Cycling: Varnish aims to shine in Glasgow after London low
Friday 16 November 2012
Jess Varnish stood out at the London Olympics. It was the 21-year-old who took the Mark Cavendish mantle – the one nobody wanted to settle on their shoulders; like the Manxman in Beijing, Varnish was the lonely unfortunate among Britain's garlanded cyclists, the one who did not win a medal amid the happy clamour of the velodrome.
Of Dave Brailsford's dozen sent onto the track over the course of six glorious days in London, Varnish was not only the only one not to scale the highest peak of the podium, she did not even make it onto the lower steps. What made the whole experience even more painful is that she was not beaten, instead she and Victoria Pendleton were disqualified, dismissed from the team sprint when gold appeared theirs for the taking – they had broken their own world record in qualifying for an ill-fated semi-final.
This morning in the second round of the Track World Cup in Glasgow in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, she will ride in front of a home crowd for the first time since she and Pendleton got their judgement wrong by one one hundredth of a second. This evening, barring a horrible repeat, she will expect to finish the night on the podium and take another step on the road to redemption in Rio in four years time. "I don't think that anyone who gets disqualified in the Olympic Games after breaking a world record is going to get over it all," said Varnish.
Varnish turns 22 on Monday and will not be sorry to close the book on the most testing year of her young sporting life. Before, and since, the Games, much has gone according to plan but nothing can match the down of that August evening.
In an attempt to move on, Varnish has turned to Steve Peters, British Cycling's psychologist and the man who did so much to put Pendleton on the path to Olympic success.
"He is really good at keeping your eyes open to the rest of the world," said Varnish. "In cycling you live in a bubble."
Varnish talks of using what happened in London to propel her towards Rio. She was the first of the Olympic team back on her bike, winning the team pursuit with her new partner Becky James in the first round of the World Cup in Colombia.
"I had five weeks off which I really needed – I'd not had a proper break since the March of the year before so that was really important," she said. "I was excited to get back into training not just because what happened in the Olympics but because of the opportunity to broaden out."
She will ride four events in Glasgow, as well as partnering James today in the sprint she will also go in the 500m time trial. Tomorrow it's the individual sprint and on Sunday the keirin.
James is one of a number of young riders who have been included for the second leg of the World Cup.
The 20-year-old from Abergavenny is already a double Commonwealth Games medallist and has been inked in as Pendleton's replacement, a position she had known was coming her way.
"When Vicky retired I always knew it would be my chance to race in the World Cups," she said. "Watching everyone race [in London] was inspirational and made me train even harder in the hope of getting to Rio."
The youngest member of the British lineup this weekend – there are five London gold medallists riding – is another Welsh rider, Elinor Barker. The 18-year-old has had to take a hurried break from school, and studying for biology and PE A-levels, to replace Joanna Rowsell, who was forced to withdraw from the team sprint with a virus.
Barker will be man three behind Laura Trott and Dani King. With the women's team sprint expected to increase from three to four kilometres for the Rio Games it means four rather than three riders will compete per team and gives Barker a chance to make an early claim.
"It's a massive opportunity for me to get experience at this level," said Barker. "I'm riding with Olympic champions and world record holders – I wouldn't be human if I wasn't nervous. I've just got to try and enjoy it and make the most of the opportunity."
Brits to watch in Glasgow
The 18-year-old will make his World Cup debut, competing in the omnium tomorrow. Moved to Manchester in September to join the Olympic academy programme days after winning four titles at the national championships.
Her versatility only adds to her potential – in September she won a world junior title on the road to add to European junior titles on the track. Only joined the sprint squad last week.
Missed the Olympics but with Victoria Pendleton gone this is her chance. A former world and European junior champion, she turns 21 at the end of the month. Won silver and bronze for Wales at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
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