Sir Chris Hoy used to like to talk of the keirin being a lottery and there was no denying luck was on the side of Jason Kenny last night.
On a golden night for Britain, who also won the points race courtesy of World Championship debutant Simon Yates, Kenny had endured a diabolical day in the saddle. He failed to qualify from his heat and then had to come through the repechage. In a further twist to the drama, he then failed to make it into the top three places in the second round, ruling him out of the final until France’s François Pervis was relegated for cutting a corner.
As a result, expectations were low as he had the first opportunity to really step out of the shadows of Hoy, at least at world championship level. Kenny had never crossed the line first in any world championship race, although he was awarded the 2011 sprint title nearly a year after the event when Grégory Baugé was stripped of the title for missing doping tests. Hoy, in contrast, had dominated the keirin, winning it four of the five times he had contested it at these championships.
In the final, Kenny appeared to have his way to the lead blocked but managed to scythe through from the slipstream of German Maximilian Levy for what had all day looked an unlikely victory.
Afterwards Kenny said: “It was unbelievable. I put my hopes on Levy, saying I would stick to him and try and pass at the finish, which is how it worked out. I looked back and saw us all strung out like it was Chris Hoy leading us out. I still had a little bit to get through the finish.
“I was suffering a crisis of confidence after coming sixth in the team pursuit. But a bit of luck finally went my way and the final unfolded perfectly.”
It was the first final after the points race, an event which is looking increasingly likely to be added to the Olympic programme in Rio de Janeiro in three years’ time, which made Yates’ win all the more important.
The 20-year-old from Bury had been expected to play little more than a sideshow on day three in Minsk but he upstaged a far more experienced field in his first major senior championships with a ride of alarming maturity. Coached by Chris Newton, who won the same event at the world level 11 years ago, he had been told by him to bide his time for the first quarter of the 160-lap race but Newton admitted Yates had ignored his advice, delaying his break even longer.
He barely registered a ripple of interest in the early stages of the race, saving energy before joining a five-man breakaway that gained a lap on the field and, in so doing, 20 points at the halfway mark.
Spent from his exertions, he once more went to the back of the field before injecting a burst of speed to pick up a point in the third last of the 16 sprints, after which he once more sprang clear. It proved the perfect move as he won the subsequent sprint, leaving him one point behind long-time leader Eloy Teruel Rovira, of Spain, with the final charge to the line remaining. Teruel Rovira looked utterly spent at the back and Yates broke clear to pick up two more points and win gold.
“I can’t believe it, really,” said Yates, who had struggled for much of last season after badly injuring his shoulder crashing in an under-23 race. “You don’t want to spend all your money in the first half... and thankfully I had the gas to win.”
Becky James is the favourite for gold in today’s women’s sprint final after dominating the early rounds on Thursday. The 21-year-old from Abergavenny was the only rider to get below the 11-second mark in qualifying and then sailed through her subsequent races against Cuba’s Lisandra Guerra Rodriguez and Kaarle McCulloch, of Australia.