On the opening day of competition in Bordeaux, the Australian 'Cyclones' have opened their 2006 world track championships account with a silver and two bronze medals. Melbourne Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Anna Meares, scored the first medal for the team when she rode to silver in the 500 metre time trial, two-tenths of a second off the pace of defending world champion, Natalia Tsylinskaya of Belarus, who clocked 34.152 to claim gold.
"I seem to be having this little tussle with her each year but I think it's really good for women's sprinting to have this competition," said Meares, who set the current 500m world record to win gold at the Athens Olympic Games. "I'm really happy with the ride. The first lap was a little bit slower than Melbourne but I managed to bring it home in the last lap and finish on around about the same time and to pick up the silver medal; with the sort of year I've had, it is really rewarding."
Meares has fought back from a career-threatening back injury suffered last year to regain her place in the top echelon of world cycling and is pleased her injury woes seem to have ended. "I haven't had any trouble with my back since a couple of weeks before Melbourne which is a really good sign and it's comforting to know that leading into next year the back is holding up and I think it will hold up for a good twelve months which I really want to get under my belt."
Meares added she was unsure how to read the early times set in the event which were slower than she had expected. "I didn't know if the times were slow or the track was slow or the times were quick for the track conditions so I had to do the same thing [I always do] and forget about all the outside aspects and concentrate on myself," she said, who, as the 2005 silver medallist, was the second last rider in the start gate. To come away with the same time I rode in Melbourne was really good but then I saw Natalia come out point-one quicker in the first lap and I thought 'Oh no! She's got it.' so hat's off to her." Anna's sister Kerrie, who placed third at the Commonwealth Games, finished 14th in a time of 35.551sec.
In the women's 3km individual pursuit, Katie Mactier claimed bronze after a disappointing qualifying ride that saw her miss out on a chance to defend her 2005 world championship win. The Melbourne gold medallist was a tenth of a second off a berth in the ride off for gold and silver and instead lined up for the bronze medal final against Swiss road time trial world champion, Karin Thurig.
"It was a unique situation for me and I personally felt my ride this morning wasn't up to par," said Mactier, who has never placed lower than second since her pursuit world championship debut in 2003. "It was disappointing to miss out on the gold-silver ride by such a small margin and coming into bronze-fourth ride was a matter of collecting myself and approaching it as the final and a race still to be won."
Mactier's frustration was compounded when her time of 3min36.123sec proved to be the fastest ride of the medal round. She defeated Thurig by a margin of more than six seconds and a hard fought battle for gold between American Sarah Hammer and Russian Olga Slyusareva saw Hammer triumph in 3min37.227.
"I firmly believe I should have been in the gold-silver ride off, so it's frustrating to see my time could have won me the gold, but looking at it objectively, I stuffed up the first ride," said Mactier. "But I'll get over it and it's a blessing it happened here and not in two years' time [for the Beijing Olympics].
"I'll be honest though in saying it's been tough having to back up from such an enormous ride in Melbourne," she said. "To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't give that away for the world because to win in my hometown, I'll never have that opportunity again. But it's a big ask and I found it emotionally very challenging. Putting that aside, I can't wait for the next world championships to come around so I can dominate this race again, because I still love this race with every inch of me and today's disappointment has only made me hungrier."
Team mate Kate Bates, who was second to Mactier at last year's world championships in Los Angeles and again last month in Melbourne, had been struggling with illness and finished 11th with a time of 3min45.217sec in qualifying.
The men's teams sprint trio of Shane Perkins, Ryan Bayley and Shane Kelly were the next Australians on the podium after posting an impressive third fastest qualifying time of 44.591sec. Perkins led them out with another sub 18 second first lap (17.9sec) with Bayley riding second wheel and Kelly bringing them home in the second fastest final lap of the round.
The trio lined up against the Netherlands in the bronze medal final with Kelly posting a sizzling final lap to bring the team home in 44.600sec, more than a second faster than their Dutch rivals. France claimed gold in 43.969sec ahead of the Great Britain team [44.194sec].
"I was pretty happy and surprised," said 19 year-old Perkins of his qualifying ride. "Obviously coming from Commonwealth Games whic was a big one, I backed up so it's a sign of things to come."
Bayley was also pleased to get a good performance under his belt with the sprint and keirin, events he is the reigning champion in at both Olympic and Commonwealth Games level, still to come for him. "I knew the team was good and confident after Commonwealth Games [silver medal] and we came here knowing we were capable of some good stuff - we put it on the boards and showed everyone so we're happy with the way it's going," Bayley said. "First day and we're on a high and only going up from here."
Kelly, the most experienced of the trio after competing at world championships since 1991, says he's pleased with the fact the team has maintained it's form since Melbourne. "We've been here for a good week waiting, waiting, waiting but once we got on the track we pulled out the big one so pretty happy with that," Kelly said. "Melbourne was always going to take it out of us but once we got back into training it was back to normal and we've come together nicely so great to get on the podium."
In the other final contested on day one Sean Finning, who decimated the opposition to claim gold in the points race in Melbourne four weeks ago, was unable to reproduce his form in Bordeaux, finishing 19th in the event won by Dutch rider Peter Schep.
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