LONDON (AFP) –
French track cycling great Gregory Bauge has every right to feel aggrieved, but he intends taking his anger out on his rivals when the battle for a coveted Olympic sprint gold begins on Saturday.
Bauge, the three-time world champion, had to settle for team sprint silver on the opening day of the Olympic track programme on Thursday as Britain raised the bar to defend their title from Beijing.
France had clocked their fastest ever time in the final of the three-lap power event, but in the end it was not enough as Chris Hoy completed his team’s effort in a new world record of 42.600sec.
On Saturday, Bauge will aim to make amends when the individual sprint tournament kicks off with a timed 200-metre flying lap.
Regarded as the most prestigious events in the sport, the individual or match sprint is spread over three days with riders facing off in pairs through various rounds and repechages before getting anywhere near the final.
In Beijing, Hoy won the gold ahead of British teammate Jason Kenny, but since then Bauge has been virtually unstoppable at world level.
“For me, the individual sprint will be a totally different ball game,” he warned as he struggled to digest France’s defeat to Britain.
The Frenchman’s coach is Florian Rousseau, who was stunned in the 2000 Olympic final by American surprise package Marthy Nothstein.
With France’s last winner being Daniel Morelon in 1972, it is no wonder Bauge wants nothing less than gold this time.
“With Florian, we’ve been preparing for this for the past four years. There have been some difficult moments, but we’ve come here ready,” said Bauge.
“This is the big objective of my entire career. The thought of defeat has not even entered my mind.”
Bauge, however, faces a tough field which comprises Germany’s Robert Forstemann, Australian Shane Perkins and, above all, Englishman Kenny.
Kenny was only recently given Britain’s sole spot for the sprint tournament ahead of Hoy, and showed on Thursday — when he posted some superb times in the team sprint competition — he has the required speed to win gold.
While the women’s inaugural Olympic team pursuit finals are held, with Britain and Australia the favourites for gold, the other main event is the men’s inaugural omnium.
Mixing the sheer power of the flying lap and kilometre time trial, the tactical nous of the points, elimination and scratch races and the endurance of the 4 km pursuit, the Omnium, roughly, is to track what the decathlon is to athletics.
Among the names to look out for are Australia’s world champion Glenn O’Shea, Canada’s Zach Bell and British pursuit specialist Ed Clancy.
Since being introduced at world championship level in 2007, there have been six different winners of the title.
O’Shea knows he will be a target, but says the competition is wide open.
“There’s no doubt there will be a target on my head being the world champion,” said the Australian.
“But everyone’s really close, you only have to look at the World Cups (results) to see there’s a lot of strong performances.
“We’ve done our research, and there’s 10 different people who can win the gold medal.”