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The rivalries between the top trios in the men's track team sprint have risen to a fevered pitch on...
The rivalries between the top trios in the men's track team sprint have risen to a fevered pitch on the eve of the inauguration of the Laoshan velodrome in Beijing. The French may be the top favourite after taking consecutive world championships, but they will have to overcome the lack of focus which cost them a chance at the gold medal four years ago in Athens. In 2004 they qualified fastest, but then failed to get enough speed in the second round to advance to the gold medal final, and had to be content with bronze.
French coach Gerard Quintyn has put together a nearly unbeatable combination with Grégory Baugé, who has arguably the fastest opening lap in the business, Kévin Sireau and veteran Arnaud Tournant for the qualifier. Ready in the wings will be French sprint champion Mickaël Bourgain, who could step in for the final.
"We've got a chance, but we have to go out and take it," Quintyn said to AFP.
While their coach was decidedly understated in his comments, middle man Sireau was more confident. "I have beaten Hoy before and I'll beat him again," Sireau said to The Guardian. "We are able to equal the Brits here [in Beijing]. I hope they won't perform as well as at the world championships – they were at home there."
Double world champion Chris Hoy had a message for the French after practicing on the new Laoshan velodrome, where he turned out times which left him sure that the team would have a good result. "[The French are] in for a shock, because we are going better than we were in Manchester," Hoy said.
"Doing another personal best in training this week shows I'm where I want to be. We know we'll do the fastest time we've ever done, and that's all we can do."
Hoy confirmed that his younger team-mate Jason Kenny would be taking the third spot in the opener with he and Jamie Staff, putting Athens veteran Ross Edgar on the bench. "Ross is going very, very well," said Hoy, "but Jason has stepped up to a whole new level. It's tough on Ross, but nobody could have foreseen how well Jason would go. [Kenny] coming into the squad means we're significantly faster than we were in Manchester."
Dutch star Theo Bos agrees that the British have looked strong in practice, and is tipping them to get ahead of the French. "Their times, their attitudes on the bike – in these things I see that the Britons are well off," he told ANP. For his own team, he feels hopeful that they can improve on the sixth they took in Athens.
"If everything goes according to plan, the chances for a medal are good," he said, but added that they still have some improvements to make on their technique. "When Teun [Mulder] goes so hard at the start, sometimes I miss his wheel and I have to accelerate during the lap. That is hard on Tim [Veldt], who then can't hold my wheel.
"Then there are people who think that I can't keep up," Veldt added, but said that they had ironed out the problems in practice. Mulder warned that he is going a full two-tenths of a second faster on his lap. The Dutch missed silver at the world championships by 5/100ths of a seconds, and Mulder said, "I knew I had to improve – that we could get the most gain from our start."