Euro Track Cycling: British gold medals mask sprint error

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British cyclists becoming 'unbeatable'

Great Britain's male and female team pursuiters won gold medals as track cycling's European Championships began in the Netherlands on Friday.

Both successfully defended titles they won at 2010's inaugural elite European event, then Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish added women's team sprint gold.

"As a team as a whole, we're becoming unbeatable," said pursuiter Dani King.

But the men's team sprinters, including Sir Chris Hoy, finished a shock fifth after start trouble in qualifying.

Jason Kenny's wheel slipped as the team began their run, with suspicion resting on a piece of tape as the cause.

These championships, part of a new Olympic qualification system, are seen by the British team as a major stepping-stone to London 2012.

Points earned here are added to a two-year running total in each of the 10 Olympic track cycling events, with the top nations awarded berths at the Games once the rankings close in April 2012.

The sooner Britain earns the points it needs, the better, though qualifying the new maximum of one place (or team) per event is not expected to be a problem.

Victories in both team pursuits and the women's team sprint represent the perfect outcome for British Cycling, while fifth place for the men's team sprint is no more than a very minor setback for their Olympic ambitions.

Men's team pursuiters Ed Clancy, Pete Kennaugh, Steven Burke and Andrew Tennant - swapped into the team after Geraint Thomas had competed in qualifying - easily bested Denmark for the European title as Friday's finals began.

The Danes lost a man midway through the race, which helped hand Britain a comfortable 6.7-second cushion as they won in a time of 4:00.08.

"We had the aim of trying to do a 3:58 time and unfortunately we were just a bit off that, but it was a good day," said Tennant.

"We owe a lot to Pete Kennaugh today. He was going like the clappers and dragged us round a lot."

Kennaugh said: "It's really important to come here and win. A lot of us came from a long road season and are carrying a lot of fatigue, so to keep it going till October is quite hard."

Russia, who beat Britain to silver behind Australia at this year's World Championships and were expected to feature heavily here, failed to reach the final after fielding a team which blended experienced riders with developing talent.

The women's pursuit trio of Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell similarly dispatched Germany for gold in a time of 3:22.618, seven seconds ahead of their rivals.

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'Excited' Thomas glad to be back

"Once we had the Germans in sight it was comfortable, then it was about going for another good time - which we got, so we're pleased," said Rowsell.

Pendleton and Varnish won a third title for Britain as they posted a time of 33.276 seconds, including an impressive 18.9-second split for Varnish which matched her Worlds performance, to defeat Ukraine in the women's team sprint.

Pendleton had earlier suffered a similar fate to Kenny in qualifying, but emerged unscathed and came through to take gold.

"I skipped my wheel on the first rev [in qualifying], not as badly as Jason Kenny but I struggled to get on," she said.

"I knew I could do better in the final and I'm really pleased with the ride. Jess was amazing and it's better than she was expecting - it's faster than we went at the Worlds on this track."

Varnish said: "We're at a very different time in the season than we were at the Worlds in March, so I'm really happy to do that time again."

Saturday's individual sprint finals, from 1830 BST, feature Hoy, Kenny and Pendleton as the leading British names.

The three-day European Championships conclude on Sunday with the men's and women's keirin and omnium medals decided, plus the non-Olympic men's madison race.

From there, the season continues with more Olympic qualification points on offer at the next World Cup event, in Kazakhstan, early in November.

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