Analysis: What did we learn at the track on Friday

Manchester track World Cup 2011: Coverage Index>>>>

There are 524 days until the Olympic Games start. Between now and then, there are a lot of questions to be answered. The Manchester World Cup will give some clues. Here’s what we learned on day one.

It might take a 3-17 to win the women’s team pursuit at the Worlds
According to Joanna Rowsell, anyway. The British trio of Wendy Houvenaghel, Sarah Storey and Rowsell were just quarter-of-a-second outside the world record as they took the first gold of the weekend. It was a polished performance and competition for places (with as many as eight or nine riders in the mix) means that there is potential for even further improvement. Bear in mind the young Team 100% Me squad (Katie Colclough, Dani King and Laura Trott) recorded a 3-23.366 and missed a bronze medal ride by a whisker.

Rebecca Romero has her work cut out to get in the line-up
Having flirted with the idea of converting herself into a road time triallist, the Olympic individual pursuit champion decided her best chance of a medal at the London Games would be in the team pursuit. A minor injury kept her out of this weekend’s World Cup (that’s the official line, anyway). If she doesn’t make the Worlds team next month, her chances of being at the Olympics must be rated as slim.

Chris Hoy has a fight on his hands
Sir Chris won’t want to be reminded that his chief rival for Britain’s one and only place in the sprint competition at the Olympic Games is Jason Kenny, a man who is 12 years his junior. There’s the prospect of a fascinating head-to-head battle between the pair over the next year and a bit. In order to defend his Olympic sprint crown, Hoy has to hold the young pretender Kenny – a silver medallist in Beijing, remember – at arm’s length. Last night Kenny scored a morale-boosting win, beating Hoy 2-0 in the semi-final. Hoy is far too experienced and professional to let it ruffle him. He relishes the competition but he won’t want to be beaten too often. And he wasn’t slow to point out that the battle for that Olympic place is a marathon, not a sprint, if you see what we mean.

Kevin Sireau is going very well
Let’s not forget that the goal is to win gold in London. Gaining selection is only half the battle. At the moment, Sireau is looking very good. The way Dave Brailsford pumped his fist when Kenny went 1-0 up against the Frenchman in the final says it all. That was every bit as impressive a scalp as victory over Hoy in the semi.

The Sky track team skinsuits look great
Black with red and white stripes down the sleeves, it looks extremely smart. And the addition of the rider’s names on the side, just like the Sky road riders, is excellent too.

Rohan Dennis mugged Geraint Thomas in his own back yard
Thomas set off very fast. But Dennis capitalised when the Welshman began to pay for that in the final kilometre. It was a cracking pursuit race. We don’t need to mention again the folly of the UCI’s decision to knock it out of the Olympics, do we? What’s that? It’s still part of the omnium? Indeed it is. But watching two riders go toe-to-toe in 4-15 and 4-16s is absolutely thrilling. Once you’ve seen that, it’s hard to get excited about seeing people trundle round in 4-25 or 4-30.

The omnium is difficult for even the well-versed to follow. It must be a nightmare for the casual fan
A points race demands the viewer’s full attention at the best of times. But when you also have the overall omnium standings to bear in mind, it becomes a nightmare. It was like looking at one of those magic eye pictures. The harder you try to see what it is, the less likely you are to get it. Knocking the omnium format has become like shooting fish in a barrel. Even the riders we’ve spoken to haven’t given it their full endorsement. And yesterday, the riders had to endure a 12-hour day. The format has too many flaws to be truly prestigious.

It’s all to play for with Britain’s women’s team sprint
Barring disaster, Kaarle McCulloch and Anna Meares will be the Australian pair at the Olympics. The reigning world champions keep tapping out times in the low 33s. It’s extremely impressive. At the moment they are the top dogs, despite the fact China qualified faster. The British picture is not as clear. While they have strength in depth, there’s a lot to sort out. Victoria Pendleton and Shanaze Reade misfired badly on Friday, finishing only eighth. Okay, so it’s not the World Championships but there is no time for complacency in an event where hundredths of a second can mean the difference between a medal and nowhere. Jess Varnish and Becky James threw their names into the hat. At the moment, it’d take a brave person to predict who will represent Britain in London next August.

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