Cycling: Pursuit trio open GB gold account

Women's team claw back advantage to defeat New Zealand in thrilling duel
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The Independent Online

After what felt like a painfully long wait, the leading favourites Great Britain finally won their first gold medal of the 2009 World Track Championships here last night – but seven events had to go by before they did so.

The women's team pursuit squad of Wendy Houvenaghel, Jo Rowsell and Lizzie Armitstead pulled out all the stops to go clear of New Zealand in a desperately close final duel for gold. The three Britons clawed their way ahead only well after the half-way mark – and after their coach Dan Hunt had fibbed and indicated that they were in fact losing.

"I wanted to bring the beast out of them," Hunt said, "and to make sure they were racing, not just following the numbers."

Rowsell said: "I couldn't hear what he was saying but I could tell by the urgency of his voice something was up. In the last few laps we just sprinted for the line hoping our gun [that indicates the finish] would go off first."

While Armitstead celebrated her first gold medal at senior level, the closeness of the final was yet another reminder that Britain's superiority at World Championships and Olympic level, unquestioned since 2007, should not be be taken for granted.

In the grand scheme of things, as in what it means for London 2012, this is not worrying, even if GB's current total of two bronzes, three silvers and a gold means 2008's total of nine world golds is not going to be repeated in a hurry. But British officials have uttered repeated warnings that this year's world championships were going to be one for trying out new strategies and testing new faces. If the result is a dearth of medals, then so be it.

And while the championships rookie Armitstead might have been forgiven for faltering in such a tense final with New Zealand, but lived up to the challenge, silver for the tried and tested duo of Vicky Pendleton and Shanaze Reade in the women's team sprint felt more surprising.

Pendleton had already indicated, though, that she does not have the same form as 2008. Sure enough, the first signs that the two might be slightly off the boil came when they lost the qualifying round to Australia. Even though the British pair raised their game in the final duel, Australia's duo of Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch proved superior for a second time running.

"We realised we needed an extra tenth of a second to beat Australia and we didn't anticipate Australia would do the same," Pendleton said. "I'm disappointed, but they did better than we could."

Pendleton and Reade could at least take some comfort that Australia seem destined to leave here with the biggest haul of medals. Following their stinging defeat in Beijing – where they only managed one silver, with Meares – Australia were back at their winning ways in Poland, leading with a current total of two golds, two silvers and a bronze.

In the men's scratch race, the double world track champion Mark Cavendish, recently winner on the road of the Milan-San Remo classic, finished seventh in his first track event since he stormed away from last year's Beijing Olympics vowing never to race on the boards again.