They are, in the words of Sir Dave Brailsford, a “star act”, a quartet without equal in women’s cycling and at the rate their wheels are turning one that may soon be leaving men’s teams in their wake. At the World Cup on Friday, Laura Trott, Dani King, Jo Rowsell and Elinor Barker took seven seconds off the world record for the team pursuit, a good day’s work in Manchester, and according to their coaching team they are only going to get quicker between now and the Rio Olympics.
Shane Sutton, Britain’s head coach, believes a time of between 4min 7sec and 4min 10sec is attainable. The top end of that target would have been enough to propel them into the top 10 of the men’s event at the 2012 Olympics and eighth place at this year’s World Championships. Sutton, a straight-talking Australian and long-time mentor of Bradley Wiggins, is not one for grandstanding. Spades are spades in Sutton’s world so this is no idle forecast.
At London 2012 Trott, King and Rowsell won the team pursuit and in February Barker replaced Rowsell as another gold was secured at the worlds. Since then the event has been upped from three women riding three kilometres to the same as the men, four riding four, and Britain have become even more dominant. They have slashed the fledging world record by nine seconds within the last three weeks, and this with Rowsell riding at “90 per cent.” On Friday King rode a 30-lap scratch race on the afternoon before the evening’s team pursuit final.
“The women’s endurance group have been fantastic, they are the star act in many respects for the last four years,” said Brailsford, Britain’s performance director. “There’s a passion, a hunger and a drive. The coaches feed off that. It’s brilliant.”
It is not just the presence of the three riders from London 2012. Barker, a junior world champion, and now Katie Archibald, the 20-year-old Scot who has come late to the elite system having been riding on grass tracks at Highland Games two years ago, have both been part of the record-breaking run. There are others too pushing on from the junior ranks and it is this intense competition for places that is hurtling the team along the road to Rio.
“They changed the event which for some nations has killed them. They just don’t have the depth,” said Brailsford. “For us it’s the dream scenario. The challenge is you need to be looking over your shoulder, making sure your position is safe. You can’t coach that, that upward pressure. They can get better, that’s for sure.”
Catching men is an irrelevance to Sutton and the coaching staff but it is nevertheless a broader indication of how good this team is becoming, and an intriguing comparison. For women to be mixing it with men in a sport that requires endurance and speed is a rarity. In athletics most women’s records are around the mark men made in the 1930s. Paula Radcliffe’s marathon record of 2hr 15.25sec would have had her ahead of the men in 1956. Ye Shiwen, the Chinese medley swimmer, produced a split time during a race at London 2012 that meant she completed a length faster than Ryan Lochte, the men’s medley winner. Ye was immediately accused of doping – she has never failed a test.
It already makes the achievements of Trott and Co – of whom Rowsell is the oldest at 24 – notable and, given they are still feeling their way in the event (unlike the men), the record will come down again and again. In Friday’s final the team tried a different tactic, and shaved nearly four seconds off their morning run. So how fast can they go?
“I would say around about a seven to 10,” said Sutton. “We’ve got to look at how we can be around that 10 mark. As Dave says, look at the performance, not the result. There is still plenty to come, plenty of work to do as well.”
Battle of the sexes: comparing records
Men 9.58sec; Women 10.49sec
Men 36.84sec; Women 40.82sec
Men 2.03.23; Women 2.15.25
Men 2.45m; Women 2.09m
Men 8.95m; Women 7.52m
Swimming: 100m freestyle
Men 46.91sec; Women 52.07 sec
4x100m freestyle relay
Men 3.08.24; Women 3.31.72
Golf: Longest drive (in tournament)
Men 515yd; Women 342yd
Tennis: Fastest serve
Men 163.4mph; Women 129mph
Cricket: Fastest bowl
Men 100.234mph: Women 75mph