By John Flynn
With the 2006 Australian Track Cycling Championships over, the focus of the sport shifts from Adelaide, across the great Nullarbor Plain to Perth, where an even smattering of World, Olympic and Commonwealth champions will assemble for the Perth International Track Cycling Grand Prix.
Headlining the event on Sunday February 19 will be Australia's Commonwealth Games sprinters, led by Western Australia's dual Olympic gold medalist Ryan Bayley, his sister Kristine, the Meares sisters Anna and Kerrie, along with Shane Kelly and Shane Perkins.
The Aussies will be in Perth to take on the freshly-arrived British, who according to tradition, will divide into England and Scotland for the upcoming clash of British Commonwealth nations.
"I think we'll have a sold out house, and everyone just checking each other out pre Commonwealth Games," an excited W.A.I.S. head cycling coach Darryl Benson told Cyclingnews.
"It's that one race they all want to have, Australia, England and Scotland, just to know where they're at getting ready for Comm. Games. The English and the Scots are very keen to race hard and I know the Australians are."
The British team includes a long list of world class track talents, among them Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, whose form will be of particular interest to her rivals, the Meares sisters.
Frightening though it may sound for interstate rivals, Benson believes his young track talents (including Cameron Meyer and Scott Sunderland who dominated at the National Championships), can only improve by training and racing with the British.
"It's very good for our juniors to learn from, quite inspiring for them to see the likes of the Chris Hoy's who are just quite remarkable athletes," Benson said.
US riders aim for Sydney
Further boosting the quality of competition will be members of the U.S. and Malaysian track teams, who are in Australia preparing for the Sydney Track World Cup.
The U.S. sprinters raced impressively as guests at the Australian Track Championships and the likes of Jennie Reed, Michael Blatchford and Christian Stahl plan to be better than competitive.
"So far we've been able to race the best in the world, the two time Olympic gold medalist (Bayley), which we can't do back in the States," Blatchford told Cyclingnews. "It's excellent, we're lucky to race against that calibre of rider."
While U.S. Champion Jennie Reed provided quality opposition to the Meares sisters at the Australian Track Championships, it's the men's team sprint where the Americans have the highest of hopes.
The medal rounds and nothing less, will be their focus for the Sydney Track World Cup. "I think we're looking at podium in the team sprint," Stahl said. "That's our main goal."
The men's team sprint will be one of the feature events at the Perth Grand Prix, with no less than six teams lining up; the top two going through to the final.