England sweep cycling pursuit
England's track cyclists produced an historic clean sweep of the medals in the men's 4000m individual pursuit on Thursday - the first time English athletes have won all three medals in a cycling event in Commonwealth Games history.
Stockport's Paul Manning took gold in the all-England final coming from behind to beat Derbyshire's Ron Hayles after they had produced the two fastest qualifying times earlier in the evening. Manning, who won a bronze in this event in 2002, rode to a time of 4:23.799 in the final, beating his English team-mate by nearly five seconds.
"I'm so pleased with that," said Manning after winning Team England's first cycling gold since 1994. "I rode well in qualifying but I knew I had to back it up with a second ride. "We're all absolutely delighted," said Hayles. "We were hoping to get a medal but we never dreamed of getting all three. This is brilliant for English cycling."
Merseyside's Steven Cummings took his first major individual medal when he beat New Zealand's Jason Allen to take the bronze with a ride of 4:24.767.
"I said the other day no one knew what Steve could do, including himself," said Manning of his young team-mate. "And he showed his potential here. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Manning led briefly in the early stages of the final, but Hayles had sneaked ahead by the end of the first kilometre. He had a lead of nearly half a second by the halfway point. But Manning wasn't going to be beaten easily and he began his charge. By the three kilometre point he was back in the lead as Hayles' fast early pace began to tell. The man from High Peak faded in the closing stages and Manning punched the air as he crossed the line.
"I've been there or thereabouts for four or five years," said Manning. "I've had medals at world and Olympic level but obviously gold is great. But to us this is a team sport and winning all three is superb for the team."
The England cyclists had made their medal intentions clear from the start, as they dominated the qualifying round earlier in the evening on day one of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. Manning and Hayles ensured England would have the gold and silver medals when they posted the top two times. Manning overpowered New Zealand's Hayden Roulston to record 4:21.801, and Hayles crossed the line only fractionally slower in 4:21.837 eclipsing his opponent, the home favourite Mark Jamieson of Australia.
"It was pretty close to my best," said Manning of his qualifying time. "But I thought I would have to break a personal best to win the final."
Cummings was also in sparkling form as he recorded 4:25.570, the fourth quickest qualifying time. In the bronze medal ride he was simply too good for Allen, leading from the start and never wavering to ensure England's monopoly of the medal podium.
England are now regarded as favourites for the team pursuit title this Saturday, March 18.
Queally takes TT silver
England's Jason Queally won his third consecutive Commonwealth 1k time trial silver in Melbourne's Multi Purpose Venue, missing the elusive gold by just over three hundredths of a second.
"I couldn't get any more out of myself," said Queally. "It was a 100 per cent ride from me and the better man won on the day. It was a close call. I've been Olympic champion and world champion but I just can't get Commonwealth gold," he added.
It was meant to be the jewel of the cycling programme, between two of the sports closest friends - British teammates, training partners and Commonwealth rivals: Queally of England and Chris Hoy of Scotland. But no-one told Ben Kersten, and the Australian came to spoil the Britons' party, taking the gold with a ride of 1:01.815.
Queally, the Sydney Olympic champion, knew this would be his last 'kilo' at a major championships as the event has been removed from the Olympic program. The 35 year-old from Chorley was the penultimate rider, with Hoy, who snatched the Englishman's Olympic title in 2004, last to go.
But Kersten, roared on by the 6000 home fans, produced a time less than a tenth outside Hoy's existing Games record, so Queally knew he would have to produce the ride of his life to win. He came close, recording 1:01.849, a whisker away from the gold medal spot.
With Hoy, the favourite, still to come it looked as though Queally would have to settle for bronze. But the Scotsman lacked his customary consistency and after a fast start he slipped behind Kersten's time on the third of the four laps and never recovered. Hoy's time of 1:02.071 was good enough only for bronze, leaving Queally with another silver to add to his collection.
"A younger, better, good looking guy won on the day," joked Queally.
"What more can I say? Tonight it was his night. Now I've got three days left to get a Commonwealth gold. Sunday's race [the team sprint] will also come down to a few fractions of a second between England, Scotland and Australia. "Let's just hope I can amend what happened today with a gold medal there."
Pendleton powers to silver
Another silver for England happened on Thursday night when Victoria Pendleton powered to England's first track cycling silver of the 2006 Commonwealth Games, recording a 34.662 in the women's 500 metre time trial. She was only beaten by world record holder Anna Meares of Australia, who added the Commonwealth Games crown to her Olympic title from Athens.
"I'm very happy with that," said Pendleton. "It's the best performance in the 500m of my life so far."
Riding fourth of the five finalists, the 25 year-old from Hitchin knew exactly what she had to do to snatch a medal. If she could beat Anna's sister Kerrie's time of 35.210 she would put herself in gold medal position.
With the awesome Aussie to come, however, she knew however fast she peddled, it might not be enough for gold. Pendleton blasted off at the start recording 19.576 for the first 250m lap and sweeping round the second. As soon as she crossed the line the words 'Commonwealth Record' flashed up on the giant screen.
She had taken the lead by more than half a second and beaten Kerrie Meares' Games record, set in Manchester four years ago, by more than three tenths. Pendleton must have thought that would be enough for the top prize. But Anna Meares is not Olympic champion for nothing - to the roars of the Aussie fans, and watched by her parents for the first time ever in her career, she clocked 34.326 to take the gold medal and eclipse Pendleton's mark.
"It seemed to take forever waiting for Anna's ride," said Pendleton. "I know it's only 34 seconds but it seemed ages. I just wish the time had gone a bit slower. But it was an excellent ride by Anna so you can't take that away from her."
Despite being so close to gold, Pendleton was happy to have split the two Meares sisters. After finishing fifth in this event in Manchester and sixth at the Olympic Games in Athens, she had her first major Games medal. "Technically I'm a bit disappointed," said Pendleton. "But I'm going well. It's a very fast track and very steep."
More positive for the Manchester-based cyclist is that her best event is yet to come: Pendleton is world sprint champion and that final takes place this Saturday evening. "The sprint is my main event and I will be trying very hard to get the gold," she said.