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Aussie riders SWC round 1 preview

Crump, Adams and Sullivan to lead Aussie assault -- again! The nine-round 2005 FIM Speedway World Championship gets underway in Poland on April 30, complete with an Australian defending champion for the first time since 1953. Jason...

Crump, Adams and Sullivan to lead Aussie assault -- again!

The nine-round 2005 FIM Speedway World Championship gets underway in Poland on April 30, complete with an Australian defending champion for the first time since 1953.

Jason Crump, who became just the fourth Australian to win the world speedway title in 2004, will begin his defence at the 40,000-seat Wroclaw Stadium on Saturday night alongside compatriots Leigh Adams and Ryan Sullivan.

Combined, the trio has 24 years of full-time world speedway competition behind them, with Adams, the reigning world number four, preparing to saddle up for his 11th year of action.

For 29-year-old Crump, this will be his ninth year on the world championship trail, as he seeks to become the first rider to win consecutive titles since arch-rival Tony Rickardsson in 2001-02.

As usual, Crump's lead-up form has been immaculate in domestic league racing, and he currently tops the individual averages in Poland and is running a close second behind Adams in Great Britain.

"Those league performances have been encouraging, as I've scored good results against some of the riders that compete in the world title," said Crump, who won the Polish GP at Wroclaw in 2001. "However, come Saturday night it will be very different -- for one, the Poles are very patriotic and they will be cheering for the three Polish riders in the field.

"As soon as I won the world title I couldn't wait for the next season to start, so it's almost a relief that we are about to go racing again."

Crump will be joined by three other world champions - Nicki Pedersen, Rickardsson and American Greg Hancock - in this year's championship, which will adopt a more 'traditional' structure -- 20 preliminary heats (Main Event), where riders race five times and meet every other competitor once.

After the Main Event, the top eight riders will qualify for the semi-finals (heats 21-22), with heat 23 now called the 'Big Final'.

Adams, who won an amazing eighth Australian speedway championship in January, is one rider who should be suited to the new structure, with his whole career characterised by unnerving consistency.

Despite being encouraged by the new qualifying formula, the 33-year-old -- he turns 34 tomorrow -- is fully aware that he hasn't yet realised his full potential in the world championship, and he is desperate to atone for a disappointing 2004 -- his third successive year of finishing fourth.

"Look, this year is a big year for me and I'm not hiding from that fact," said Adams, a three-time GP winner. "I was upset last year after finishing fourth again and my immediate aim is to better that result. If I manage that then I will be somewhere near the top - and hopefully at the very top.

"I think the new format has been well thought out and it will deliver a worthy champion. I will do nothing different this year to previous years, and hopefully the cards will fall my way. We've seen it with Jason (Crump) running out of fuel in 2003 and Tony (Rickardsson) hitting a bad patch last year; you just don't know what's around the corner. That's not to say I'm banking on other people's misfortune to win, but you do need some luck."

Adams will be hoping that the 2005 opener is as productive as the 2004 kick-off, where he led home Crump in the Swedish GP -- only the second all-Australian quinella since the championship adopted a GP-style format in 1995. The first quinella was played out when Sullivan defeated Todd Wiltshire in the 2002 British GP.

Sullivan has gone on to win two more GPs since the British win, although he is now banking on a return to form after an abject 2004 -- the first time he has ever finished outside the top 10 in the world championship. As a result, the Peterborough (UK) based 30-year-old only forced his way into this year's 16-rider field (15 permanent riders, plus a wildcard at each round) via a 'seeding'.

Nevertheless, the 2004 Australian speedway champion is still a part of the mix, and his Polish league form has been exceptional -- he's currently in third behind Crump and Rickardsson. Moreover, the Melbourne-born rider's second best result of the 2004 season came at Wroclaw when he was eliminated in the semi-finals at the European Grand Prix -- again the title for this Saturday's event.

Sullivan is currently seventh on the all-time GP winners list with four victories, behind Rickardsson (14), Crump (10), Tomasz Gollob (nine), Hancock (seven), Billy Hamill (six) and Dane Hans Nielsen (six).

Rickardsson is chasing a record-equalling sixth world championship in 2005 on his factory GM machine, but his more immediate aim at Wroclaw will be to win successive GPs for the first time since 2001. That was after the Swedish icon blitzed all-comers in last year's final round in Norway, which saw him finish the year just 3pts behind new world champion Crump.

Rickardsson was third in last year's European Grand Prix, behind maiden winner Bjarne Pedersen and Polish protege Jaroslaw Hampel. The latter, in front of a vociferous home crowd, will again be a factor on April 30, alongside countrymen Gollob and 2005 under 21 world champion Robert Miskowiak.

Gollob was fourth in last year's championship, behind the tireless American, Hancock.

The 2005 FIM Speedway World Championship will wind its way through six countries before concluding in Italy on September 10. For more information on the championship, visit www.speedwayworld.tv.

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