British track stars eye lion's share of cycling gold

With names like 'Kamakazi' and 'Real McHoy' competing in the Olympic cycling events, there's no doubt the two-wheeled battle for gold in Beijing will come with colour and entertainment.

But once in the saddle, the pleasantries will be put to one side as four, and often more, years of gruelling Olympic preparation reaches its climax, the AFP reported.

A total of 54 medals will be on offer from the 18 finals in cycling's four disciplines of road cycling, track, mountain bike and BMX in Beijing, and 30 of those medals will be won at the Laoshan velodrome.

Already, Britain have laid virtual claim to a significant share of the 10 track golds on offer.

Traditional track rivals Australia, and to a lesser extent France, were left in the Brits' wake at the last two world championships in 2007 and 2008. At Manchester in March, the hosts claimed a stunning 11 of the 54 total medals, including nine golds.

The star of the show was Scotland's Chris Hoy - dubbed the 'Real McHoy' by fans - who may target three golds having switched to the speed events after the four-lap race against the clock, in which he holds the Olympic title and record, made way for BMX.

In Manchester Hoy set out his Olympic stall by becoming world sprint champion for the first time, defending his keirin title and helping Britain to team sprint silver behind France.

Hoy's anticipated battle with Dutch speed master Theo Bos, Kevin Sireau of France and Australian Ryan Bayley, the reigning sprint and keirin champion who has struggled for form, should be one of the highlights of the Games.

The much lankier frame of Bradley Wiggins will continue Britain's bid in the men's pursuit, in which he is reigning champion.

Instantly recogniseable with his 60s hairstyle complete with feathery sideburns, Wiggins is also a key member of Britain's new world record holding pursuit team, who are expected to tussle with Australia or Denmark for the gold.

It is a tribute to their vision that the GB track squad boasts a former Olympic rowing medal winner in Rebecca Romero, who is targeting gold in the pursuit - one of the three women's Olympic track titles - as reigning world champion.

There's also 19-year-old Shanaze Reade, a world champion in the non-Olympic event of team sprint, who will only compete in BMX in Beijing - albeit as the reigning world champion in that too.

First blood on the Olympic cycling events however will be drawn on the tough and hilly course that plays host to the men's road race.

The 248.5km course starts downtown, then goes over the same steep climb seven times before finishing at the Great Wall.

It is likely to reward the climbers and 'punchers' who are usually at home in tough one-day classics such as the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race.

Reigning Liege champion Alejandro Valverde, Italian Danilo Di Luca and fellow compatriot Paolo Bettini, the reigning Olympic champion, already have gold in their sights, as does Australia's Cadel Evans, and reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador.

French hopes of cycling gold may focus primarily on reigning mountain bike cross country champion Julien Absalon, however the evergreen Jeannie Longo will evoke plenty of intrigue for her much younger rivals on what will be her seventh Olympics.

At the age of 49, she recenty claimed the French road and time trial crowns to take her tally of national titles to 54 - and could well spring a surprise in Beijing.

With BMX making its debut in the full hope of impressing expecting Olympic bosses, the Laoshan BMX circuit will be looking to host two days of spills and thrills.

Especially with characters like Kamakazi.

Formerly known as plain old Jamie Hildebrandt before he changed his name by deed poll for 200 dollars in 2001, Kamakazi secured his Olympic berth last weekend - and could now be hoping to make a real name for himself.

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