2012 couldn’t have gone much better for British track cycling could it? Seven gold medals at the Olympics alongside a silver and a bronze showed how dominant Team GB were at the London Olympics and that gold medal haul could have been even greater if it wasn’t for a couple of dubious decisions against former ‘Queen of the Track’ Victoria Pendleton. But, coming in to this week’s World Championships in Minsk, at least half of those medallists weren’t going to put in an appearance. It was seen as the first step in the cycle towards Rio, but has it been successful?
Early results indicated that things were looking good for Britain – youngster Kian Emadi-Coffin finished an impressive fourth in the men’s 1km time trial, while there was a bronze medal for debutants Becky James and Victoria Williamson in the women’s team sprint, the event Pendleton and Jess Varnish were controversially disqualified from in London. With such youngsters performing so well on their competitive debuts in senior international competitions it really shows just how great a position GB cycling is in at the moment. There was, however, one slight disappointment from the first day and that was that the men’s team pursuit squad could only manage silver after being outclassed by the Australians, who were without the great Jack Bobridge amongst others, in the final. While a silver medal is a fantastic achievement, the way in which they were totally dominated was a concern, especially since they won both Olympic and World titles in the event in 2012 and had Stephen Burke and Ed Clancy, members of both victories last year, still in the side. Burke’s misery was further compounded next day when he could only manage 17th place in the individual pursuit – was this a suggestion that the old guard were, perhaps, on their way out…
By the end of day 2 it was clear that GB cycling had a new heroine in the form of Becky James. By the end of the second day she had added another bronze to her collection in the 500m time trial, losing narrowly to Hong Kong’s Lee Wai Sze, winner of keirin bronze at London 2012, and Miriam Welter of Germany who claimed silver in the event at last year’s championships. But her victory in the women’s sprint was what really caught the attention of everyone. Her total and utter dominance of all her opponents right throughout was astonishing from someone as inexperienced as her, but in the final she was something else. She lost the first race by the narrowest of margins – millimetres if you really want to know – to the highly decorated Kristina Vogel of Germany, but showed incredible mental toughness to overturn this deficit and power her way to her first World Championship gold. And with a place in the keirin semi-finals already the 21 year-old from Abergavenney in Wales, with the speed, toughness and looks to match Victoria Pendleton, could be about to write another great chapter into the history of women’s cycling.
But there is one experienced female competitor hoping this won’t happen quite yet… Laura Trott, the double Olympic champion, has been kept relatively quiet throughout the championships so far by James. However she already has one gold medal to her name from her only event so far, the women’s team pursuit, and looks set for a medal later today in the women’s omnium, the heptathlon of cycling. It’s amazing how the focus has quickly shifted from her to James, but I don’t think that will cause her too much distress. Indeed, her performances so far at these Championships seem to suggest that it has had no affect whatsoever.
So, while the week has been extremely encouraging for our women the men have had a mixed time of it in Belarus. Jason Kenny has epitomised this, scraping through to the keirin final by the skin of his teeth courtesy of some luck before leaving everyone for dead in the final to win gold. However, he failed to make it past the quarter-finals of the men’s sprint, the event in which he normally excels at and won in London, and was part of the men’s team sprint squad that could only manage sixth place. Simon Yates, though, superbly and unexpectedly won the gold in the points race, his first ever medal at a senior championships, but apart from that it has been a very mixed week for the men. It does seem as though Britain’s young male competitors aren’t quite at the standard of the women.
With one day at these championships to go and four gold medals left, of which Britain have a fantastic chance of winning two, it seems as though GB should stay at the top of the medal table. Currently they have 4 golds, two more than anyone else, a 7 medals overall, equalled only by Australia. When the riders were announced for these World Championships the outsiders questioned why so many big stars weren’t going to be there – did we not care about winning anything other than Olympic titles anymore? But now it is clear for everyone to see that, yes, it could be easy to send all our big names there to win medals but what help is that in building towards Rio and, firstly, the Commonwealth Games next year. Fortunately this group of talented youngsters seem to have taken on the words of Clive Dunn and have proved that they are the ones for the future. Bring on 2016!
A quick forewarning that there will be no blog next week. Apologies for this, but personally things will be pretty hectic for the next couple of weeks and I will have no time to write another entry!