McGregor stays on medal course

CYCLING
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The Independent Online
Yvonne McGregor yesterday remained on course for Britain's first cycling medal of the Olympics by qualifying for the semi-finals of the individual pursuit later today.

McGregor, the 35-year-old Bradford youth worker, easily beat the New Zealander Sarah Ulmer in the second heat of the quarter-finals to line up a second meeting against the new Olympic record-holder, Antonella Bellutti, at the Stone Mountain Park velodrome.

As the Yorkshirewoman was the slowest of the qualifiers, having been timed at 3min 41.287sec, she now has the dubious privilege of taking on Bellutti again.

On Thursday McGregor, the world one-hour record-holder, had no answer to the Italian as she set a Olympic record of 3:34.130, despite slipping at the start. Bellutti lowered that figure yesterday to 3:32.371 and now McGregor - who posted a slower time than she did on Thursday, when she was clocked at 3:39.545 - must ensure she is not distracted by the Italian's speed, as the bronze medal is awarded to the fastest loser.

McGregor's success helped make up for the failure of the men's pursuit team to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Robert Hayles, Matthew Illingworth, Chris Newton and Bryan Steel managed only the 10th fastest time of 4:15.510.

Newton had a second attempt at Olympic glory yesterday when the world champion, Graeme Obree, decided to return home from Atlanta. Although he failed to qualify in the 4,000 metres pursuit, Obree was due to ride in the 52-kilometre road time trial over the Buckhead circuit next Saturday. He went to the Games weakened by a virus and, having lost weight, and was nowhere near the world record pace set by Italy's Andrea Collinelli, who went on to win the gold.

The Italian was the fastest qualifier at last year's World Championship in Bogota but lost the final to Obree. "Graeme quite clearly does not have the condition," Doug Dailey, the British manager, said, "so he is going home to get down to some structured training for the defence of his world title in Manchester at the end of August.

"He wants to do it and if he had not have said so I was going to advise him to do just that. However, for the pursuit there was no one to replace Graeme and I would never had denied him the opportunity to compete in the Olympics."

For Newton, who is on the verge of a professional career, this is a great opportunity to pit himself against the masters of against-the-clock racing, such as the five-times winner of the Tour de France, Miguel Indurain.

Britain also will field Chris Boardman, the first world champion at this discipline, and his recovery from going the full distance in the Tour will be crucial to any medal chances.

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