Brailsford hails golden GB prospects
All-round performance is reward for winter's hard work – but men's team sprint is still a problem
British Cycling's team principal, Dave Brailsford, has described his track squad's haul of four golds, a silver and two bronzes from 10 Olympic events at London's World Cup test event, as "the best across-the-board performance of the last two years". However, he recognises that there is still important work to be done in vital areas.
"We've put in a long, hard winter of training and you can see the green shoots of spring from that," Brailsford said. "We've got the momentum and we're definitely moving forward. We're a lot closer in some events than we thought we would be."
Brailsford said that Sir Chris Hoy setting the bar so high, with gold in the keirin and men's sprint – as well as his ability to turn things around in the way he did after a quarter-final sprint defeat by France's Grégory Baugé – was crucial for the team's motivation.
"Let's face it, that sort of fightback is why he's Sir Chris Hoy," Brailsford said. "It's the sort of experience only racing can give you – and the whole team gets increased self-belief and increased motivation as a result. It builds your momentum."
The "trickle-down" motivational effect of such performances, Brailsford said, was most notable in the progress of younger riders like Laura Trott, who took an unexpected but well-deserved bronze in the women's omnium "after riding phenomenally all weekend".
Brailsford said: "I think she knows she is our Olympic omnium rider, and her team-pursuit training [she was part of a gold-medal-winning line-up on Friday] benefits that. It is feasible to do those six rounds in the omnium and the team pursuit because it'll be far less congested a programme at the Olympic Games, so the fatigue element will be more manageable."
However, the event to which the "work in progress" label remains most stubbornly attached is in the men's team sprint where, nearly four years after Beijing gold, the search to replace the retired Jamie Staff continues.
A try-out with Ross Edgar, a silver medallist in China in the sister discipline of the keirin, as "man one" – the rider whose all-out acceleration brings the squad up to maximum speed in the first lap, arguably the most crucial component of the three-man "train" – delivered only bronze on Friday, and Edgar himself said he was not satisfied with his performance. Many close observers, such as the 1992 track gold medallist-turned-commentator Chris Boardman and Staff himself, believe the best soluation would be Jason Kenny, who rode as man two in Beijing, moving into the man one slot instead. Brailsford indicated as much himself.
"It's the obvious and possible thing to do," he said. "We had a process and a look to see where Ross Edgar is at but, given what's happened here, the theory is obviously that Jason Kenny can go faster than Ross Edgar."
Acknowledging the crucial role played by man one, Brailsford pointed out: "You've got to build the team from the front and go from there."
After the weekend's competition, other team events have a far more definitive line-up, with the 21-year-old Jess Varnish's role as woman one in the victorious team sprint looking increasingly settled. "It's been a massive step forward for her here," Brailsford said.
The same goes for the men's team pursuit. "We didn't do the best European Championships ride and they have worked their socks off over the winter," Brailsford said.
If the riders are moving forward at a pace Brailsford is more than pleased with but had clearly looked for, then one of the biggest factors that could not be calculated by British Cycling's small army of sports scientists beforehand was the exceptionally noisy support from the local fans in the 6,000-seater Velodrome – which has been designed to amplify the effect of the cheering.
Brailsford sees the deafening applause levels as a two-edged weapon, raising adrenalin sky-high but potentially destabilising riders. "This level of noise and support raises the pressure to the point where you may try too hard and pay for that later," he said. "[But] it pushes you higher as well and, for the sprinters, which is an adrenalin-based thing, that can be good. It's very difficult to measure or quantify what difference that home-ground factor can make – but it does make a difference, for sure."
Spokes in the wheel? five issues to settle before Olympics
Men's sprint and keirin
The Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy is ahead of the world sprint champion Jason Kenny for the single berth in London, but the World Championships in April will be the true decider.
Men's team sprint
The search for the best "man one" in the three-strong line-up has been going on for four years and is still unresolved. Moving Kenny from man two partially resolves the issue – but if Kenny moves from man two to man one, who would replace him at man two? Matt Crampton or Ross Edgar?
Dave Brailsford said Ben Swift, who put in strong rides in individual disciplines but a poorer all-round performance in the much-maligned new omnium event, is "never going to be our rider for that". Which begs the obvious question: Who on earth is?
Women's sprint and keirin
Vicky Pendleton was in stunning form in the team sprint, but a packed schedule did her no favours in the sprint or the keirin. The world championships in March should see progress on both these fronts.
Calls of nature
GB staff complained about too long a walk to the toilets for the riders. The plumbers may yet be back in at the Olympic Velodrome.
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