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New Beijing track qualifying system - friend or foe?

Riders fight for their Olympic participation at the Dunc Gray velodrome in Sydney

Riders fight for their Olympic participation at the Dunc Gray velodrome in Sydney (Image credit: John Veage)

By Karen Forman in Sydney

Denmark national track team coach Heiko Salzwedel isn't at all happy. Although he said Sydney has been a good place for his charges since he took on the role two years ago, and is happy to be back at the World Cup, he was not really impressed with the new qualification system for the 2008 Olympics which give automatic selection to individual World Cup winners as well as World Champions.

Whereas in previous years, each National Olympic Committee would select athletes to fill up its allocated spots, the new rules will see 21 riders gain individual automatic qualification through the UCI events. The remaining 144 places will then be distributed to the national committees according to the individual track rankings after the UCI World Championships in March.

"I tell you, I am getting increasingly p*** off," he told Cyclingnews. "It is so great, yes, that we are hearing that there are 400 riders here and a large number of professional teams, but mostly they are pseudo national teams and this is the problem.

"It only costs $1500 to register a team. They can put their teams in events and protect the top teams and just buy their way in. Also the second and third teams of each country can take points from the little countries."

Salzwedel claimed national team tactics were being played out at this and other events, which made it difficult for smaller countries to get a look in and could be destructive to the spirit of track cycling. "After having many years in road cycling I was very happy to be back at the track; to be asked to take on Denmark four years ago as advisor, then coach two years ago after the disaster when it was last at the 2002 Worlds," he said. "There was that great spirit a few years ago. But now I see that the big teams have become bigger and bigger and the small teams smaller."

Salzwedel wants the UCI to make it more difficult to set up what he calls "so-called trade teams". Meanwhile, he said he'll do his best to snatch some of those prized Olympic spots for Denmark and added the Sydney round of the World Cup is the best place to start. "We won the World Cup in the team's pursuit and Madison here in Sydney two years ago and last year were second in both events, so hopefully we will do well here now," he said. "We have changed our preparation because of the big picture - the Olympics. If we reach one final it would be very good; very exciting. Even a sixth would be great. We have a clear goal to win the medals at the Olympics in the Madison and the team's pursuit."

Meanwhile, according to Cycling Australia high performance manager Kevin Tabotta, the new qualifying system for the track cycling events at the 2007 Olympics is fair for Australia.

Tabotta is at the Sydney Track World Cup with three Australian teams - the Cyclones national team, Team Toshiba and Drapac Porsche Development Program - and said the new system was reasonable, although he conceded that "every qualifying system can be tweaked at some point to suit your country," and also that it was "potentially expensive. It's not so bad if it's only for the one year leading up to the Olympics, but if you had to travel to every World Cup for four years before the Games to get qualified, then no country could continue.

"Australia, especially, has to travel all over the world for most of the year. It is good to race at home. We train through the summer and there is no question that having the World Cup at home would be a definite advantage for us."

Tabotta said Australia had to get some results on the board to qualify for the Games, but that he was encouraged by his riders' early results on the first day of this competition. He was particularly excited about the presence of the newly formed Toshiba team, which he said represented a great injection of money for the sport.

"At this point the sponsorship is for one year, but we really hope we can build on this," he said. "The funding allows us to hit more World Cups and therefore potentially qualify for the Olympics."

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