Commonwealth Games Preview
The Commonwealth Games start on Wednesday 15 March and we thought you might like to know who will be competing in which events and what their chances of success really are. We have concentrated on the focus events for each athlete, although you will see that many of the endurance riders will compete in both road and track events.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the competition will not be hot, the Commonwealth includes almost all of the worlds top female riders and a medal here is a huge achievement.
The Aussie team will no doubt benefit from competing on home turf, they are a force to be reckoned with anywhere in the world, and New Zealand will also field a strong team on the road and track. This will include the current Olympic pursuit gold medallist, Sarah Ulmer, who has changed her focus from track to road and showed her class by winning the recent world cup race in New Zealand, beating Nicole Cooke along the way ….
Nicole Cooke (Wales) surely needs no introduction. On 26 March, she will be defending her Commonwealth Road Race title which she won in Manchester 4 years ago. She went on to win silver at the World RR Champs last year and will go into the road race as the favourite to win.
She also put in a good show at the time trial and, if all goes well, she is likely to compete in the 25km points race on the track. Nicole rode a great deal of track as a junior and returned to take the national points title last year at the British Track Nationals.
Rachel Heal (England) won the bronze medal in the road race at the last Commonwealth Games. Another podium finish would be a great result for Rachel, who unlike Nicole, should benefit from having some team mates around her. Rachel has been over in Oz for a few weeks now and is training hard and riding some local circuit races with her team mates as preparation.
Both Amy Hunt (England) and Charlotte Goldsmith (England) have recently signed to ride for Safi and have been riding the world cup road races in Oz and New Zealand in preparation for the road race. Amy, who started out racing mountain bikes, was surprised to be picked for the games team in her first year as a senior, but a win at the National Circuit Championships followed by strong rides at the National Track Champs caught the eye of the selectors. It would be a surprise if either of these riders featured in the medals as, in Amy’s words, ‘we have a team leader and the job for the rest of us is to get her to the finish’.
Victoria Pendleton (England). Four years ago the Commonwealth Games was Vicky’s international debut and she returns to the games wearing the rainbow stripes of the current World Champion, for her main event, the sprint on March 18.
Despite a recent illness, that delayed her departure to Australia, Vicky is on great form and nothing less than a gold medal in the sprint will satisfy her. That said this event is probably the toughest psychologically and it can throw out some real surprises.
Vicky will also ride the 500 TT on the opening day of the track competition, 16 March. This is now much less of a focus for British Cycling since it was removed from the Olympic Games schedule (along with the Kilo), to make room for BMX. It is however still a significant event at an international level and since Vicky rode 34.999 at the British Track Nationals in October last year (only the second time ever that she has ridden under 35 seconds) she looks to have the speed to put in a great performance in this event too.
Emma Davies (England) has a wealth of experience in international competition and will ride the 3,000m Pursuit on 19 March, but her form going into the games is untested. She did not ride the British Track Nationals in 2005 (after a 4 year unbeaten run of national pursuit titles) and was then the victim of a hit and run accident, while cycling to the velodrome. She suffered spinal injuries but has never given up hope of competing at the Commonwealth Games. Only time will tell if Emma has recovered enough to perform to her potential.
Wendy Houvenaghel (England) will also ride the pursuit. She rode her first competitive pursuit at the British Track Nationals last year and took the title, after only a handful of sessions at Manchester. Her international track experience is limited, but her athletic ability is unquestionable and, most important of all, her form just now is good; she won gold in the pursuit at the recent World Cup event in Sydney and she will be looking for a medal in Melbourne, where she will for the first time meet the silver medallist from the pursuit in Athens, Australian Katie Mactier.
Nikki Harris (England) another ex mountain bike rider, is showing great form going into the games, having just won her first senior international track medal, a bronze at the world cup in Sydney last week. Nikki will ride the points race on 17 March and a medal of any colour would be a great result for her.
Kate Cullen (Scotland) will also be focussing on the track points race. Her international experience is limited to two rounds of the world cup in late in 2005 (Manchester and Moscow), where she failed to medal, but at that time she had only recently got sponsorship to train as a full time athlete. On paper she would have only an outside chance of a medal, but she has been working hard to prepare for the games and if she has a little luck along the way, she could just get a podium place.
Ruth McGavigan (Scotland) is the only female rider from GB competing in the Mountain bike XC on 23 March. Ruth, the current Scottish Champion, has been in the southern hemisphere since January 13th and she took the opportunity to race the final two rounds of the NZ national XC series, finishing 4th in one. She will be long odds for a medal, but should put in a strong performance.
So we can look forward to some great racing and hopefully, some medals for the girls from England, Wales and Scotland. Here’s wishing them all the best.
Track (16-19 March) will all be held in the Vodaphone Arena, within Melbourne Park, close to the centre of Melbourne and the venue for the 2004 World Championships Road Race (26 March) is to be held on the Royal Botanic Gardens Circuit. This venue is also close to the heart of Melbourne and comes with some history as it was used for the 1998 Australian Cycling Championships.
Road Time Trial (21 March) will be run on the St Kilda Foreshore and Beach Road. Mountain Bike XC (23 March) will take place at Lysterfield Park in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, south-east of Melbourne.