European Championships usher in new era for track cycling

Victoria Pendleton earned the only women's sprint gold medal available in Beijing. She will be able to contest 3 golds in London in 2012.

Victoria Pendleton earned the only women's sprint gold medal available in Beijing. She will be able to contest 3 golds in London in 2012. (Image credit: Greg Chang/Photosport International)

Track cycling will have its first taste of the 2012 Olympic Games schedule at the first European Championships in Pruszkow, Poland, this weekend. The event is the first to reflect the sweeping changes that were made by the UCI, which bring gender equity to the number of races but sacrifice many of the endurance events.

The schedule includes men's and women's team sprint, team pursuit, individual sprint, omnium and keirin, but also adds the Madison, which is not part of the Olympic programme.

UCI president Pat McQuaid commented on the changes to Eurosport this week, explaining that gender equity was the driving force behind the move. "We felt that if we wanted to develop the sport around the world then we had to have equality between the men's and the women's events," added McQuaid. "And we were told by the International Olympic Committee that we needed more equality in the sport.

"Some people are happy with the decision and some people are not but you are always going to get that," he said.

The elimination of the individual pursuit, points race and Madison from the Olympic Games limits the role of the endurance athletes to the team pursuit and omnium, greatly favoring the sprinters who get individual glory in the sprint and keirin as well as a chance to shine in the team sprint.

"We felt that track cycling has traditionally and historically been sprint cycling. There are plenty of spectators who want to see the sprint events on the track so we made that decision."

Nations will also be limited to just one rider per nation per individual event, meaning there will be huge pressure on athletes from nations like Britain, Australia, France and Germany to make the team.

McQuaid explained the rationale behind the limit. "The decision to bring in the one rider per nation was done for reasons of introducing the sport to more nations," added McQuaid.

"But having more than one rider from a country in an event might lead to some collusion between athletes and so that was something that we also considered because we wanted to get rid of that."

Great Britain, which took home seven of the 10 gold medals available on the track in Beijing in 2008, will likely be unable to repeat such a dominating performance, and sprint champion Victoria Pendleton expressed her dismay at the changes to Eurosport.

"Imagine the scenario [in athletics] - 'Asafa Powell you can stay at home because Usain [Bolt]'s going'," said Pendleton. "'You were the fastest man in the world, but it's not for you this time'. What rubbish. It devalues the event."

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