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UCI president defends Olympic track cycling changes

By Stephen Farrand

LONDON (Reuters) - International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid has defended the changes to the 2012 Olympic track cycling program approved by the IOC on Thursday.

Men and women will have the same five events at the London Games, namely the sprint, team sprint, keirin, the new multi-event omnium and team pursuit.

The omnium is a multi-discipline event made up of five separate races. The exclusion of the individual pursuit has angered some cyclists and fans of the popular event, but McQuaid said the UCI was acting for the wider good of track cycling.

"I've seen a lot of petitions and protests to save certain events but they were all made from people or countries who are only thinking about the event they are good at. The UCI has got to look at the big picture and at the future of global cycling," he told Reuters.

"We had to create gender equality and we tried to get more events but the IOC refused, so we had to make some hard decisions and change the track cycling program.

"I'd love for the Individual Pursuit, Points Race and Madison to be at the Olympics but it can't be.

"We've included the multi-discipline omnium because otherwise the track cycling program would be over in three or four days. With the omnium it will last six days, a day longer than in 2008."

To appease the anger over the changes, McQuaid said that the five events that currently make up the omnium (a 200-meter flying start time trial, a 5-km scratch race, a 3-km individual pursuit, a 15-km points race and a 1-km time trial) will be reviewed so that it is more weighted to endurance athletes.

"Track cycling has always been weighted toward the sprinters but we will study changes to the omnium so that it becomes more of a endurance event. That way there will be three events for sprinters and two for endurance riders," he said.

Briton Rebecca Romero, who switched from rowing to win gold in the individual pursuit in Beijing last year, said the changes were "ludicrous."

"I was very shocked. I think it's too radical and I can't understand the reasoning behind it," Romero told BBC radio.

"I'm all in favor of making it fairer between males and females, but I just think these proposed changes are ludicrous and could potentially destroy track cycling."

However, fellow Briton and Olympic sprint champion Victoria Pendleton, backed the changes.

"Today's announcement by the IOC is a very positive step for female track cycling everywhere in the world," Pendleton said in a statement posted on her website (victoriapendleton.co.uk).

"With greater equality there in the events available to women there will be more opportunities for young female riders to represent their country and fulfill their ambitions."

(Editing by Justin Palmer)