UCI World Track Championships Day 1: Hong Kong's Kwok springs scratch surprise
Belarus take both women's golds, as Aussie men sound team pursuit warning for London 2012
Belarus had most cause for celebration on the opening evening of the 2011 UCI Track World Championships in Apeldoorn, winning both women’s events to take two of the five gold medals on offer, but the big news of the evening was a shock win by Hong Kong’s Ho Ting Kwok in the men’s points race. Great Britain picked up bronze medals in the men’s team pursuit and team sprint.
The magnitude of the surprise win by Kwok was such that initially many in the velodrome – not to mention, the scoreboard – had the mistaken impression that Elia Viviani, who in fact took silver, had won. That was presumably due to all eyes being on the tussle between the Italian and Australia’s Cameron Meyer at the moment the Hong Kong rider made his move.
The group containing Viviani and Meyer had bridged the gap to an earlier six-man breakaway and the stage seemed set for the pair to contest the gold medal. Kwok had other ideas though, and jumped off the front with five laps to go to claim the rainbow jersey. The 2009 winner, Morgan Kneisky of France, was third with Meyer coming home seventh.
Remarkably, Kwok’s success mirrored the win in the same event four years ago at Palma de Mallorca by his compatriot, Wong Kam Po, which was equally as surprising at the time.
The first medals to be decided this evening saw Australia’s team pursuit squad provide a warning of their intentions for next year’s Olympic Games in London, the quartet of Jack Bobridge, Rohan Dennis, Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn beating Russia easily in the final.
While the Australian time of 3:57.832 was 4.5 seconds off the world record time that Great Britain set at the Beijing Olympics, Apeldoorn is a much slower track.
The British quartet of Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Peter Kennaugh and Andy Tennant had qualified third fastest, belying the squad’s youth in the absence of riders such as Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas who might be expected to line up at next year’s Olympics.
The average age dropped by two years to 21.5 years as the 18-year-old Sam Harrison replaced the unwell Clancy in the bronze medal run-off against New Zealand, which Great Britain won easily from New Zealand.
Harrison had originally been scheduled to ride the points race tonight, and although he did take the start, the earlier exertions had clearly taken their toll and the young Welshman retired halfway through.
Afterwards, Jack Bobridge, who earlier this year rewrote the record books as he smashed Chris Boardman’s individual pursuit world record, said: "It's not so much about seeing Britain in bronze, it's just another stepping-stone for us on the way to London.
“We've been working hard since Beijing. We had Luke Durbridge in here this year, he missed out last year but he's super-strong and taken the rainbow jersey. We couldn't be happier, everything's just come together and it's overwhelming, for sure.”
Britain’s second bronze came in the men’s team sprint, with Matt Crampton, Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy holding off Australia in the run-off. The trio had missed out on a berth in the final by just 0.027 of a second, posting a qualifying time of 44.128 against Germany’s 44.101.
Neither of those times could match that of France, however, whose trio of Michaël D'Almeida, Grégory Baugé and Kévin Sireau ranked first in qualifying with 43.951 seconds and duly imposed themselves on the Germans in the final.
While that gave France’s men cause for celebration, it was a different story in the two women’s events to be decided on the night. Sandy Claire had a face like thunder as she waited on the podium to accept her silver medal behind the Belarus rider Olga Panarina in the women’s 500m individual pursuit. Germany’s Miriam Welte was third. Great Britain’s representative, Becky James, was seventh.
Another Belarus rider, Tatsiana Sharakova, took gold in the women’s points race that had been looked like developing into a duel between 2008 champion and winner of Olympic gold in the event that year, Marianne Vos, and Italy’s Giorgia Bronzini, Vos’s successor to the rainbow jersey in this event and current world road race champion.
The French gold medal hopeful, Pascale Jeuland who won the scratch race 12 months ago, was visibly upset after retiring early on.
Although the Dutch crowd cheered enthusiastically whenever Vos got to the front of the main bunch, Sharakova was already up the track on her way to gaining the lap that would seal her gold medal win.
Bronzini, meanwhile, consistently proved quicker than the Dutchwoman at the intermediate sprints, but ultimately had to content herself with third, as the Czech rider Jarmila Machačová took second.
Despite no British rider taking part in the race, it did provide the country with a win of sorts – Sharakova was riding a Dolan.
Tomorrow sees three more gold medals decided, in the women’s team pursuit and team sprint and the men’s individual pursuit.