Obree's exit gives Newton a chance

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The Independent Online
Chris Newton had a second bite at the Olympic "apple" yesterday when the world champion, Graeme Obree, decided to return home from Atlanta.

Although he failed to qualify in the 4,000 metres pursuit on the Stone Mountain track, 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 Tour de France winner 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 de France will be crucial to any medal chances.

Yesterday, Newton and his three team-mates failed to qualify for the quarter-finals of the 4,000 metres team pursuit. Newton, Rob Hayles, Matt Illingworth and Bryan Steel clocked 4min 15.51sec. They finished 10th, only 0.06sec away from the time of the eighth and last qualifier, New Zealand, but such fractions are a lifetime in these races.

Germany, the Barcelona champions, also missed the cut finishing ninth, less than four-tenths faster than Britain, but with only Guido Fulst remaining from their 1992 golden foursome. France were fastest with 4min 09.570 sec and meet New Zealand in the quarter finals while Italy, with Collinelli producing the second fastest time of 4min 09.695sec, take on Spain.

With Antonella Bellutti dominating the women's 3,000 metres pursuit with an Olympic record, the Italians look sure of at least another title.

Britain's Yvonne McGregor meets New Zealand's Sarah Ulmer in the quarter- finals and should win a semi-final place, a stage in which the fastest loser takes the bronze.

The Olympic champion, Erika Salumae of Estonia, was eliminated from the women's sprint by the world champion, Felicia Ballanger of France.