Cycling: Next stop Games glory as Hoy clinically dispatches rivals
Impressive medal haul in Stratford dispels any doubts that cycling team can spearhead British Olympic hopes
If there had been any doubts whether Great Britain's cycling
team could handle being the spear point of the host nation's
Olympic medal hopes this summer, their collective performance in
the World Cup test event here in Stratford – completed yesterday
with a total of four golds, a silver and two bronzes out of 10
Olympic events – has done a great deal to dispel them.
Top marks went – again – to Britain's most emblematic athlete four years ago, Sir Chris Hoy, who garnered golds in the keirin and individual sprint as well as a bronze in the team sprint. "We can take a lot from this, it's the best we've been as a team since Beijing," the four-times Olympic gold medallist said afterwards. "It reminds me of the World Championships in 2008, that feeling that we're on a roll now."
Bizarrely enough, Hoy's third and final path to the podium in the individual sprint gold yesterday seemed to become easier the closer he got. Each of his German rivals in the semi-finals and finals (Robert Förstemann and Max Levy) was clinically dispatched by the Scot's devastating last-lap acceleration and a trademark firm nod of the head as he crossed the line. All of which seemed to say: next stop, London.
As his father David pointed out immediately afterwards, the most gripping segment of Hoy's win was unquestionably the quarter-final duel with one of his most tenacious rivals, France's Grégory Baugé. The tension between triple world champion Baugé and Hoy was so high that they even came to a standstill after three-quarters of a lap, with the Frenchman then edging the Scot out at the end of a ferocious sprint. Round two was equally dramatic as Hoy squeezed past to draw equal overall, and in the deciding ride-off only a photo-finish could separate the two – in favour of Hoy again.
Outgunning Baugé, and taking sprint gold on home soil in such a convincing manner, also gives the 35-year-old Scot the upper hand in the unspoken competition between himself and Jason Kenny for the single Olympic sprint slot this July. Afterwards, reigning world champion Kenny, who finished fifth without a single face-off against Hoy here, was characteristically direct about his chances.
"I'm chasing Chris," the Bolton-born rider said. "Every race between now and the Olympics matters." But with only next month's World Championships remaining to prove his point, Kenny has some catching up to do.
The same goes for GB's men's team pursuiters, with the 2008 Olympic gold medallist Ed Clancy recognising after a narrow but clear defeat yesterday by Australia in the finals, that "this isn't going to be a walkover like Beijing".
The British quartet ran into trouble when Steven Burke unexpectedly slowed and he and Pete Kennaugh touched wheels. This had a ripple-down effect, with Geraint Thomas forced to take evasive action and pull out of the line so sharply he whizzed right up the banking to the line of spectators, among them Kennaugh's family. As Thomas jokingly put it, "I shot up there and high-fived Pete's mum and dad."
Taking silver even after such a setback is indicative, though, of the team's inner cohesion: an encouraging omen for this summer, and in fact – although Vicky Pendleton's fifth place in the keirin perhaps suggests she was overstretched in a packed World Cup programme – the British are in the mix in almost all the Olympic events.
There are equally few doubts, too, as to whether Stratford as a venue itself has come up to scratch, although the shamelessly excessive price of some food items in the stands (try £1.50 for a packet of crisps and a quid for a chocolate bar) threatened to make the Velodrome a dieter's heaven.
But there have already been too many memorable images in a spectacular and generally spectator-friendly setting that more than compensate for such glitches. Among the best? Pendleton and Jess Varnish's searing double dash to a world record and gold in the women's team sprint on Friday, Laura Trott's superb elimination race in the women's omnium on Saturday, finally netting bronze yesterday, and – most dramatic of all – Hoy's relentless scything down of his rivals in the men's keirin and men's sprint.
"It's going to be an incredible challenge," Sir Chris concluded, "but if we [the athletes] replicate what we've done here in a few months' time I think we'll be a happy bunch." They will not be the only ones.
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