Cycling: Hoy versus Kenny - it's the track of tears

Two of Britain's best athletes must battle for one place in 2012 sprint final

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The Independent Online

There are still five months to the Olympic Games but today sees a battle that would have graced the individual sprint final: Sir Chris Hoy versus Jason Kenny.

That it will not is down to a quirk of the rules rather than the abilities of the riders concerned. Each has what it takes to make that final, but both cannot. That is what today is all about.

The pair are friends and their rivalry is one of the most intense in British cycling. As a four-time Olympic champion, the perception outside the cycling world is that Hoy is a shoo-in for the spot but that is far from the case. British Cycling's head coach, Shane Sutton, insisted there was "no room for sentimentality" in the decision-making process.

There is no denying that Hoy is a special talent but so is Kenny and, in a bid to avoid a repeat of the on-track dominance that Britain enjoyed at the last Olympics, the rules have been changed to ensure each nation has just one rider in every event.

Hoy is the Olympic champion and Kenny the world champion – he was officially awarded the title on Thursday after Gregory Bauge was stripped of the rainbow jersey for doping infringements. One of them will watch the Olympic event from the sidelines.

To Hoy, Kenny is just another competitor. "You give 100 per cent all the time anyway so it's not as if it makes you work any harder or try to get more out of yourself," Hoy said. "You do all that you can all the time anyway. There are so many riders out there that you can't afford to think about anyone but yourself.

"I enjoy racing against him as much as I do against anyone else. It's war on the track but, as soon as it's finished, you shake hands. We are friends off the track."

Both as riders and physical specimens, they are complete opposites. Veins noticeably protrude from the upper arms of the far bulkier Hoy, whose muscular limbs make Kenny look relatively puny in comparison. As his body shape would suggest, the Scot is all about power.

For the more wiry Kenny, who has certainly bulked up since winning silver behind Hoy in the event at the last Olympics, it is his out-and-out speed that is his selling point and, while Hoy appears consistently better on a day-to-day basis, the Bolton-born cyclist has a timely ability to turn it on come race day.

As Sutton put it in the build-up to the Track World Cup at the Olympic velodrome, "you've got power versus speed, so how do you pick? Do you race them off?"

The pair have two showdowns before the Olympics, today in the individual sprint and at April's World Championships in Melbourne. But there are strong challengers from Australia, France and Germany so they might not go head-to-head at either event.

As for how the selection will unfold, Sutton is unclear and admitted he and performance director Dave Brailsford might leave the decision until the last minute in July. "That's an ongoing process, how we're going to deal with that," said Sutton, "but it's a beautiful situation to be in."

They will, however, both ride in the team sprint at the Olympics and so their rivalry will have to remain friendly, which Kenny insists it does for the most part. "We've yet to fall out over it, well, majorly anyway," he said. "It happens on the track and everyone gets a bit flustered and then it's all forgotten about afterwards, which I think is the way it's got to be. It's only bike-racing at the end of the day."

The Hoy-Kenny tussle is by no means the sole Team GB battle for a solitary spot, arguably the next tightest being that between Laura Trott and Dani King for the sole omnium berth.

Among the other 550 athletes aiming to be part of Team GB at the Games, there are other head-to-heads looming. Sailing is a case in point, a sport in which Britain are arguably more competitive than track cycling. In the Finn class Ben Ainslie won the only place available over world champion Giles Scott and two others in the world top 10, Edward Wright and Andrew Mills.

Other selection battles are still being fought. The mixed doubles berth in badminton was a three-way tussle until last month when Robert Blair and Gabby White were dropped from the squad. Now Nathan Robertson, an Olympic silver medallist, and his girlfriend Jenny Wallwork, who are ranked 18th in the world, are up against Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier, ranked 14th but surprise silver medallists at last year's World Championships.

However, the most keenly contested spot is Hoy versus Kenny, both approaching their top form. As Sutton said: "Given what I've seen from Sir Chris of late, he's coming back to his best. Then again Jason's on fire, so it's going to be a tough decision." Today's racing will go some way towards that decision being made.