World Track Cycling: Rio signs are good for British Cycling

By Chris BevanBBC Sport in Minsk
World Track Cycling: Becky James wins second gold in keirin

Success had still not quite sunk in for Becky James as she travelled back to the British team hotel after leaving the Minsk Arena for the final time on Sunday.

"I am a world champion, I am a world champion," she kept repeating to herself. "I have to keep telling myself that this is really happening to me."

She has the gold medals to prove it. James may have missed the Olympics party but, with two world titles and four medals in total, she started her own in Belarus.

While James's emergence on the world stage is the perfect way for British Cycling to begin life after London 2012, it is certainly not the only reason to feel cheerful at the start of the journey to Rio 2016.

Britain topped the medal table in Minsk with a total of nine medals from 19 events, including five golds. When you only count the current Olympic events, that ratio climbs to seven out of 10, and four victories.

We were told performances were what mattered this time around, but results arrived too. They are even more impressive when you consider the number of established stars - from Victoria Pendleton to Sir Chris Hoy, and from Geraint Thomas to Jo Rowsell - who were absent this week, with some gone for good from the track.

And, to put it in perspective, Britain only managed two world golds the last time they started a new Olympic cycle in Poland in 2009.

"Things went better this time than anyone could have hoped for before we came here," said Olympic champion and BBC analyst Chris Boardman. "Across the board, a lot of young riders are coming through."

Not everything went according to plan, of course. But the upside about what went wrong is that there is still more than three years to put it right.

"It would be easy to brush the one or two dodgy performances under the carpet, but that won't happen," double Olympic medal winner and BBC Radio 5 live co-commentator Rob Hayles said.

"Any mistakes will be looked at in detail. Overall, though, I think the British coaches will be happy. The strength in depth we have got with these new riders is incredible."


James is one of those fresh faces, although she has actually had to wait a while for her chance.

Not only did the 21-year-old have a legend like Pendleton in her path, she had to contend with long spells of injury and illness too.

Since having her appendix removed 12 months ago, the 'Abergavenny Arrow' has been able to train without interruption for the first time in her career. But she still had some heartbreak to contend with too.

"Although she was accredited, she didn't attend the Olympics," British Cycling's head coach Shane Sutton said. "We felt it was important that she cracked on with her training and was not part of the athletes' village scene.

"There were tears shed when we told her. I remember saying to her at the time 'you'll probably hate me for this'. It was a big call. But after winning the sprint on Saturday she looked back, laughed, and thought 'good decision'."

It certainly turned out that way. James arrived in Belarus in the form of her life and made up for lost time with some spectacular performances of speed, stamina, intelligence and mental strength. She made 14 outings on the track over five days and four events, all of which she got a medal out of.

"We've always believed she has got the ability and we've always believed she has got the best race head from a British athlete for a long time," added Sutton. "Her tactical nous is good, and now she has the engine to match."


Not many people saw James coming but even fewer knew who Simon Yates was this time last week.

They do now, after the 20-year-old from Bury snatched gold in a dramatic climax to the 160-lap, 40km points race on Saturday.

"He did it in a way that was so skilful and mature," said Boardman. "It was very, very promising."

Sutton admits he does not know where Yates's future lies, saying: "I am pretty sure that Team Sky will be looking at this kid in the future because he has had some top road results.

"It's a shame that there aren't distance events on the track in the Olympics because he would be right up there in contention. Everything is geared towards the omnium but powerful riders are needed for that, and for team pursuit, and Simon does not produce that sort of power."

Kian Emadi missed out on a medal by 0.110 of a second in the 1km time trial but two other World Championship debutants got on the podium, both of them teenagers.

Vicky Williamson, 19, partnered James to bronze in the women's team sprint and Elinor Barker, 18, brought her schoolbooks to Belarus but left with a gold medal in the women's team pursuit.

Sadly the men's teams in both disciplines did not fare so well.


"A silver medal was a decent result for the men's team pursuit," said Hayles, part of the British squad to win gold in that event in Los Angeles in 2005. "But the performance was below par."

Considering what we have seen from them in the past, it was a big disappointment. The British quartet, missing Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh from the line-up that won gold at London 2012, finished more than four seconds slower than old rivals Australia in the final.

Ed Clancy was present, but he had spent much of his time since the Olympics trying his hand as man three at the team sprint. Sutton says that made a difference to the whole squad, and does not see it as an experiment that will be repeated.

"Coming in a week or two out didn't work out, even though he was the strongest," Sutton explained. "We had needed that animal in there, hurting the others in training and leading the way.

"We will revisit sprint training with Ed, as will most of the squad because we train fast, but I cannot see him going back there now. We have got a good crop of man-three riders at the moment."


Emadi is part of that crop, and was handed the unenviable task of replacing Hoy and sticking with Philip Hindes and then Olympic champion Jason Kenny on his bow at man three in a senior world championship.

He didn't manage it, hence Britain could only finish sixth in qualifying.

"They experimented and that's what these World Championships were for," said Boardman. "Britain has been in the same situation for the past two Olympics in the man-one situation. for Beijing, Jamie Staff turned up and then they found Hindes in time for London.

"There is no panic there, all you need to be is in the hunt - and they were."

Jason Kenny
Kenny won keirin gold, but did not make the finals of the team pursuit or sprint

Treble Olympic champion Kenny had something of a mixed week, winning keirin gold but only making the quarters of the individual sprint as well as falling short of the medals in the team version.

That is no cause for concern for Sutton, though. "Jason is slightly disappointed with his performances this week, but we aren't," he said.

"He still went fastest at man two in the team sprint, and he had a great win in the keirin. It is in the individual sprint where he won't be happy. He gave New Zealand's Sam Webster a little bit too much room in the second race in their quarter-final and it got away from him.

"He wanted it more than anyone but these little setbacks are good, you learn from them. I don't think he will be giving anyone that much room in the future."


Kenny is not alone in getting gold but still feeling frustrated. Laura Trott won the women's team pursuit again - but lost her world omnium title. But could a rare defeat be good for her?

"She was gutted about only getting silver but she has not had any knocks yet," explained Hayles. "She had won every single time she had stepped out at world level, which is not normal.

"Normally your trials and tribulations are building up to where you finally get a victory - we saw it with France's Francois Pervis in the 1km time trial. He is 28 and has been around a long time and you could see what his first world title meant to him.

"With our own riders, they get the medals a lot earlier, and now Laura has to cope with not getting what she wanted. She will be disappointed but that does not concern me because I am actually glad that it has happened now, and not in Brazil where it would matter a lot more."

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