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War of the worlds

Jordan Gibbons
18 Apr 2016

The London 2016 Track World Championships ended with Britain topping the medal table but what does that mean for the Olympics?

Everyone loves an underdog. Except coaches, athletes and technical directors. They like numbers, precision and certainty, so for every ounce of delight that must come from British Cycling with each Olympic gold medal, there must also be an equal amount of frustration as to why the riders just don’t perform at their best in the preceding World Championships.

The 2012 Worlds was a tight competition but Australia were the ultimate victors with 15 medals in total, including eight golds. The Olympics was a completely different story – Team GB took eight gold medals to Australia’s one. The event that Britain really excelled at during the 2012 Worlds was the team pursuit, setting a new world record along the way. This year, however, it was a very different story.

Keirin race at 2016 UCI Track Worlds

Ed Clancy opened proceedings in the final of the team pursuit but the British foursome was 0.6 seconds down halfway through the first lap and it was a constant battle to bring it back. With one lap to go they did pull it back, and were 0.15 seconds ahead, only to fall apart and lose to Australia by 1.1 seconds. As an observer it felt like they let the win slip away, and Clancy agrees. 

Australia finished really quickly, whereas we just crumbled in the last lap.

‘It’s tough when you lose it in the last lap like that,’ Clancy tells Cyclist the following day. ‘I put in two good turns, but it was me who lost the race in that last lap. I lost the wheel and despite the fact I’d committed to two big turns early on, that was the strategy and it doesn’t always go to plan. You kind of feel like you’ve lost it for everyone. I can take comfort from the fact that even if I was on the wheel it wouldn’t have been fast enough.

‘Australia finished really quickly, whereas we just crumbled in the last lap. We ran a good strategy but it’s one that had to be held up – we were all propping each other up.’

But going 0.6 seconds down in the first lap can’t have been the strategy, could it?

Kierin final, 2016 UCI Worlds Track Championships

‘The strategy was to do a 12.5 [second] opening half lap and deliver the team on 14.0-second laps, which I did spot on because I hadn’t gone ‘man one’ in training at all since my back surgery. I was put in the deep end because Burkey [Steven Burke] was struggling all week, so that was a bit of a gamble but it worked well.

‘I did a good stint on my second turn and I was praying that was that. Brad [Wiggins] and [Owain] Doull were so strong in the previous rounds and they’d just sort out the back end of the race and I wouldn’t have to see the front again. But when I saw the front again on that last turn I just didn’t have the legs.

‘Ordinarily, if I was at full fitness, I like to think I could have thrown in a quick half lap, got back in and hung on but last night I tried to get out of the way as quick as possible and get on the back but I just couldn’t hold on. I had nothing left. 

‘We still went as quick as we went over the whole competition but the Aussies stepped it up better than we did and that was that. Disappointing to be honest, but if you think about what we’ve come from and where we can still go ahead of August, I think it’s still pretty positive.’

GB track pursuit

With Clancy at full fitness, British Cycling is suggesting that the opening half would come down to a much more respectable time, with the ultimate goal to go under 3:50. However it’s worth pointing out that the Australian squad wasn’t at full strength either. Alex Edmondson wasn’t present and neither was Jack Bobridge, who’s said to be worth a full second time difference on his own. 

In the women’s squad it’s also a tale of two halves. An unbelievable performance from Laura Trott saw her claim two world titles – the scratch race and omnium – bringing her tally up to seven. The way she was rode away from the field with such finesse does make you wonder if there’s anyone out there that can beat her. 

Becky James reached the final of the keirin but allowed herself to become boxed in and ultimately neither her nor outgoing champion Anna Meares (Australia) had even close to the raw firepower of Kristina Vogel (Germany). Whether she can turn it around is also a complete unknown, as she was passed over in 2012 in favour of Victoria Pendleton.

Then of course there is the question of Mark Cavendish and his place in the omnium. There’s no doubt that his performance with Wiggins in the madison will go down in history as one of his greats, but is it actually enough to secure him a seat on the plane to Rio?

Australia Pursuit winners & Bradley Wiggins

Shane Sutton has been quite vociferous in his opinion that, if Cavendish is to ride the track at the Olympics, he will have to commit himself entirely to a track programme and would be unlikely to do so if he rides the full three weeks of the Giro and Tour (to fulfil his Dimension Data requirements). 

There’s also the issue of limited places in the squad. The track squad is made up of endurance riders and sprinters, and there are five endurance places for British men. A team pursuit squad has four members, so ideally BC needs to take five pursuiters to the Olympics (in case of injury) with the idea that one of them could double up in the omnium. For Cavendish to secure his place in that group of five he will need to prove he could step into the team pursuit squad if required, which is a tough ask after Jon Dibben’s performance in the points race. Wiggins thinks differently.

‘I think he will go – I think they’ll pick him,’ Wiggins tells us. ‘Cav doesn’t need to do it, he just wants an Olympic medal. He can have one of mine if he doesn’t win. I’m sure I could give him a bronze or something.’

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