Cycling events altered for 2012 Olympics

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The Independent Online

The International Olympic Committee have ratified the International Cycling Union's proposed changes to the Olympic track cycling programme in full, with major repercussions for Great Britain.

In a bid for gender parity, the UCI and IOC have agreed to a programme to begin at London 2012 which features five men's and five women's events - boosting Victoria Pendleton's hopes of emulating Sir Chris Hoy's achievement of winning three gold medals at one Games.

The men's and women's individual pursuits - in which Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Romero are Olympic champions - men's and women's points races and the men's Madison are to disappear in favour of sprints, keirins, team sprints, team pursuits and omniums for both sexes.

There were seven events for men and three for women at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

The prospect of additional events was ruled out earlier this year, so wholesale changes were required to equalise the events for the genders.

The changes were discussed at this week's IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne, with IOC president Jacques Rogge revealing the changes this afternoon.

An IOC statement read: "The changes to the track cycling programme see the number of women's events increase from three in Beijing in 2008 to five in London, with the total number of track cycling events now at five each for men and women.

"The changes reflect the IOC's desire to continually refresh the programme, as well as its commitment to increase women's participation.

"These changes in the track cycling programme bring the number of women cyclists at the Games to 84, up from 35 in Beijing.

"Women will now make up 45% of the total number of track cyclists at the Games (compared to 19% in Beijing)."

Britain are the world's foremost track nation, winning seven out of the 10 available titles at Beijing's Laoshan Velodrome last year.

Hoy won three of those titles, little more than two years after hearing of the demise of the one-kilometre time-trial - the event he won in Athens in 2004.

Now Pendleton - already Olympic sprint champion - has the opportunity to replicate the feat she achieved in China in front of a partisan crowd.

While gender parity received the full support of world cycling, the axing of the pursuit and points race will leave endurance riders feeling the full force of the move.

Wiggins' participation on the track in London has been in doubt since his phenomenal fourth-placed finish at July's Tour de France, but there is no doubt the prospect of riding for a third successive pursuit title in his hometown would have been enticing.

The demise of the pursuit is all the more galling with three riders all testing the boundaries of performance.

Wiggins' Britain team-mate Geraint Thomas - now colleagues at Team Sky after Wiggins signed for the British road team today - set the third fastest pursuit time in history at the Track World Cup in Manchester in October.

Thomas' time in the four-kilometres event was behind only world record holder Chris Boardman, whose aerodynamic 'superman' position was later outlawed.

American Taylor Phinney, meanwhile, has also threatened Wiggins' best times and the competition in London would have been intriguing.

The women's competition was also strong, with Romero, winner of a rowing silver in Athens before taking gold on the track in China, improving all the time and competition coming from her British team-mate Wendy Houvenaghel.

Both Wiggins and Romero have been outspoken critics of the proposals to ditch the pursuit, which they believe fits the Olympic 'faster, higher, stronger' mantra.

The potential inclusion of the omnium - a heptathlon-style event - is one which has been met with derision, with riders believing it awards the most consistent, rather than the fastest competitor.

British Cycling were prepared for the announcement.

Performance director Dave Brailsford was so certain the changes would be ratified this week that the British Cycling programme was adjusted prior to the opening Track World Cup event of the season in Manchester in October.