March 25, 2008 (Manchester, UK) — The Canadian contingent of Zach Bell, Gina Grain, Tara Whitten, Travis Smith, Martin Gilbert and Ryan Mckenzie faces their last, and greatest hurdle on their road to the Beijing Olympics this coming week, Mar. 26-30, at the 2008 Track World Championships in Manchester, UK. This will be the last time the top international riders will meet in competition before the 2008 Games in Beijing. Great Britain will be hoping to improve on their already dominant performance at last year’s Championships in front of a home crowd.
Bell is currently managing from the repercussions of a shoulder recently dislocated at the Bendigo Carnival in Australia. While he was back on the Burnaby track training last week, his shoulder was heavily taped for the workouts. For Bell to qualify for the Games he only needs to have an “average ride” in relation his normal performance levels – but there’s a cloud of uncertainly over his fitness given his injury. He has been working closely with physiotherapists and remained optimistic about his chances when Pedal spoke to him a few days ago. Bell will face off in the points race against Aussie youngster Cameron Meyer, who has propelled himself into “favourite” status in just his first year as a senior.
Injury has also plagued Calgary’s Travis Smith this year as he’s battled his way back following a broken hip from a crash in the keirin at the 2007 championships. Despite making amazing progress to return to competition this season, Smith has yet to find the form that saw him medal at the Commonwealth Games a few years back.
Canada’s versatile National Road Champion, Gina Grain, is another rider with a strong chance of qualifying, though it will require a great performance from this often mercurial rider. Both Grain and World Cup neophyte Tara Whitten of Edmonton are trying to qualify for the lone endurance spot for Canadian women. For Whitten it’s a longer shot, and it will take a ride of legendary proportions for her to crack to top 5 and qualify for an Olympic spot. But the ex-Nordic skier has raised eyebrows and improved her time at every competition so far this year. Multi-discipline champion Marianne Vos of the Netherlands is the hot favourite in every endurance discipline save the pursuit.
Canada’s Madison team is on the bubble for Olympic selection holding down 18th spot in the world rankings. The biggest threat to Mackenzie and Gilbert’s chances for selection is the New Zealand team which is currently ranked behind the Canucks. New Zealand has some big weapons in its arsenal in the form of former World Champion Greg Henderson (High Road) and the Haydens — Godfrey and Roulston both excellent endurance riders. The Canadian duo will have to keep a sharp eye on the Kiwi’s who performed well at the last Olympics. ProTour starters Brad Wiggens and Mark Cavendish will team up in front of a home crowd hoping to win a rainbow jersey enroute to the Games. But they will be hard pressed by defending champions Switzerland and a Spanish team including Llaneres who returns to the Madison for the first time since his partner Galvez was killed at the Ghent Six Day.
A final event unique to the World Championships is the Omnium which is back for a second year after a several decade long absence. Versatile Czech rider Alvis Kankovsky will be looking to defend his title from last year.
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