Last rider standing for Delhi cyclists

A string of top stars have pulled out or failed selection, diminishing the quality of competition but also giving the event a fresh look.

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Hosts India are competing for the first time in 32 years but are not seen as serious contenders with Australia and England expected to dominate.

The hosts’ run-up has been marred by controversy, with national champion Dayalaram Jat and veteran rider Rajendra Soni complaining about a lack of transparency in selection after being left out.

England go into the road events with a team well suited to Delhi including young world class stars Lizzie Armitstead and Alex Dowsett.

They line up with experienced riders such as Jeremy Hunt, Russell Downing and Olympic medallist Emma Pooley, who arrives fresh from winning the world time trial title in Australia.

But the International Cycling Union’s decision to use November’s European Championships as a qualifier for the 2012 Olympics has meant some top names, including Olympic champions Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy, will be absent.

Olympic team pursuit gold medallist Geraint Thomas was one of four British cyclists to announce his withdrawal, along with Peter Kennaugh of the Isle of Man and England’s Ian Stannard and Ben Swift.

Welsh rider Thomas said he was not prepared to risk his health in New Delhi, with reports of an outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue, as well as issues of sanitation in the village.

Sarah Storey, meanwhile, will be the first Paralympian to compete for England in able-bodied sport at the Commonwealth Games, as part of the women’s track team.

Storey made her name as a swimmer, winning five Paralympic titles before switching to cycling in 2005, and added two further gold medals to her haul at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“We have selected a young track team for the Commonwealth Games to give England’s rising cycling stars an opportunity to experience a large scale multi-event competition as they’re preparing for their first Olympics,” head coach Shane Sutton said.

Cycling, first included in the 1934 London Games, will feature 14 track events and two road events, with 30 medals up for grabs for the men and 24 for the women.

The velodrome at the Indira Gandhi sports complex is rated by cycling’s world governing body as second only to Beijing.

Mark Cavendish, of the Isle of Man, who brings the curtain down on his season in Delhi, took a gold in the men’s track cycling scratch event in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne 2006.

Seven world champions, led by 2004 Olympic and reigning Commonwealth Games champion Anna Meares, have been named in the Australian team.

They will look to replicate their dominant performance on both road and track at the Melbourne 2006 Games and the recent UCI World Track championships where they finished as the number one ranked country.

However, top rider Richie Porte has been forced to pull out as his Saxo Bank team denied him clearance to compete.

New Zealand road cyclist Greg Henderson has withdrawing over concerns about health and security. The points race gold medallist at the 2002 Manchester Games said that he had long harboured doubts about going to India and seeing photographs of squalid conditions at the athletes’ village made up his mind.