By Shane Stokes in Manchester
Irishman David O'Loughlin will face one of the most important races in his cycling career on Wednesday when he lines out in the individual pursuit at the 2008 Track World Championships in Manchester. After a solid season where he has placed seventh, eighth and fourth in World Cup events, the Mayo rider knows that a strong performance could qualify him for the Olympic Games. However, even he doesn't know exactly what he must do.
"I think a lot depends on not just where I finish, but where everybody else finishes in relation to me," he told Cyclingnews at the velodrome in Manchester. "It is difficult to know what is needed. So it's the case that the higher up I can place, the better."
O'Loughlin is currently 11th in the world rankings and will go up against the world number one, Phillip Thuaux of Australia, in the eighth heat. In all 26 riders will pair off and race against each other, with the fastest four in line for medals. Being outside this could still qualify him for the Olympics; Cycling Ireland's High Performance manager Frank Campbell said that a top seven place could possibly be enough, depending on who is ahead of him. But equally, this might not be sufficient.
For the 29 year-old, the only answer is to concentrate on his own performance, focussing on setting the fastest possible time and then seeing afterwards if it is sufficient. O'Loughlin's national record is 4 minutes 25.31 seconds, as set in the Beijing World Cup in December; Campbell feels he will have to smash this to stand a chance.
"It's really hard to know what place would get him into the Games due to the way the criteria have worked out," he said. "It's disappointing because he has ridden well in the World Cups, but because of the system it's all a bit uncertain.
"However, in his own mind, he knows what he needs to do, a time he needs to get. We feel he will have to do a sub 4 minute 25, probably somewhere in the region of 4 minutes 23 to put him in fourth or fifth place. Even then, we will have to wait and see after that."
O'Loughlin was noticeably more relaxed on Tuesday than he was one year ago, the nerves of riding his first Track World Championships all too obvious then. Ireland's sole competitor in Manchester is more self-assured and believes that he is in the right sort of condition.
"I'm feeling good, I'm confident, the form is good and I am in a much better position than this time last year. So I am definitely looking forward to it."
Wednesday will tell if he has done enough. But either way, Campbell feels that a lot of progress has been made and Irish cycling will benefit.
"This is about [qualifying for] the Olympics, sure, but it is also about moving the whole track project forward," he said. "If we can continue the improvement and continue the system we have in place, then we will get a big benefit from it in the future."