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Aussies still the team to beat, says Hoy

Australia's track cycling team is not the well-drilled unit that struck fear into the hearts of their rivals at the 2002 Manchester Games.

india Updated: Mar 16, 2006 19:02 IST
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Australia's track cycling team is not the well-drilled unit that struck fear into the hearts of their rivals at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games -- or at least that's what some would have you believe.

Persistant rumours of poor morale and scrappy preparation have surrounded the team in the lead-up to the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, but at least one of their toughest opponents isn't having any of it.

Reigning Olympic and Commonwealth Games one kilometre time-trial champion Chris Hoy maintains the host nation will still be the team to beat in the velodrome where competition starts on Thursday and continues until Sunday.

The flying Scotsman said he had spoken to Australia's head coach and former British team coach Martin Barras since arriving in Melbourne and was convinced their team was formidable.

"No matter what people say or what's happened in the past, the Aussies always produce a good team," Hoy said.

"They always have a competitive team on the night, particularly with it being a home venue, they're going to be up for it.

"They're going to want to do well. There's stories about them being under-prepared and not in the shape they want to be in, but they'll be there."

What is not in doubt is that Australian cycling in general has been plagued by some serious distractions over the last two years.

In 2004, former world junior champion Mark French was banned from international competition for two years for drug use, making allegations against five of his teammates, including Sean Eadie, Shane Kelly and Jobie Dajka in the process.

French's penalty was subsequently overturned on appeal and his name cleared, allowing him to re-start his career and narrowly miss selection for Melbourne.

Kelly, a four-times world champion, was also investigated and admitted to injecting vitamins but allowed to remain with the team. He will contest the team sprint in Melbourne.

Eadie, now retired, faced charges of trafficking human growth hormones but they were subsequently dropped.

But Dajka went on a downward spiral. He was dropped from the Australian Olympic team just before the Athens Olympics after it was found he had lied to investigators and later convicted of drink-driving. Last June he hit rock bottom when he arrested for assaulting Barras.

The Australians were also devastated last July when road racer Amy Gillett was killed and five of her teammates badly injured after a car slid into them while training near Leipzig in Germany.

On paper at least they still pose a massive threat to the constantly improving pre-competition favourites England, who managed just five silver and two bronze medals in track events in Manchester compared to Australia's six gold, two silver and three bronze.

But sprint specialists Anna Meares, the reigning Olympic time-trial champion and sprint bronze medallist is still recovering from a back injury while dual Olympic gold medallist Ryan Bayley, a keirin and sprint specialist, only scraped through qualifying for the Games after a series of injury-causing crashes and a loss of enthusiasm.

On a brighter note, 3000m individual pursuit Olympic silver medal-winner Katie Mactier is in top form and strongly tipped to win gold.

But Hoy said while he always kept an eye on what other riders did, he paid little heed to the scuttlebutt which invariably emerged in the lead-up to a major competition.

"You can't afford to be distracted or listen to stories about what other competitors are doing," he said.

"Ultimately it doesn't matter, it's about what you do."