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12 medals including 8 golds for Team GB Paralympic cyclists

Shannon Kennedy
13 Sep 2016

With the track racing over at the Rio Paralympics, Great Britain finish with a table-topping medal haul

Is Team GB ready for the Rio Olympics?

How will Team GB fare on the track at this summer's Olympics in Rio? Cycling commentator David Harmon assesses their chances.

It’s been a torrid time of late for British Cycling. The departure of technical director Shane Sutton in May was hardly ideal in the months leading up to the Olympics, yet track cycling remains one of Great Britain’s best hopes of striking gold in Rio.

After all, Team GB claimed an impressive seven gold medals on the track at London 2012, plus one silver and a bronze, and while performances failed to hit the same heights in the following years, the team got back to winning ways and topped the medals table at this year’s World Championships, again in London.

It was a timely return to form, even if several of the events that Britain dominated at the Worlds aren’t included in the Olympic track schedule – we’ll see no repeat of Cav and Wiggo’s thrilling victory in the madison, for example.

The reason is that the modern Olympic track cycling format has been streamlined in recent years to give nations outside of the traditional European cycling heartland a better chance of being competitive by allowing them to focus their resources on fewer events.

Before London 2012, events such as the individual pursuit, madison and points race were Olympic disciplines but were removed to concentrate on events that required less technical prowess. As a result, countries such as Malaysia, China and Colombia are now achieving success on the boards thanks to the simple format of competition at the Games. 

Pursuit of gold

Partly because it’s the only true endurance track event still in the Olympic Games, the team pursuit is considered by many as GB’s highlight of the programme. In the mix for the men’s pursuit team are Bradley Wiggins, Owain Doull, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Mark Cavendish. But only four riders can compete in the 4km race, so who will be the one to miss out?

Probably Cav. Wiggins will want to go out on a high, plus it’s the only event he’ll be in, and while Cavendish is a decent pursuiter, the other three are now pretty experienced. Burke has an outstanding track record, while Owain Doull is a very good rider and more of an endurance man than Cavendish. I think Cavendish will hedge his bets and concentrate on the omnium instead.

Australia are now exceptionally strong at the team pursuit, so expect to see them battling it out against Team GB for the gold medal. I’d still put my money on GB, with Wiggins as their talisman, but it will be a fairly close-run thing.

As for the women, GB are the clear favourites for the team pursuit. Laura Trott will team up with any three from Joanna Rowsell-Shand, Elinor Barker, Katie Archibald and Ciara Horne, with the women matching the men by racing in teams of four over 4km for the first time.

Horne has done a good job racing so far, and is very strong, but I wouldn’t tip her to make the final four. I think they might miss Dani King though – I’m a little surprised she didn’t get the nod. She hasn’t been going badly in road racing this year and she has a tremendous amount of track experience. 

Sum of its parts

Derided by some on its introduction to the Olympics in 2012, the omnium is in fact an exciting format that allows true all-rounders over shorter distances to excel, hence the presence of Mark Cavendish in the men’s event for Great Britain.

Individual riders from 18 nations contest six disciplines, accumulating points for performances in the scratch race (15km men, 10km women), individual pursuit (4km men, 3km women), elimination race, time-trial (1km men, 500m women), flying lap and points race (40km men, 25km women).  

Cavendish is very much the kind of rider who enjoys multi-discipline challenges, but whether he has enough endurance to pull it off in Rio I don’t know. The last two Olympic champions in the omnium have been more endurance athletes, and the long individual time-trial could prove to be the most difficult part for him. I think he’ll make the podium, but I wouldn’t go gold. It will all come down to whether his track craft is up to it. It’s a thinking man’s game and he will have to think very carefully.

Laura Trott won this event on the women’s side in 2012, and she is a very clever racer and extremely good at elimination and scratch races. She knows how to measure her effort too, so she has to be one of the outstanding favourites. I don’t see a lot of young talent coming through to challenge her so I’d say she is a good bet for gold. 

Speed demons

Keirin made its Olympic debut back in 2000 for the men, with the women’s event added in 2012, and it’s only the second Japanese sport (alongside judo) to make the Olympic roster.  

For me the high point of the whole 2012 Olympics was seeing Chris Hoy dive underneath Max Levy in the final two bends of the keirin – it was fantastic to watch, and the roof almost came off the velodrome. Living up to a name like Hoy will be hard, but Jason Kenny does seem to have found his mojo again, so he has a good chance of a medal. 

For the women’s keirin, Becky James has a lot of talent, but there are a lot of good riders in the women’s field. I’m also not sure whether she has the agility or track nous that you need sometimes to succeed, but time will tell.

In the sprints, Callum Skinner is getting his first run out at this level, and it remains to be seen if he has the race craft or calmness under pressure. Jason Kenny, on the other hand, has got masses of experience and if he has got the fire in his belly he is as good as anybody. For me, however, I’d look to the French sprinters to take the gold.

With no Chris Hoy this year, a host of new names, and the somewhat unsettled atmosphere at British Cycling, this is a transitional period for Team GB. I don’t expect to see a repeat of the medal haul that came in London 2012, but I believe we should see podiums for the team pursuits, sprint, keirin and omnium. If I had to stick my neck out, I’d predict five medals in total, with two of them being gold. 

Whatever the outcome, it’s certain to be an exciting spectacle.

If the Olympic racing leaves you hungry for more, the Six-Day London track event returns to the Lee Valley Velodrome in October with both Mark Cavendish and Sir Bradley Wiggins in action (the latter possibly in his last race). See sixday.com for more details. 

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