Round 3 of Track World Cup this weekend

Cyclists from 35 nations will be in action in Manchester this weekend as the city hosts round three of the Track World Cup from January 7-9. Olympic gold medallists and World Champions head the 200-strong entry for cycling’s first major international clash of 2005, which includes 15 Cup events - nine for men and six for women - ranging in distance from 500 metres to 50 kilometres.

Highlights at the indoor Velodrome include Chris Hoy’s first kilometre race since he won the Olympic title in record time almost five months ago. The Scottish powerhouse, who was made an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours, is favourite to take the kilometre time trial on Friday evening. Hoy also contests Sunday’s Japanese Keirin invitation event and is a member of Britain’s Team Sprint squad, alongside fellow Olympians Jason Queally and Craig MacLean.

Olympic pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins, a new OBE, is aiming for success in the endurance events. He faces his toughest test in the points race, where Russia’s Olympic gold medallist and current World Cup leader Mikhael Ignatiev will be the man to beat. Athens medallist Rob Hayles is also targeting the individual pursuit, and a clash with his old rival Sergi Escobar of Spain, who narrowly defeated Hayles in last year’s World Championship final, is on the cards.

The women’s events include the points race where the top three in the World Cup standings, Lyudmyla Vypyraylo (Ukraine), Erin Mirabella (USA) and Alexis Rhodes (Australia) are chasing the overall title. Also competing will be Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) and Katherine Bates (Australia). Bates, who like Cooke is a Commonwealth champion, hit top form in last Easter’s World Cup at Manchester, scoring a pursuit and points race double.

Much interest will be centred on the Keirin, in which Britain’s Victoria Pendleton will aim for a repeat of her round two victory at Los Angeles. Victoria goes into the Keirin with a five-point lead over Germany’s Susann Panzer, with Elisa Frisoni of Italy a further point in arrears. Clara Sanchez, the World Champion in the discipline, makes her World Cup 2004/5 debut.

Sunday will see the special Japanese Keirin, sponsored by the Japan Keirin Association, with stars from around the world bidding for a slice of the £45,000 prize fund.

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