Elite trackies face decisions in the lead-up to Beijing 2008.
By Gerard Knapp in Gent, Belgium
While many of the usual suspects in track cycling's elite are half-a-world away in Sydney this weekend, competing in the first round of the UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Belgium's Iljo Keisse and Germany's Robert Bartko, the victors in last weekend's Gent Six Day, are still in Europe, both singling out the upcoming Beijing round of the UCI's track-fest to stake their claim for country and self at next year's Olympics.
In the lead up to an Olympic year, it's always difficult to determine if track cycling is enjoying a resurgence of popularity – you could argue its heyday is so distant that this should be considered almost virgin growth – but Sydney's Dunc Gray Velodrome is buzzing with almost 400 hopeful athletes and good crowds.
Last weekend at Gent's 't kuipke', as the locals call their compact and noisy 166-metre velodrome, the crowds were out in force and full voice, cheering on the local hero, Gent resident Keisse. But Gent is perhaps unlike other Six Day events; it is well attended by locals – given Belgium's cycling culture – as well as many British cycling fans who can reach the friendly and beautiful small Flemish city relatively easily. Event promoter, Patrick Sercu, obliged for the Channel-crossers by ensuring this year's field included the crack-but-not-so-sizzling team of England's Brad Wiggins and Manxman Mark Cavendish.
In theory – based on their track and road-racing records – this duo should have been seriously challenging for the win (surely with Sercu's blessing), not some 39 laps in arrears by the end of the meet. According to experienced watchers, it seems young Cavendish struggled to find his undoubted form after a post-road season lay-off. He still has time to regain his power, as both riders said they were prepared to abandon road cycling's big paycheck of riding the Tour de France in 2008 to focus on capturing gold on the boards in Beijing 2008.
For the full Gent Six Day victors look to Beijing feature, click here.