The European Track Championships start today in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. The competition should be fierce, as points from the Championships count towards Olympic qualification - and with only one rider per nation allowed to compete in each event, some riders from the strong European track nations, like France, Great Britain and Italy, will be seeing as much competition from their teammates for precious places on the Olympic squads as they will from other countries.
Great Britain is one of the countries entering the competition with big ambitions. British Cycling head coach Shane Sutton wants nothing less than victory, telling BBC Sport: "It's a key Olympic qualifier and a chance to dominate Europe totally. This is a major target for us as part of the build-up to the Olympic Games."
One rider missing from the British squad, however, is Bradley Wiggins, who has not yet decided if he will defend his Olympic team pursuit title next year. "Brad is in control of his own destiny and he'll advise me of the direction he wants to go in the next few months," said Sutton.
"He's a massive contender for that Olympic medal on the road. Does he want to come and do the team pursuit? Only he will know."
A clash of dates between the European Championships and the Amsterdam Six-Day means that some other teams are not as strong as they would hope. The Netherlands men's endurance team has been particularly affected - although national coach Robert Slippens, a former track star himself, appreciates the riders' reasons. "The professional riders in our team chose to ride in Amsterdam because that's what they earn their money from. I understand that but it's a shame nonetheless," he told the Apeldoorn organisers.
Slippens remained confident in the team's chances of medals in the endurance events, and expected medals in the omnium from 2011 World Championships silver medallist Kirsten Wild and Tim Veldt. "We should be able to win two medals on the endurance events but four is possible too."
Other big names who won't be racing at the championships include current sprint and team sprint world champion Gregory Baugé (France) and current scratch world champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands), who has announced that her 2012 Olympic goals are all on the road.
The championships start on Friday, October 21, with the men's and women's team pursuit, team sprint and points races, continuing through to Saturday with the men's and women's individual sprint and the first rounds of the omnium, before concluding on Sunday with the men's and women's keirin and final rounds of the omnium and the men's Madison.
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