventh and was fourth in the individual pursuit. "I had a real shocker in Athens and didn't do what I know I'm capable of and it has left me with unresolved issues," Bates explained. "It doesn't matter what anyone else says about me doing my best in Athens I walked away with a terrible feeling and that's what's motivating me now."
Kersten rides PB in kilo
Another Australian trackie who had an unsatisfactory time in Athens, Wollongong's Ben Kersten, stepped up in the 1km time trial to post a personal best time of 1:01.94, breaking the 62 second mark for the first time. "Ben had a fantastic ride," said Barras. "He has really come along in his understanding of how to progress his speed through the distance and it was a really solid performance from start to finish."
"I certainly didn't think I'd crack the 1:02 at a World Cup in January and I really hadn't prepared my mind for it," said Kersten. "In fact I probably cooked it up a bit and I suffered from that in the keirin and teams sprint but we qualified in the teams sprint for World's and that was the important thing." Kersten has now stepped up to take over the 'kilo' from one its previous kings, Shane Kelly, who was also racing in Manchester, where he won a bronze in the World Cup keirin and then a silver in the lucrative Japanese Invitational keirin exhibition event, pocketing AUS$20,000 for his trouble.
"I had a few problems with ankle and Achilles injuries before I left and crashed as well so for me getting any further than the semi was a bonus," Kelly said. "For the past 15 years I've put everything into the kilo and had some great results but this year I wanted to see how I'd go concentrating on something else and freshening my mind for a year. But I might have to go back to the kilo for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games though to the see if I can score my third Commonwealth kilometre gold," he added.