Bradley Wiggins may have made his last appearance on the boards for two years, but the evidence of the World Cup meeting which ended in Manchester yesterday is that British track cycling remains in excellent shape.
Following the victories of Chris Hoy in the one-kilometre time trial on Friday and the men's 4,000 metres pursuit team on Saturday, the men's sprint team of Craig Maclean, Jason Queally and Hoy won a third gold for Britain yesterday. Added to the four silver medals they won over the weekend, it gave Britain overall victory in a round of the World Cup for only the second time and put the team in good heart for the World Championships in Los Angeles in March.
Having set the third-fastest time ever by a British team during qualifying, Maclean, Queally and Hoy led Poland all the way in the final to win by one and a half seconds and make up for the disappointment they suffered in last summer's Olympic Games. It was a particularly brave performance by Maclean, who resumed training recently following a virus and in the morning suffered a rib injury and had to have several splinters removed from his buttocks after falling in qualifying for the Japanese keirin.
"It didn't exactly lay the ghost of Athens, but it means that we'll go to the World Championships reflecting on a victory in our last outing rather than a defeat," Hoy said. "It's an event where you have to have all three riders firing on the same day and that's what we achieved today."
Rob Hayles' chances of adding to his team pursuit gold and individual pursuit silver probably ended when Wiggins, his bronze medal-winning partner in the madison in Athens, decided he had to fly to Australia yesterday to begin his road season next weekend in the Tour Down Under. Wiggins will concentrate on road racing for the next two years, but will return to the track in time for the Beijing Olympics.
Steven Cummings, making his madison debut, took Wiggins' place but his inexperience was reflected when he fell in both qualifying and the early stages of the final, after which he needed stitches in a leg injury. However, it was a crash involving Cummings' highly experienced partner that finally put paid to the Britons' hopes.
Hayles, high up on the banking, was about to hand over to Cummings when the Spaniard Miguel Alzamora, changing his line, thumped into him from behind. Three other riders were brought down, but it was Hayles who came off the worst, damaging his hip and arm. Although he will have to take two weeks off, the injuries are soft tissue - he had to have a five-inch splinter surgically removed from his arm and needed eight stitches - and should not unduly hamper his preparations for the World Championships. Alzamora, who later apologised to Hayles, was warned for dangerous riding.
"It definitely wasn't my fault this time," a bruised and battered Hayles said, referring to the crashes he suffered in this event in both the Sydney and Athens Olympics. "I just didn't see him coming. I had my hand out for the changeover and then I was hit. I was at the top of the curve, so it was a long way down."
Victoria Pendleton was unable to add to her two silver medals when she was eliminated from the keirin in a repêchage, but there was a highly encouraging performance by Nikki Harris, aged 18, who finished in fifth place in the scratch race on her World Cup debut.
Dave Brailsford, Britain's performance director, was delighted with his team's work. "Nearly every rider performed to the top of their ability," he said. "We came here knowing that we had a chance of winning and it's particularly pleasing to do it in front of a home crowd. It's been a real demonstration of our professionalism."