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Meares warns Pendleton still "the biggest threat in the field"
With nine defending world champions on the Australian roster for this month's Track World Championships in Apeldoorn, Netherlands expectations among the team are high.
The Australian Cyclones topped the medal table in 2010 with a tally of six gold, two silver and two bronze medals from the 19 events contested in Copenhagen. The average age of the team then was 21. On Thursday afternoon, the Australian team with the exception of Shane Perkins who was training in Melbourne and Rohan Dennis who is in Europe, gathered in Adelaide for a media call ahead of their journey to the Netherlands next week.
"Most of the riders that were there the previous year were gone and the atmosphere was just, I don't know how to describe it, we all want to win which is a huge thing and I think we all believe that we've got the ability to win," explains team sprint world champion Kaarle McCulloch. "Post-world championships last year the endurance coach Ian McKenzie sat us down and he said to us, ‘we might have won the battle here but the war is not over', and London is what we're aiming for and we're all out to get gold in London."
McCulloch's team sprint partner, Anna Meares echoes the sentiment. These world championships are all part of the long road back to Olympic supremacy for the Australian team which left Bejing with just one medal, Meares' sprint silver.
"[These events] help to keep the panic level down because the Olympic Games is just so big and you spend four years of your life dedicating hard work," said Meares.
Cycling Australia's National Performance Director Kevin Tabotta said the team is well placed for more medal performances in 2011.
"We're coming off the back of a strong World Cup campaign where we fielded both development and elite squads," said Tabotta. "We used the series to chase Olympic qualification points and to ensure we qualified all the places we needed for the World Championships and now the team we're sending to Apeldoorn is the cream of the crop."
Meares still very wary of arch-rival Pendleton
Twenty-seven-year-old Meares may have had the wood on Great Britain's Victoria Pendleton in the last four months however, the Australian is certain that her battle is not yet over in the sprint.
"Look if Vicky lost every race between now and the Olympics she would still be the biggest threat in the field," she said bluntly. "You can not by any means lose any respect for the fight and drive that she brings to this event."
Meares pipped Pendleton at the Manchester World Cup event in the semi-finals 2-0 to move into the final where she was pushed to three rides by China's Shuang Guo. In the third leg, a tense affair, the Australian seized the initiative on the penultimate lap and then began to press for home approaching the bell lap.
And although Guo responded on the back straight, Meares held her off to claim gold and set up what should be a thrilling contest at the world championships, where Pendleton will be aiming for her fifth sprint title in a row.
"Shuang Guo is definitely a threat. In my eyes there's myself, there's Vicky, there's Guo there's [Olga] Panarina. They're the four that I think are the real contenders for this year's world titles given the qualification times and the racing strategies and style that's been shown at the world cup level."
Australia has strength right across the board
The success of the men's endurance team has been well-documented, led by Cameron Meyer who won three gold medals last year. South Australian Jack Bobridge last month clocked a world record time of 4:10.534 for the 4000m in individual pursuit qualifying at the national titles to eclipse the previous mark set 15 years earlier by Britain's Chris Boardman riding in the now banned superman position. Fellow South Australian Rohan Dennis rode the third fastest time in history on the same day.
"We have options for medals across all the men's track endurance events with some of the world's most talented riders vying for starting positions," said Tabotta.
But it's the arrival on the senior team of two youngsters that is gathering an excited momentum.'
Amy Cure, 18, who won three gold medal at last year's junior world championships, has earned a place in the women's team pursuit on the back of solid performances in Manchester and at last month's national championships where she finished second in the individual pursuit in her first year of elite competition.
"It's amazing even us older girls that are a little bit more seasoned we look at her and we learn things from her and I think that's a really cool thing," said pursuit teammate Kate Bates who, at 28, is the oldest member of the Australian team.
Meares, while also singling out Cure as one to watch, also suggests sprinter Matthew Glaetzer could come up with something special.
"He's got a big heart and I love watching him train let alone race," she exclaimed. "You can never underestimate the excitement of a first world titles."
"Neither Cure or Glaetzer have been selected on potential, they have earned their place after delivering performances and times that put them into elite class," said Tabotta who recognises that the step into the senior ranks needs to be handled with care. "It is always important to manage expectations after success at a young age and whilst you can't hold them back you also need to provide the right support and guidance.
"It's just as challenging to manage success as it is to deal with disappointment."
The Australian team for the 2011 UCI Track World Championships:
Women's Sprint events -
Kaarle McCulloch; Anna Meares; Emily Rosemond.
Men's Sprint events -
Daniel Ellis; Matthew Glaetzer; Jason Niblett; Shane Perkins; Scott Sunderland.
Women's Endurance events -
Katherine Bates; Amy Cure; Sarah Kent; Josephine Tomic.
Men's Endurance events -
Jack Bobridge; Rohan Dennis; Luke Durbridge; Michael Freiberg; Michael Hepburn; Leigh Howard; Cameron Meyer.