For Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton and the rest of Britain's much decorated cycling team, the road to London 2012 begins today in Pruszkow, a grimy dormitory town to the south-west of Warsaw, where the weekend-long European Track Championships start. It is not a straightforward route.
These championships mark the first qualifying round for the Olympics, although exactly how that process works is no easy matter to understand. The document that explains the path to successful qualification – involving 12 separate events and spanning three different continents over 15 months – takes up four pages of closely printed A4.
"We think we understand the process," said Hoy, a triple gold medallist at Beijing 2008, half-jokingly to The Independent this week. "The whole system does seem a bit contrived. But in any case it's the same for everybody, and a strong team sprint will be an important step forward for London." That is the first event on the programme here tonight, as it was in Beijing 2008, and Hoy and Co will once again be vying for gold.
Hoy added: "If we can do well now, then it could mean we're avoiding the pressure later on." It also means avoiding too much long-distance travelling in a year when the Olympics could not be closer to home.
"Now's when we start putting our cards on the table," said the British sprint coach, Iain Dyer. "Even if we're not winning everything, we want to be consistently making the podium. The higher we get up the hill now, the less we have to worry later."
The drastic reduction in Olympic endurance events will give Hoy and Pendleton, the individual sprint gold medallist in 2008, an even higher profile than at Beijing. At the same time, the competition between nations for sprint places in London could be far intenser than pre-2008.
"We're not the only squad wheeling out a very strong line-up," Dyer warned. "Everybody's realised the importance of the Europeans."
With nearly two years to go to London, though, there is still a fair amount of wiggle room, notably for Pendleton, who will not be competing in the individual sprint here so she can focus more on her keirin performance, another 2012 target.
Equally, even without the Beijing team pursuit stars Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas in Poland, Britain has six riders who could take a part in tonight's men's equivalent event – and in 2012. Only four will make the final cut.
As for Jason Kenny and Hoy, the No 2 and No 3 respectively in Britain's winning Beijing team sprint trio will shift up a spot here, with Kenny starting off the sprint and Hoy handling the second lap.
"It's a work in progress," said Hoy, who is not yet at top race form. "But the ultimate aim will be to have a line-up that's technically as sharp as possible for London." And, hopefully, without sweating too much over the qualification process that got them there.Reuse content