Olympic build-up begins at European Track Championships in Pruszkow

Hoy, Sireau, Pendleton and KrupeckaitÄ— among the stars in Poland

The first ever senior elite European Track Championships get under way in Pruszkow, Poland on Friday, marking the beginning of the countdown to the 2012 London Olympics. A host of European track cycling’s biggest stars will tread the boards of the BGZ Arena for three days, with both continental titles and crucial Olympic qualification points on offer.

Over 260 riders from 25 nations will compete in the championships, which will see 11 European titles up for grabs. The first day will see the destination of the team medals decided, with the finals of the men’s and women’s team pursuit and team sprint. On Saturday, the omnium events get under way, while the individual sprint finals cap a dramatic second day on the track. The omnium events conclude on Sunday, a day that also features the keirin and the men’s Madison.

In the men’s sprint events, all eyes will be on Britain’s Chris Hoy, and he will also be looking to figure at the business end of the team sprint, alongside Matt Crampton and Jason Kenny. Hoy will face stiff competition from German pair Maximilian Levy and Robert Forstemann, as well as from Kevin Sireau (France), although world sprint champion Grégory Baugé will not be in the French line-up as he recovers from a virus.

In the keirin, Hoy will again be fancied, but should be pushed hard by Francois Pervis (France) and Teun Mulder (Netherlands). In the team sprint, France, Germany and the aforementioned British team are on paper the class of the field.

Hoy’s compatriot Victoria Pendleton has decided to skip the women’s sprint in order to focus on the team event with Jess Varnish, meaning that world championship bronze medallist Simona Krupeckaitė (Lithuania) will fancy her chances of adding a European crown to her palmares, although the Netherlands’ Willy Kanis and Olga Panarina (Belarus) should also feature.

The Lithuanian and British teams should be to the fore in the team sprint and Krupeckaitė and Pendleton might well go head to head again the keirin. Beyond that duo, Kanis and Frenchwoman Clara Henriette are in the running for podium places.

The men’s omnium will see German duo Roger Kluge and Robert Bartko should figure prominently, while Spaniards David Muntanar and veteran Sergi Escobar will also be in the mix. However, world champion Ed Clancy (Great Britain) will start as favourite, while former sprinter Tim Veldt (Netherlands) has the armoury to cause an upset.

Even without Bradley Wiggins and Alex Dowsett, Great Britain will be heavily fancied to take gold in the men’s team pursuit and they might well double up in the women’s event. Meanwhile, Spains’s Leire Olaberria, France’s Pascale Jeuland and Vera Koedooder (Netherlands) will be to the fore in the women’s omnium in the absence of Britain’s Lizzie Armistead.

Much of the pre-championships attention has been focused on the reservations of the British team over the timing of the event. Many of their number complained of feeling compelled to forgo October’s Commonwealth Games in order to give their undivided attention to the European Championships and its associated Olympic Games qualification points.

While UCI president Pat McQuaid was unmoved by the British protestations, saying that “if an athlete cannot compete six, seven maybe 10 times a year then they should not call themselves a top class athlete,” there is little doubt that the timing of the respective championships meant that Britain’s sprint competitors in particular were forced to choose one over the other.

However, regardless of the British point of view, Europe’s many other track cycling nations of all sizes may well benefit from the opportunity of participating in a major senior championship outside of the Worlds.

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