Britain geared for another golden haul

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The Independent Online

On a wet and windswept day British cycling is forecasting rainbows in Manchester as it takes on the world at the city's Velodrome, starting today.

On a wet and windswept day British cycling is forecasting rainbows in Manchester as it takes on the world at the city's Velodrome, starting today.

That confident prediction came from team chief Peter Keen whose performance plan made British riders the talk of the Olympic track in Sydney.

A gold, silver and two bronze medals - the best Olympic haul for 80 years - enables a British official to talk confidently and plurally about medals at the World Track Championships here.

"Realistically we could win five medals. We will be targeting events strategically to maximise our medal-winning potential," said Keen, who devised and directs the Lottery- funded programme that has developed home-grown talent.

Britain's golden moments are spread down the years, and a "rainbow", cycling's tag for the multi-coloured hooped jersey of a world champion, has warmed a few British shoulders. Chris Boardman, Graeme Obree, Colin Sturgess, Tony Doyle and Hugh Porter kept the flag flying with 11 pursuit titles over 28 years from 1968.

Porter won four of them to keep the momentum going after Beryl Burton's successes throughout the 1960s when she won seven titles on track and road. Before the First World War Leon Meredith and Bill Bailey were regularly on top of the podium with fellow Britons often occupying the silver and bronze positions.

Keen's target of five medals revives these memories, but he is aware of the task of keeping his riders on the boil.

"It's difficult peaking for two major events so close together. The challenge for everyone will be to lift their performance after only one month following the Olympics," he said. "This is a new challenge for everyone." And a refreshing change from the time when British teams returned from championships with only excuses to offer.

The fact that the gap has closed between British performances and those of the major cycling nations is down to Keen's plan which impressed sufficiently to land Lottery cash by the millions.

Without the funding restrictions normally imposed on a sport that is not mainstream in Britain, he was able to prepare his riders properly, and Manchester's Velodrome was their "umbrella" against the fickle summer weather.

With this indoor 250-metre track racers could train the year round, and it also attracts novice riders to drop-in sessions where they are coached in racing skills. One such beginner was Jason Queally who five years later found himself hardly believing that he was waving to a packed stadium in Sydney whilst wearing an Olympic gold medal.

The previous year Queally and team-mates Chris Hoy and Craig MacLean had won the Olympic sprint, a timed team race, at the European championships, and taken silver behind France in the World championships in Berlin.

"Chris and Craig have got very good form so there's a good chance we might go the whole way to gold," said Queally, who found his way to cycling via triathlons. "I am looking forward to the championships at a home venue and home support which is going to be very uplifting for the whole team."

Britain's Olympic success is reflected in the interest in the Manchester event. Three of the five days are already sold out at the 5,000-capacity Velodrome.

Queally's dream of a golden double, with a world kilometre time trial gold to go with his Olympic medal, will be tested in front of the first-night crowd by current champion Arnaud Tournant. The Frenchman's failure in Sydney - he finished fifth - is the spur he needed to recapture the form that gave him the world record three months earlier. Until then he had been unbeaten over a kilometre for three years.

The Olympic sprint is on Saturday and, with Queally and company having come within four tenths of a second of beating France in Sydney, the scene is set for British success. The French will be without double Olympic champion Florian Rousseau who helped power them to three world crowns.

Similarly, Germany, Olympic and world champions in the 4,000-metre team pursuit, will lack Robert Bartko who added the individual pursuit gold to his world title in Sydney. With the Ukrainian silver medallists not showing, Britain, who won bronze in Sydney, should have a golden glint in their eyes.

Yvonne McGregor's hopes will rise from her Olympic pursuit bronze to a greater value medal in the women's pursuit where the main opposition will come from defending champion Marion Clignet of France.