By Gerard Knapp
The second day of racing at the Sydney round of the UCI Track World Cup saw some exceptional performances by two superstars of the boards. In the morning sessions, Australian Anna Meares broke her own world record in less-than-favourable climatic conditions (see separate report while in the evening, Russia's Mikhail Ignatiev was unstoppable, winning back-to-back gold medals with barely a rest between two of the most demanding events on the track.
The talented young Russian had arrived in Sydney over a fortnight ago and started to put in some solid training rides on the roads around the harbour city. The road-work and adjustment to the time zones seemingly paid off for the 23 year old, seven-time world champion, who put in a dominating display of endurance track racing.
Many experienced watchers of the sport - and fellow racers - could only say "unbelievable" after watching his super effort on day two of the track World Cup.
In the first session of racing on Saturday, he helped Russia qualify fastest in the teams pursuit, and then won a 20km qualifying heat for the 30km points score to be held later that night.
In the evening session, he was one of the finishing trio in Russia's successful team pursuit squad that took the gold medal, but before he had time to warm down, he changed bikes and was back out on the track for the men's 30km points race.
Perhaps this should not be such a surprise, as he has won the junior and senior world title on the track in this event, plus the gold medal in Athens 2004. In 2005, he also won the U23 men's individual time trial at the World Road Championships in Spain.
Such was his dominance he finished with 31 points, 14 clear of second-placed Greg Henderson (New Zealand), a former world track champion who will be riding for T-Mobile next year.
Ignatiev has also been racing on the road and next year he will continue with the Russian Tinkoff squad, to be known in 2007 as Tinkoff Credit Systems. Ignatiev said his first race for the squad - which is rumoured to have signed Tyler Hamilton - will be the Tour of Qatar in January, before heading to the USA and racing in the Tour of California. He would only say that he and the team was a "50/50" chance of riding in a Grand Tour, namely the Giro d'Italia.
Ignatiev's overall speed and endurance on the track is his strength, as he is also very capable in the individual and teams pursuit. He is likely to become a break-away specialist, where finishing in a small group of tiring riders will be his ideal situation. "I can't see him being up there for the all-in bunch kicks," said another rider.
Two starts and two wins
Ignatiev later admitted that he found the first 20 laps of the 120-lap points race to be a little difficult, given that he'd just anchored the Russians to the gold in the teams pursuit with a respectable - given the conditions - time of 4.05.
But then he found his legs and dominated the race to such an extent that with only the final sprint remaining, he had amassed 31 points, more than double of that of the second-placed rider, who'd only managed 12.
"Today I make a good day," he said in very broken English after the race. "I have two starts and two wins.
"I be in good shape now," he said, but with respect to the field he'd just blown off the boards, he said, "all the other riders may not be in such good shape. They have just come from an autumn and almost winter, and they are not very strong, I think.
"But I go to Australia for two weeks now, and that is good." Ignatiev had been training on the roads in and around Sydney, putting in 120km training rides and taking advantage of the warmer weather and longer days to arrive at Dunc Gray in splendid form.
This condition allowed him to back up so convincingly on a very long day of racing. "Right after the team race I go to the points race," he said almost matter-of-factly. "The first 20 laps I felt it was very hard and I was not so good, but then I am safer and better, so I go on the attack and finish strong."
After receiving his silver medal for second place, Henderson said, "He’s unbelievable, eh? He's in good knick at this time of year."
The Kiwi admitted to be under-geared for the event - though he wouldn't reveal just what gear he was riding - but he believed it was way too small for the day, especially with the Russian riding a larger gear that allowed him to stay at the front and keep a very high pace throughout.
Complete coverage of the second day of racing at Sydney's World Cup.