Atlanta '96: Boardman leads pursuit of medals

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The Independent Online
The breathless humidity of Georgia will be nothing compared with the rarefied atmosphere of racing alongside Miguel Indurain and other giants of cycling when Atlanta hosts the road race.

Bike racing is now wide ''open'' with the Olympics accepting professionals for the first time. The road race, particularly, has a new edge, and a new class, the elites, merging professional with amateur.

Mixing Tour de France hardened riders with top amateurs sets both on their mettle, and the British manager, Doug Dailey, said: "It's a real bonus that we have been able to bring in stars of this calibre.''

He names the Olympic track champion, Chris Boardman, and Max Sciandri for the 229-kilometre race over the Buckhead circuit on 31 July, but Boardman's real target is the individual time trial over the same roads three days later.

Riding the road race will give him the chance to assess the course because training is forbidden on the circuit.

Sciandri, the Italian who gains selection by virtue of his being born in Britain, will be suited to the undulating course, but there will be a queue for the medals.

Jostling at the head will be the Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, Spain's world champions, Indurain and Abraham Olano, a host of new Italian talent, and a particularly ambitious American, Lance Armstrong.

Boardman gave Britain their first Olympic gold for 72 years when he won the 4,000m pursuit on the Barcelona track. The new world champion, Graeme Obree, and Yvonne McGregor, the world's second-fastest woman pursuiter, will have to dig deep for gold.

Australia are the dominant nation in track racing. They took three world track titles last year, and with Germany and Italy will be the biggest threat to British chances.

The track racing (Stone Mountain Park, 24 to 28 July) could be influenced by the novel track surface described by Dailey as "laminated kitchen tops laid side by side''.

Since Barcelona, the 100km team time trial has been replaced by mountain biking (Georgia International Horse Park, 30 July), and Britain have a medal hope in the European champion Caroline Alexander. The Americans, originators of this sport, may find the European challenge rather hot.

BRITAIN'S LINE-UP (to be completed after Sunday's road race championship): Track: 4,000 metres pursuit: G Obree. 4,000m team pursuit: R Hayles, M Illingworth, C Newton, B Steel. 1,000m time trial: S Wallace. Women's 3,000m pursuit: Y McGregor. Mountain bike: C Alexander, D Baker, G Foord, D Murrell. Road races: C Boardman, M Sciandri, B Smith, J Tanner and one to be named. Women: M Purvis and two to be named. Time trials: Boardman, Obree. Women: McGregor.