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Interview: Cycling-Sprint queen Meares on track for more Rio glory

UCI World Track Cycling Championships - London, Britain - 3/3/2016 - Anna Mears (R) of Australia remonstrates with Ekaterina Gnidenko of Russia after she strayed into her path in the first round of the women's Keirin. Gnidenko was relegated to last. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/Files
UCI World Track Cycling Championships - London, Britain - 3/3/2016 - Anna Mears (R) of Australia remonstrates with Ekaterina Gnidenko of Russia after she strayed into her path in the first round of the women's Keirin. Gnidenko was relegated to last. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/Files

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The turn of the Olympic cycle has ushered in a new generation of riders plotting to overthrow track queen Anna Meares, but the seasoned Australian is confident of being in top gear to defend her sprint title at the Rio de Janeiro Games.

The double Olympic champion was confirmed in Australia's formidable track team for Rio on Tuesday and will become only the third woman to compete in the velodrome at four Olympics. [nL4N19R1B1]

Having medalled at Athens, Beijing and London, Meares will saddle up a month before her 33rd birthday, her place in the pantheon of Olympic cycling greats already assured.

But four years after her dramatic London win over champion sprinter Victoria Pendleton signalled the end of one era, she is determined to see off the next wave of challengers.

"I feel nerves and I think that's normal," the 11-times world champion told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

"I think it reiterates to me (the Olympics) are still important even after all these years. Two-thirds of my life I’ve dedicated to being a cyclist.

"I’ve had a lot of time to deal with the shift of Victoria Pendleton and another eight or nine women who have retired since London.

"There was a big adjustment as a new influx of younger girls came through and many are still coached by the same coaches who worked with the previous generation.

"So there is a combination of new, young bodies and old coaching heads which has made it very difficult in the years between London and Rio.

"That said, that’s what keeps me interested and intrigued in the sport. It’s never stagnant and changes with the strengths and weaknesses that come through with new girls and the older coaching philosophies that have to adapt and evolve with each Olympic cycle."

SOLACE IN ROUTINE

The interval between the Games has been an emotional roller-coaster for the Australian, whose marriage to her high-school sweetheart fell apart in 2014.

She was devastated by the break-up and contemplated retiring from the sport before finding solace in the familiar routines of training and competition.

She clinched her 11th world title with victory in the keirin at Paris last year but has not had it all her way since.

German Kristina Vogel, who won the team sprint gold at the London Olympics, took her keirin title at the world championships in the same velodrome in March, and the Australian failed to make the podium in the individual sprint won by China's Zhong Tianshi.

Meares, however, has a veteran's sense of her body's capabilities and is confident she will be in peak form when she rolls into the Barra Velodrome next month.

"I know I’ve got a big task ahead of me and I know where I’m tracking," said Meares, who won her first Olympic gold at the age of 20 in the now-defunct 500 metres time trial at Athens.

"I know what my goals were at the start of the campaign, where my analysis and re-analysis have put me at this point in time.

"And I also trust my coach Gary West and his support team and the plan we have going into Rio to be at my best for that competition."

Meares has set goals for Rio, where she will compete in the keirin, the individual sprint and the team sprint with Stephanie Morton. But as in London four years ago, she is keeping them to herself.

"My coach and my manager are the only ones that know them," she said.

"That keeps me in some control of analysing what my results are like in Rio because I understand there's the pressure and expectation for me to perform and deliver like I always have done."

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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