Cycling: Britain's pursuit rookies suffer growing pains

Inexperienced line-up come up short and forced to settle for shot at bronze
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The Independent Online

Great Britain were poised for their seventh medal of the World Track Championships here last night after the team pursuit squad qualified for the duel for bronze against New Zealand.

Despite their relative inexperience – their average age is only 21, three were making their debut at this level and only one, Ed Clancy, formed part of the gold medal-winning line-up in Beijing – the quartet clocked the third-fastest time of the night.

If history is anything to go by, the chances are that Clancy, Jonny Bellis, Peter Kennaugh and Steven Burke will end up on the podium. The team pursuit has been one of Britain's most consistently successful events in the last decade, with the country never out of the World Championships medals since 2000.

As if to ensure that tradition was given the best possible chance of being maintained, British officials deliberately kept the four out of the men's individual pursuit, despite Burke taking a bronze in that speciality in Beijing. However, when Bellis sat up and drifted away with around a kilometre to go it was clear that the battle for bronze was as good as it was going to get for GB.

"I think they had high ambitions and everybody thought they were going for gold, so bronze is a bit disappointing," said Paul Manning, who was part of the Beijing team pursuit line-up and is now retired. "They probably had it in them [to go for gold], but it's a reflection of their age and their lack of experience."

A stalwart of the team pursuit from 2000 to 2008, Manning added: "This might be deemed as a lesser year in the World Championships [for GB].

"But I can remember it's still better overall than what happened in the 2005 World Championships, right after Athens. The logical thing though is that the world wants to beat us and as favourites we have to live with the pressure as a constant.

"I'm glad we're not winning everything, it's going to inspire us to keep moving forwards," Jamie Staff, a team sprinter and gold medallist in Beijing, said. "I think we need a good kick up the arse and it's brilliant. I can understand it's disappointing for the fans not to see so many gold medals coming through, but you can't do that. You have to go back and strip everything down and re-grow again and move forward."

"We've brought in young talent like in the team pursuit and we're mixing them in with the older guys to speed up their learning curve."

Even if Staff and Manning are keen to emphasise this is a transition year for Great Britain, at least one GB gold medallist from Beijing has kept on rocking in Poland. Olympic sprint champion Victoria Pendleton is through to the quarter-finals of the women's event and could be en route to her third medal of the World Championships.

Pendleton clocked the fastest time in qualifying, then easily saw off Renata Dabrowska, of Poland, in the first round and the Netherlands' Yvonne Hijgenaar in the second. Already a bronze medallist in the women's 500 metre sprint and the winner of a silver in the team event, Pendleton's opponent in the quarter finals will be Kaarle McCulloch.

McCulloch is a familiar rival – she was part of Australia's victorious team sprint squad that forced Pendleton and team-mate Shanaze Reade to settle for runner's-up spot. In the individual event today Pendleton will have a fine opportunity for some revenge.

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