Defending pursuit world champion Sarah Hammer (Ouch Pro Cycling) will lead the six-person strong US contingent in its medal hopes at the track world championships in Palma de Mallorca this weekend.
Last year, Hammer took gold in the women's 3km individual pursuit, and her chances for retaining her title are good. No American woman has successfully defended her rainbow jersey on the track since Rebecca Twigg accomplished the feat over twenty years ago at the 1984 and 1985 world championships, also in the pursuit.
Hammer begins her quest during Friday morning's qualifying session. The top two fastest times will earn a spot in the gold medal final ride. Since last year's worlds in Bordeaux, Hammer has been improving her times at all major competitions. Last year, she clocked 3:37.194, but since then she's been timed at 3:32.865, a time that broke an 11-year-old national record at US Nationals, and more recently at 3:32.058 at the third round of the 2006-2007 Track World Cup.
Unlike last year, Hammer goes to this worlds as a well-known favourite. "It's obviously a little different coming in as the defending champion," said Hammer. "There are more eyes focused on me compared to last year when I was kind of flying under the radar. I knew what I could do because of the times I was putting up in training, but others didn't know what to expect then. My training has been awesome though and the track is fast, so I think you will see some fast times this week."
Hammer's competition will probably include defending bronze medalist and 2004 Olympic silver medalist Katie Mactier and Kate Bates of Australia, two-time 2006-07 UCI World Cup winner Wendy Houvanhagel, Rebecca Romero. But she has a unique approach to relieve some of the pressure. "I don't like to look at myself as the defending champion, because that puts me on the defensive," said Hammer. "Instead, I just look at it as trying to be the next world champion."
Hammer also will be a contender in the women's points race. At the Los Angeles World Cup two months ago, she tripled victories with wins in the pursuit, points race, and scratch race. In the endurance events, she'll be backed up by Becky Quinn, whose best result this season was a silver medal at the scratch race in the third round of the World Cup series.
Other US team members will include Jennie Reed (sprint, keirin), Slipstream-Chipotle's Brad Huff (omnium) and Michael Creed (points race), and South Bay Wheelman's Neva Day (individual pursuit) Reed is the 2004 worlds bronze medalist in the keirin and this year she's already won two World Cup medals, one in Sydney and one in Los Angeles. Huff will be the first American to compete in the new track omnium which consists of a 200-meter time trial, a five-kilometre scratch race, a three-kilometre individual pursuit, a 15-kilometre points race, and a kilometre time trial all in one day.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.