Poland and Australia should secure berths in the final of the Speedway World Cup, says Kelvin Tatum.
Last Updated: 08/07/12 10:37am
I love the Speedway World Cup as we always get some fantastic racing.
The competition is uninterrupted by league matches so the riders can be completely focussed on it and over the week, from this Saturday in Bydgoszcz, Poland to next weekend's final in the Swedish town of Malilla, it will be exciting to watch the event unfold.
Reigning champions Poland are in the opening heat alongside Russia, USA and Denmark, while Great Britain will contest the second leg in King's Lynn on Monday evening with Australia, Germany and Czech Republic.
The winners from each group will make it through to the final where they will meet hosts - and my favourites for the title - Sweden, as well as the victor of Thursday night's race-off, which will feature the second and third-placed teams from the two heats.
Read below for my assessment of the eight teams taking part in the opening stage...
World Cup: Round 1 - 6pm, Saturday, Sky Sports 2 HD
Poland's squad is not as strong as last year as they are missing the injured world number three Jaroslaw Hampel, while the veteran Tomasz Gollob has not been at his best. However Gollob is Poland's talisman and he has done some remarkable things in the World Cup, winning it five times. The Poles will be hoping he can inspire their other riders, including the world under-21 champion Maciej Janowski of the King's Lynn Stars, who is a terrific talent. On their home track Poland tend to ride very well and you would expect them to snare the qualifying spot in heat one.
Denmark have got a very green team and I am surprised Nicki Pedersen will not be riding in Saturday's heat; he has been a bit up and down but still in pretty good form. They must think they can get past this stage without him and have given three World Cup debutants - Michael Jepsen Jensen, Leon Madsen, and Mikkel B Jensen - a chance to gain some experience. They could be in danger of being overhauled by Russia or USA - and if they do they will be left with egg on their faces.
Billy Hamill has come out of retirement for the USA and it is a big ask for him to be up the required standard. However, he is a former world champion and has been a fabulous rider in the past so don't write him off. USA are going to have to have some inspirational performances from Ryan Fisher and Ricky Wells, alongside reigning Grand Prix champion Greg Hancock, to progress. On paper they are not strong enough, but they could surprise people because they have such a fantastic spirit.
I also think Russia will be pretty strong. Emil Sayfutdinov and Artem Laguta ride domestically for Bydgoszcz so will know the track. I can see Russia nicking points off Poland and Denmark and I expect them to make the the race-off at the very least.
KELVIN'S CALL - Poland to progress
World Cup: Round 2 - 7pm, Monday, Sky Sports 2 HD
King's Lynn has been a good venue for the Great Britain team in the past and there will be a terrific following there. There is every chance the Brits can put up a big display. There are doubts, though, because Scott Nicholls is coming back from a broken collarbone and Tai Woffinden has been out for several weeks with a scaphoid problem. However, I expect team manager Neil Middleditch, who is a very popular figure and someone the squad will want to succeed for, to get his boys fired up and giving everything they've got. Toppling Australia will be tough but Britain should come second in this heat and secure a spot in the race-off.
Australia look incredibly strong with a team consisting of Jason Crump, Chris Holder, Davey Watt and Darcy Ward and should challenge Sweden for the overall title. They are red-hot favourites to win Monday's meeting and that could be their biggest Achilles heel: the weight of expectation. Still, I don't see them having any problems getting through this round.
Germany, who will have Birmingham Brummies rider Martin Smolinski in their ranks, will probably battle with the Czech Republic for a spot in the race-off on Thursday. With Australia and Britain in their pool that is probably the extent of their ambitions.
KELVIN'S CALL - Australia to progress