Let the Games begin!

By Mal Sawford, with additional reporting from Rob Jones

The opening ceremony of the 18th Commonwealth Games will be held in Melbourne tomorrow, with a full program of cycling events running through the ten day multi-sport extravaganza. Track cycling is first up, running from the 16th to 19th; while the road races will be held on the final day of the games, March 26.

Seventy-one countries from six continents will participate in the Games, and host nation Australia is expected to face stiff opposition for cycling supremacy in Melbourne after a virtual clean sweep in the Manchester Games of four years ago. In Manchester, eight of the eleven gold medals at the velodrome went Australia's way, and both the men's time trial and road race saw 1-2-3's for the Aussies, but the glory is expected to be a little more widely distributed in Melbourne.

On the track, both England and Scotland will field impressive squads, while Canada and New Zealand are also targeting gold on the road, in the bush and the velodrome. Top ranked cyclists, including world, Olympic and reigning Commonwealth champions, will compete in all disciplines, with only the men's road events suffering a little from Australia's geographical isolation from the European pro scene. ProTour riders such as Robbie McEwen, Brad McGee, Stuart O'Grady and Michael Rogers weren't able to secure releases from their professional teams.

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