Britain's men failed to defend successfully their team sprint title at the World Track Championships in Stüttgart yesterday after being forced into the bronze heat by Germany and France. There was some consolation for Britain, however, as they beat their old foes Australia to claim third place.
A gold medal was a realistic target for Britain, just as it will be at the Olympics next year. But it was the Germans who announced themselves as favourites for Athens with a sub-50 seconds win over the French, completing the three laps in 49.957sec.
That compared favourably with the time of 50.442sec set by the British team of Craig McLean, Jamie Staff and Chris Hoy - who replaced Jason Queally after the Lancastrian raced in the trio during the first round - in beating the Australians.
Queally, Staff and Hoy also disappointed in failing to medal in the time-trial on Wednesday night and, together with yesterday's underachievement, the overall performance points to some hard work ahead for the quartet before they travel to Greece.
But if the men fell short then a British woman, Victoria Pendleton, exceeded expectations in reaching the semi-finals of the individual sprint. She was beaten, however, by the Mexican Nancy Contreras.
On the road, the Italian Paolo Bettini stole the show from the local favourite Jan Ullrich by winning the Cyclassics World Cup race in Hamburg after an exciting finale yesterday.
Bettini, last year's overall World Cup champion, sprinted ahead of a group of five breakaway riders at the end of the 253.2km ride for his second win of the year in the showcase series. He crossed the line in 5 hr 58min 20sec, beating his fellow Italians Davide Rebellin and Ullrich into second and third.
Ullrich tried his best to please his home fans a week after staging a remarkable comeback with his second place in the Tour de France, but Bettini proved too strong in the finish straight, on a central avenue of the northern port. The leading group escaped after the last climb of the steep Waseberg hill and managed to retain a narrow lead on the chasing pack.
Ullrich, who was cheered on by hundreds of thousands of German fans lining the course in stifling heat, was left still chasing his first World Cup win. But at least the 29-year-old confirmed he was back at his brilliant best after fighting a career-threatening operation on his knee and serving a doping ban for taking ecstasy during a personal crisis.
"I knew I had to try something because I would have had no chance in a mass sprint," he said. "It didn't work out but if you don't try, you don't get anything," added the German, who won the event in 1997 - the year before it gained World Cup status.
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