WORLD TRACK PARA-CYCLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Venue: Montichiari, Italy Date: 11-13 March Coverage: Daily text and video reports on the BBC Sport website
Sarah Storey focussed on Paralympics as history beckons
The next week will be crucial for Paralympic cycling star Sarah Storey as she bids to create her own piece of history in 2012.
It is the latest step on a long road for Storey, who is hoping to become the first Briton to represent the country at the Olympics and Paralympics - an achievement which would be even more special with the Games being held in London.
The Manchester-based athlete will defend her individual pursuit and 500m time trial titles at this weekend's World Track Para-Cycling Championships in Italy.
But Storey will also be waiting to hear if she has clinched a place on the Great Britain team pursuit squad for the Track Cycling World Championships in the Netherlands later this month, with the team to be announced imminently.
"I'm just focusing on my events - creating history is an outcome that might happen, it might not. For me, riding lots of events is the thing that feels most natural to me," she told BBC Sport.
The 33-year-old, who was born with a deformed left hand, was a successful swimmer with 16 Paralympic medals, including five golds from four Games, before making the transition to the bike in 2005 after a series of ear infections restricted her pool training.
Since then, she has won a host of European and World Paralympic titles, regularly rewriting the record books, and claimed two Paralympic gold medals in Beijing in 2008.
The sport has also changed her life off the track after meeting and marrying husband Barney, who won two golds as a pilot to Anthony Kappes in the tandem events in Beijing, and who will again ride with Kappes in Italy.
But it was while winning gold in the individual pursuit in Beijing that she got the germ of an idea for a new challenge, which led to her winning team pursuit gold for GB along with Wendy Houvenaghel and Joanna Rowsell at the recent Track World Cup in Manchester.
Storey was a key part of the pursuit squad in Manchester
The women's team pursuit event will be making its Olympic debut in London and Storey is part of a squad of nine women vying for places. But she did her case no harm in Manchester where the trio set the second-fastest time in history for the event.
"When I raced in Beijing in the individual pursuit, the factoring system in place forced me to ride a time that would have ranked me seventh in the Olympics to win Paralympic gold," she explained.
"It made me wonder if that was my best time or did I have room for improvement, so from then on it became a process for me to try to be the best athlete that I could."
Since then, Storey has been single-mindedly determined in her efforts to improve as a rider.
Although her disability means she is at a disadvantage on track starts where she cannot pull evenly on the handlebars, while on the road her brakes are all on the right-hand side of the bike, her performances both in training at the Manchester Velodrome and in competition caught the eye of the GB Olympic team pursuit coaching staff
As well as being a two-time national champion in the individual pursuit, Storey represented England at last year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi, finishing sixth fastest.
Now, as well as her Paralympic road and track training commitments, she is also training with the other members of the pursuit squad but Storey remains undaunted by the challenges that lie ahead.
"Training for the team pursuit is good for my individual pursuit and my 500m event," she said.
"I have to train on the road for it as well so it links well with my Paralympic road race and time trial so everything fits well together from where I'm looking at it.
GB trio triumph in team pursuit
"It's just about picking up another event and it just happens to be part of the Olympic Games. I'm part of a very strong squad with a lot of talented riders so selection is certainly not a forgone conclusion.
"It's fantastic for me to be back in a team event after so many years. I was an integral part of the British swim relays for 13-14 years so to have that team element again on the track has helped me.
"With the women's pursuit coming into the Olympics for women for the first time in London, it seemed the best thing to do to get the strongest women in the UK together and see how far we can take the event.
"We have great role models in the men's pursuit squad who are Olympic champions with riders like Bradley Wiggins and we need to follow in their footsteps and do the best we can on the women's side."
Paralympic coach Chris Furber also has full confidence in Storey being able to manage the many and varied demands on her time.
"Sarah is a very dedicated rider, as everyone knows, and when she sets her heart on something she usually achieves it," he said.
"She is very determined and has worked hard and knows what she wants to be. She always produces good results and is a racer who peaks well for events.
Storey won two gold medals in Beijing - one on the track and one on the road
"It is just a juggling act for us to make sure she can get the most out of both the able-bodied and Paralympic programmes."
One of the downsides of her hectic programme is that Storey will miss much of the end of her beloved Manchester United's season.
She and her husband hold season tickets in the Stretford End at Old Trafford, two rows behind the goal.
The pair try to attend as many games as possible but Storey admits that trying to co-ordinate the start of the road-racing season with the end of the Premier League season is proving difficult.
If Storey succeeds in gaining selection for the Olympics, she will follow in the footsteps of the likes of South African swimmer Natalie du Toit, who competed in the open water event at the Beijing Olympics before winning five golds in the Paralympic pool competition, and Polish table tennis player Natalya Partyka, who also competed in Beijing.
Despite her increasing success in able-bodied competition and the possibility of competing in both events in London, Storey bristles at the notion that she is now too good a rider for Paralympic competition.
"I've always competed in able-bodied competition, right back to when I started swimming, and when I first came onto the Para-cycling team I started off in able-bodied races.
"I don't think you can say that anyone is too strong for the Paralympics because the Paralympics are for the best elite athletes with a disability and I am one of the best elite athletes with a disability.
"I'm lucky enough to have been able to compete for my country in top-level sport for the last 20 years and win medals.
"This is my second chance and it is going from strength to strength so I feel privileged but I've taken the opportunities that have come my way so I want to keep pushing to be the best athlete I can be."