Commonwealth Games 2014: Joanna Rowsell races out of the shadow of her team-mates to take pursuit gold in the velodrome

England’s Rowsell sets gold standard as Kenny is forced to settle for silver

British and English track cycling has come to rely on its women and there are few more dependable riders around than Jo Rowsell. Sure enough Rowsell today earned England a first able-bodied gold in the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome, dominating the 3,000m individual pursuit from the start to a finish that ended emphatically in her favour.

Jason Kenny took silver in the men’s sprint, losing the best-of-three final to New Zealand’s Sam Webster, to follow the team pursuit silver of Thursday, two medals which offer belated and much-needed encouragement to the men’s squad, who have endured a rocky ride since their all-conquering home Olympics. This year in particular has been dire, returning from the world championships without a single medal for the first time since lottery money arrived in 1998 to help transform cycling into Britain’s Olympic go-to sport.

It has been left to the women’s squad to keep the Union Flag flying. All five of Britain’s medals at the worlds in Cali were won by the women in red, white and blue, two of them by Rowsell, among them the individual pursuit. It is no longer part of the Olympic programme but it remains one of her favourites whether riding in the colours of Britain or England.

 

“Ever since the Olympics I have been thinking about this event,” said the 25-year-old, who beat Anette Edmondson of Australia in Friday’s final. “We have the world championships every year but this only comes round every four years. Looking forward to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow has really spurred me on. This has been my motivation since the Games and I’m pretty pleased to pull it off.

“I’m really glad I peaked on the right day. I think I’m a bit of a master at peaking – I seem to be able to get it right on the right day each year.”

Rowsell is the third woman in the pursuit team, the one who never seems to quite get the attention directed at her more high-profile colleagues as they have ruled the cycling world for the last three years, sweeping up records and medals with equal alacrity. Laura Trott and Dani King, who won gold with her in London, are here too and were left some way behind, much to the disappointment of their coach Chris Newton. Trott was sixth fastest, King two places further back.

As a team Britain is unmatched in the women’s pursuit, that now features four riders over 4km, setting a world record seemingly every time they take to the track. They are world champions and huge favourites for Rio 2016 – there is not a more likely British gold in any sport. But this was Rowsell’s night on her own and she made it her own. Scotland’s Katie Archibald and Elinor Barker of Wales are the other squad members, and Archibald, a rising star of the sport, was the only one apart from Rowsell who went to bed with a satisfactory day on the track behind her, finishing fourth.

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England's Joanna Rowsell celebrates with her gold medal after winning the Women's 3000m Individual Pursuit Final at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome (PA)

Kenny would have been a tired man on Friday night, but he will take some satisfaction from his silver, even if he is more used to standing on top of the podium. He has had a tough time since his double gold in London. Cali was something of a nadir and since then he has changed his approach, bulking up, or “putting on a bit of chub” as he puts it. Sprinting is a bigger, more powerful sport now and there were signs here that he is back on track. He had another poor day in qualifying on Thursday and had to come through the repechage yesterday morning. All three of his rides went to a third race and in the final he ran out of steam against Webster. “I’m shattered,” said Kenny. “I got a funny feeling, got a bit of cramp or something. I was throwing up a minute ago. I feel terrible.”

Aside from their male puzzle, British cycling’s other big question is what to do with Wiggo? After collecting his silver medal in the team pursuit on Thursday, Bradley Wiggins, as is his wont, shrouded his future in further confusion. He says he has had enough of the road and wants to make his return to the track a permanent one. There is no doubt the plan is to ride in the team pursuit in Rio. Whether his Olympic ambitions include defending the time trial he won in London and whether he will ride again for Sky is open to doubt. He has yet to sign a new contract, Wiggins often makes heat-of-the-moment announcements only to rein back later. Sky want him back and having a rider juggle the demands of track and road en route to an Olympics is not new.

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Joanna Roswell of England competes in the Women's 300m Individual Pursuit Qualifying at Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome (Getty Images)

“[It could happen] in the same way we did it for  Geraint [Thomas] and Pete Kennaugh,” said Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford. “It’s doable, that’s for sure. Ideally [Wiggins will sign]. Obviously that’s what we are discussing at the moment, to find an ideal scenario for Rio.”

Britain’s head coach Shane Sutton, with his English and British hats on is left to mull over a tricky scenario with his men’s squad two years out from the Olympics.

That mattered not a jot to the crowd inside Hoy’s place as they roared Neil Fachie and a former team-mate of the great man, Craig MacLean, to gold in the para-sport tandem. Fachie, who is partially sighted, is already a Paralympic champion having won in London. Now it’s two golds from two home Games.

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