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MELBOURNE, April 8 (Reuters) - Olympic hosts Britain put themselves in the driving seat ahead of the London Games after trumping arch-rivals Australia in the battle for cycling supremacy at the track world championships.
The British team that reaped only two titles from the Apeldoorn championships a year ago, claimed six in Melbourne, including five of the 10 Olympic category events that will be contested at the London velodrome.
That haul eclipsed Australia's three Olympic category titles, a telling psychological blow for a proud cycling nation that scooped six golds in Apeldoorn.
Britain's impressive showing continued the resurgence marked by their dominant World Cup performance at the Olympic test event in February and showed their riders peaking at the right time.
"Everyone knows this is about the Olympics," Team GB's head coach Shane Sutton told Reuters at the Melbourne velodrome.
"There's all these other events going on but ultimately for us and UK sport and our partners and our backers it's always about the Olympics.
"At best, we were looking at round about three (Olympic titles), I thought initially.
"We're very satisfied going out of here. We know there's a big job still to do and Australia are right there in the mix.
"But it's who gets it right on the day isn't it?"
Sutton oversaw Team GB's stunning haul of seven track golds at the 2008 Beijing Games but cycling's global governing body UCI has virtually ensured there will be no repeat in a much-criticised shakeup of the Olympic programme.
Only one berth will be available per team in the individual sprint and keirin events, regardless of riders' international rankings.
The Olympic hosts will nonetheless be buoyed by a massive improvement in their endurance riders, with the men's pursuit team humbling the formidable Australian lineup and unflappable teenager Laura Trott adding an omnium title to her women's team pursuit gold.
Iron-willed Victoria Pendleton shrugged off a hostile crowd and a bruising crash to edge her bitter rival Anna Meares in their thrilling final to notch her sixth sprint title and install herself as favourite in her last Olympics.
Four-times Olympic champion Chris Hoy brought the curtain down with a spectacular ride to clinch the keirin title.
"We stepped up big-time in the TP (team pursuit)," Sutton said. "Vicky stepped up to the plate in the women's sprint so they were two medals that came as a little bit of a bonus."
Silver medallist Jason Kenny showed he has the speed and tactical nous to overhaul French champion Gregory Bauge, if not the discipline, after being relegated in the second round of the title decider, costing him a final shot at gold.
The only blip for Britain was the continuing misadventures of the men's sprint team.
Britain won gold in the team sprint at Beijing but have struggled to find a replacement for the retired Jamie Staff to slot into the men's sprint team with Kenny and Hoy.
German-born Philip Hindes had a nightmare debut at Melbourne and almost certainly cost the team a medal when he fell foul of technical officials for making an illegal changeover between riders in qualifying.
The mistake led to Britain's disqualification from the semi-finals.
Australia, for their part, have come a long way since exiting Beijing with red faces and a solitary silver medal. Their three Olympic category titles in Melbourne would have left the team disappointed even though the coaching staff tried to look on the bright side.
"The results that we achieved in terms of medals has been great, however, the personal bests and the times that have been hit by the athletes are marks that are exceeding what we had set for this championship," Cycling Australia performance director Kevin Tabotta told reporters.
"We're tracking really well. We're pleased with the progress the athletes have made, we know what we need to work on between now and London. We know we've got room to move in a number of the events and we know what we need to do about it."
The team may leave the Melbourne velodrome scratching their heads, however, given three of their silver medals -- the men's and women's team pursuit, and the women's team sprint -- were trumped only by world records.
While Meares shed tears after losing her sprint title to Pendleton, the Australian showed her quality by streaming to the keirin title and Glenn O'Shea's victory in the omnium was a welcome surprise.
The performance of the women's pursuit team was perhaps most encouraging, with the combination of Annette Edmondson, Melissa Hoskins and Josephine Tomic taking silver in only their third ride together.
"The Australian women's (pursuit) team by our own internal ranking in October or November last year in the first World Cup in Astana was seventh or eighth best in the world," said Tabotta.
"Now they're second best in the world and they're on the way up."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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