UCI Track World Cup 2014: Team GB hope Olympic velodrome becomes happy valley on ride to Rio


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The Independent Online

The name has changed, the memories have not. The Olympic velodrome may have been renamed the less-catchy Lee Valley VeloPark but it will always be defined by the six days in which Britain decimated the world’s elite with seven gold medals and nine medals overall in 2012.

Many of the key protagonists have talked of the goosebump effect of returning to the venue this week, remembering the days when “God Save the Queen” seemed to play on perpetual repeat.

Since then, however, reality has bitten in the wake of a difficult World Championships in Cali, Colombia, at the start of the year, when Britain came away with just two golds.

Despite that, expectation will still be high over the next three days of the UCI Track World Cup being held at the velodrome, especially with six London Olympic gold medallists in the British team.

However, this week’s build-up to the event has also been as much about who is not there as who is.

Shane Sutton, the new head of British Cycling following Sir Dave Brailsford’s decision to focus on the road with Team Sky, continues to ask himself: “Who will replace Sir Chris Hoy?” Callum Skinner is the latest candidate but Sutton admits of Hoy: “The guy is irreplaceable, let’s all accept that. Once you accept that, you can move individuals forward and it’s not about replacing Sir Chris Hoy.”

The spectre of Sir Bradley Wiggins looms large over the team following his decision to switch back to the track. He is not here this weekend, having opted for northern France to focus on winning Paris-Roubaix and making an attempt at the hour world record, before switching his attention to the team pursuit in Rio.

Plans have been afoot for a Wiggins-headed development team from next year enabling him to focus on the track and also to bring through other British track talent.

But, though Sutton described Wiggins as “the best British bike rider of all time”, he also pointed out “there is no guarantee that Brad will make the team [for Rio]”.

Mark Cavendish is also edging ever closer to a track return with Rio in mind. Although he has not made a firm decision, having come up short on the track at the 2008 Games and on the road in 2012, the British sprinter is keen to add Olympic gold to his list of honours.

The omnium seems the obvious fit for him and Sutton added: “For Cav to ride in Rio is clearly down to Cav. The ball’s in his court. It’s something that he really wants.”

The pair have held discussions about the possibility and Sutton is confident Cavendish can easily accrue the required Olympic qualification points between now and then.

For now, though, Sutton’s focus is primarily on London and ensuring the riders are fully fit after a flu bug swept through the camp, felling the likes of Jason Kenny, Jess Varnish, Katie Archibald and Vicky Williamson.

But Rio remains constantly on the horizon, the road there effectively beginning with last month’s opening track World Cup event in Guadalajara, Mexico, in which Britain did well, winning two golds and a silver.

More stellar opposition is anticipated in London and, with that in mind, Sutton has been doing his best to dampen hopes of another gold rush.

“They all want success in front of a home crowd but it’s about securing Olympic qualification and scoring points,” he said. “If wins come off the back of that, then fantastic.

“Everyone will be living off what happened in London [2012] – the public will expect, but that’s part and parcel of elite sport. We were a force in London and we want to be a force in Rio.”

Sutton believes the British team are on track for Rio, citing the example of October’s European Championships which was Britain’s most successful for a decade as they topped the standings with six gold medals.

Trott was again a two-time gold medallist in Guadeloupe, where the Europeans were held, as she was in London. Again she will go in the team pursuit, the established line-up missing Dani King after her horror training crash last month, and the omnium.

For all Sutton’s dampening of expectation, Trott will be aiming for the same outcome as London 2012 at the same venue.