LONDON – Blink and you may miss the top track cycling sprinters at the London Olympics.
A super-fast track in the new $125-million Olympic velodrome has been called a sprinter's paradise Tuesday, raising the prospect of world-record times at the summer games.
Many of the world's leading cyclists get their first run this week on the track, made of Siberian pine and built by renowned Australian designer Ron Webb.
"Obviously, he wants to evolve his tracks to make sure they are as fast as possible," Simon Lillistone, cycling manager for London's organizing committee LOCOG, said of Webb's track. "And the feedback from riders so far in training is that it seems to be showing up that way."
More than 340 riders from 48 countries will compete in the final round of the Track Cycling World Cup starting Thursday at the 6,000-seat Velodrome, distinctive because of its double-curved roof. It's located in the north of the Olympic Park in east London.
The sold-out meet is doubling up as an Olympic test event, with organizers assessing technology, scoring systems and spectator flow in preparation of the games.
The event gives cyclists such as British pair Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, sprint champions at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a chance to try out the home track.
"Nobody with ambitions later this year is going to miss out on the opportunity of training and racing on the new track," Hoy wrote in his column in Tuesday's edition of The Daily Telegraph. "Any chance to get on the boards and become familiar with the venue is valuable."
Hoy — a triple gold medalist four years ago — could have a field day this summer.
Webb, a former Australian cycling champion, has designed tracks for recent Olympics at Seoul, Sydney and Athens but is attempting to raise the bar inside the London velodrome.
By moving the finish line further along from the center of the track, riders get the chance to build up speed along the home straight.
"That will give us faster times in the sprints, for example," Lillistone said. "He's also got a very smooth transition from the straights to the banking, which will be very good for the team pursuiters. He's concentrated on those elements."
This will be the 13th of 24 test events ahead of the Olympics — and the most challenging so far, according to Debbie Jevans, LOCOG's director of sport.
"There will be almost double the amount of athletes that will be here for the Olympic Games," Jevans said.
Anna Meares, the women's sprint world champion from Australia, will be competing along with Germany's Robert Forstemann, who is top-ranked in the men's sprint and team sprint World Cup standings.
The meet offers cyclists one of the final opportunities to gain ranking points toward Olympic qualification.