Olympic Velodrome proves up to speed on opening day


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The Independent Online

The first person to ride around the Velodrome, one of the Olympic Park's signature constructions with its sweeping roof and wood-panelled exterior, was appropriately enough Sir Chris Hoy. The second, slightly less appropriately, was Boris Johnson. That was nearly two years ago, which only goes to show how far ahead of the game the entire project has been.

The Mayor of London's intervention was unplanned – his advisers made the mistake of turning their backs for a second and Boris was off – and since in the Olympic business anything unplanned is enough to wake Lord Coe up in a cold sweat, Johnson was kept well away from the track last night.

Instead it fell to Maki Tabata, a former speed skater and silver medallist at the Winter Olympics, and her two Japanese team-mates to make first competitive use of the pristine track, all 56km of Siberian pine laid down by 26 carpenters and one that in six months' time will be the focus of a host nation's intense expectation. No team is under so much pressure as Britain's cyclists to propel the Union flag up the pole. Sailors and rowers will queue up to dispute it, but Dave Brailsford's immaculately prepared riders have become Team GB's standard bearers. The problem for Britain and Brailsford, who prowled the riders' warm-up area in the centre of the velodrome, is that for the London Games only one entry per nation per discipline is allowed, a reappraisal that will almost certainly reduce the medal haul from Beijing. That and growing evidence the rest of the world are catching up quickly.

Last night's action was limited to heats for the team pursuit – this event doubles as a World Cup event and a Games test – a discipline at which Britain have long been the team to beat. By the time Britain's women took to the track evidence that they should mind the gap was plain, as was the likelihood that the track, designed by Ron Webb, an Australian who was also responsible for the circuits in Sydney and Athens, will host world records come Games time.

The British women, Laura Trott and Wendy Houvenaghel in their world champion rainbow jerseys and Jo Rowsell in the red, white and blue suit, were greeted raucously by a crowd not far short of the 6,000-capacity. "The noise was amazing," said Rowsell. That surprised the British trio – and caused them to start quicker than planned – but so might the Canadians' performance. Britain were well inside the world record at the halfway point but faded. They finished second quickest, marginally faster than Australia, and will race for gold today against Canada.

As will the men, with their opponents Australia. With two of the team who won gold in Beijing – Geraint Thomas and Ed Clancy – making up half the quartet anything else would have been a severe disappointment. Big Ben chimed on the big screen and the four men in Union bodysuits – Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh complete the line-up – swept round accompanied by what Clancy described as a "wall of noise". A few minutes later Australia went even faster to lay down a marker for Sunday's final. "You're witnessing history," roared the enthusiastic man on the public address. It felt more like practising for history, but then everyone knows what good practice makes.