02/16/2012 05:59 EST | Updated 04/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Canadian women post national record in World Cup pursuit qualifying

LONDON, United Kingdom England - Canada's women's pursuit team posted a Canadian-record time and was the fastest in qualifying at a track cycling World Cup on Thursday.

Three-time world champion Tara Whitten of Edmonton, Jasmine Glaesser of Coquitlam, B.C., and Gillian Carleton of Victoria topped the 15-country field with a time of three minutes 20.785 seconds at the velodrome built for the 2012 London Olympics.

The Canadians took nearly a second off the previous national record, which was set at the Pan American Games in Mexico last October. The time was just short of the world record of 3:19.569, which will be threatened again Friday in the final rounds.

"You can never be disappointed when you set a new Canadian record," Whitten said. "The feeling wasn't quite as smooth as when we trained a couple of days ago, at the training camp in Wales. We worked hard for every tenth of second we got, and so I am very happy."

Great Britain took the second spot with a time 3:21.370, and will battle Canada for the gold medal Friday. Australia was third and will face the fourth-place Netherlands for bronze.

"It's a really exciting time for our team right now," Whitten said. "When we had our trials in (Los Angeles), we saw that all five of us produced fast times. It makes the decision really hard for the coaches, and pushes us to be at our best every day, which in turn makes the team a lot faster.”

Carleton, a national team rookie, said the team has the potential for another strong performance Friday.

"I knew that our team was going really fast heading into this race. We raced the way we were capable," Carleton said. "Our goal was to qualify and move on to the medal round. I feel confident that we have a chance to win the gold medal (Friday), and put everything on the line again."

The Canadians gave high marks to the London Olympic velodrome, and said competing in that atmosphere is a good preparation for the Games this summer.

"It's a beautiful track. Feels so good to ride and to have the atmosphere of the spectators in the stands," Whitten said. "The rest of weekend will be crazy. It's really loud out there, so it's important to maintain your own bubble.

"There is a lot of energy, and we know it will just build over the next months."

Britain and Australia will continue their fierce rivalry in the men's pursuit team final Sunday. Britain dominated the cycling competition at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The three-day World Cup event is one of three left on the UCI calendar to qualify teams for the Olympic Games.