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Competitors head for UCI Track World Championships with Olympics in mind

In any year, the World Championships and a shot at wearing the rainbow jersey is a major target for most riders. However, in an Olympic year, the event takes on an extra level of importance as riders look to send a message out to their rivals and their nation’s selectors.

The 2016 UCI Track World Championships take place over five days, beginning on Wednesday, March 2. The men will compete across 10 events while the women ride nine – the Madison is the only remaining event that is just for the men. Gold medals will also be up for grabs in the individual and team sprints, individual and team pursuits, the Omnium, points race, scratch race, Keirin and the kilometre/500-metre time trial.

The Worlds in London will wrap up the track season, and is the final competition before the Rio Olympic Games, and, therefore, the last chance to make your case to gain selection for Rio.

The endurance events

Providing a first chance at a medal for the endurance riders will be the men’s scratch race and the women’s individual pursuit. The scratch race is difficult to predict but is one for the sprints. Only Alex Rasmussen and Franco Marvulli have ever won the men’s event a second time and Lucas Liss will be looking to add his name to that list. Australia’s Stephen Hall has been one of the strongest in event this season, while USA’s Bobby Lea, who was his close rival, won’t be present after being suspended following a positive test for noroxycodone. Spain’s Sebastian Mora Vedri is the reigning European champion in the event.

In the women’s competition, which is on day 2, Poland’s Katarzyna Pawłowska has dominated in the past, but road sprinter Kirsten Wild showed she was in form at the Tour of Qatar and will be looking to defend her title. The 22-year-old Jennifer Valente is both national and Pan American champion in the discipline and could also be a contender.

Rebecca Wiasak goes in as defending champion in the women’s individual pursuit, but she’s had a quiet season and her form is unknown. Katie Archibald should have been a firm favourite for the event but a motorcycle crash has put her out. It is the USA’s Valente who has been flying this season and looks like the strongest contender for the gold, with Elise Delzenne of France, another serious challenger.

The men will have to wait until Friday to battle it out for the individual pursuit title. Defending champion and reigning European titleholder Stefan Kung will not be in London; the Swiss rider is still recovering from mononucleosis. His absence will leave the door open for someone new to step up to the plate, with the only former champion Bradley Wiggins not due to ride the event. Germany’s Domenic Weinstein could be the man to take the mantle or Great Britain’s national champion Andy Tennant.

Tennant will be looking to help the British find success in the team pursuit also, alongside his road teammates Wiggins and Owain Doull. The team will be buoyed by the remarkable recovery of Ed Clancy after he underwent back surgery. Their traditional rivals Australia have been on song this season as has Germany and the Danish. Switzerland could cause an upset but the loss of Kung will be a big setback.

In the women’s event, the medal fight is likely to be between the Canadians, the British and the Australians. Australia are the defending champions after breaking the World Record in 2015, but the past season has seen Canada and Great Britain close the gap. A wildcard for the podium could be the US, which has also had a strong season.

The Madison is no longer an Olympic event but it remains a crowd favourite and it has attracted some strong riders, with Wiggins set to team up with Mark Cavendish. They will be favourites for the title along with the French, who won last year with Morgan Kneisky and Bryan Coquard. The latter is out with a broken collarbone but Kneisky will be and should be in form. Spain will also be ones to look out for as European champions.

A plethora of road riders will be taking to the boards this week for a shot at victory in the Omnium. In the men’s event, Cavendish, Elia Viviani, defending champion Fernando Gaviria and Lasse Norman Hansen will all be present. The 2014 champion Glenn O’Shea can be added to the list of contenders.

For the women, Annette Edmondson will be fighting to take a second consecutive Gold despite crashing into a car just a few weeks ago. Edmondson beat Great Britain’s Laura Trott to the title last season and the two will be locked in battle this week. Kirsten Wild (Netherlands), Tatisiana Sharakova (Belarus) and Sarah Hammer (USA) cannot be counted out either.

Last but not least in the endurance category is the points race. Katarzyna Pawlowska has been performing well all season in this competition while Jolien D’hoore is also a potential medallist. Germany’s Stephanie Pohl will be back to try and repeat her success from France a year ago. In the men’s competition, it is Benjamin Thomas of France that has been leading the way and will go in as one of the favourites, as will Eloy Teruel who took a silver medal in the event in last year’s World Championships.

The sprint events

Both team sprint events will be decided on the opening day with the women duking it out before the men close out the evening. China has dominated the women’s event in recent years and they are going to be the team to beat yet again. Germany, with the likes of Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel, will be tough challengers for the Chinese, as will the Australians. Great Britain has endured some tough times in the team sprint and they will need to put in a strong time to ensure a place at the Olympic Games.

Germany has been a strong force throughout this latest season in the men’s competition, and they will be looking to improve on their bronze medal from 12 months ago. The British men were struggling at the start of the season but they seem to be moving in the right direction after taking victory in the final round of the World Cup to win the overall standings. Defending champions France have some work to do if they want to replicate their gold medal from last year.

The battle for the individual sprint titles will be much more hotly contested with multiple strong sprinters within some nations. This is no more apparent than it is within the Australian team, with Anna Meares, Stephanie Morton and Kaarle McCulloch all going well and fighting for their spot in the team sprint at the Olympics. China’s Shuang Guo has been at the top of the sprinting discipline for many years but has surprisingly never taken a world title in the event. She is on form though and took out the World Cup title this season. Other serious contenders for the medals are Elis Ligtlee (Netherlands), Miriam Welte Kristina Vogel (Germany), Simona Krupeckaite and Virginie Cueff (France).

Australia is also among the favourites in the men’s event, with rising star Matthew Glaezter. He will have to face off a challenge from defending champion Gregory Bauge and his French teammate Francois Pervis. The Germans also have some serious firepower in Max Niederlag and Max Levy. Former World Champion Theo Bos is making a return to the event.He’s shown some good form but this will be his first real test against the big names. Russia’s Denis Dmitriev is also another potential medallist.

The favourite for the men’s Keirin will be tough to call with Pervis, Azizulhasni Awang, and Joachim Eilers, all potential victors. Japan’s Yuta Wakimoto has been on the rise in his country’s favoured event over the past two years and he could well seal them their first keirin medal since 1993. The USA’s Matthew Baranoski is also in with a shout of taking a medal home from London.

Anna Meares is the undisputed champion of the women’s Keirin with four titles, and she will go into this year’s competition as race favourite and defending champion. Meare’s own teammate Stephanie Morton could turn challenger in the keirin but she may also be able to assist her should they both make it to the final. Shuang Guo missed out on a medal last year but she is arriving off the back of her World Cup victory and will be on form in London. Other potential contenders are the Germans Welte and Vogel, and Hong Kong’s Wai Sze Lee.

The final sprint event is the time trial, the kilometre for the men and 500 metres for the women. Neither are Olympic events, with the kilometre removed after the 2004 games. Once again, Anna Meares will be the rider to beat. Russia’s Anastasia Voyanova is the defending champion, however, and has been going strong this season, as has her compatriot Daria Shmeleva.

In the kilo, it is Francois Pervis who is aiming to retain his rainbow stripes. Pervis holds the World Record for the kilometre after setting a time of 56.303 during the Aguascalientes World Cup in 2013. Germany will be disappointed if they were to leave the competition without at list a medal, preferably gold, with Maximilian Dornbach and Joachim Eilers. For the Netherlands, 2005 World Champion Theo Bos is back in action and will be looking for a medal. 

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