Cycling: Wiggins celebrates early as golden boys sprint home in record time
Friday 28 March 2008
In a sport where medals are won and lost by fractions of a second it is not often that you see a competitor punching the air in celebration more than a lap from the finish line. Bradley Wiggins, however, rode the final stages of last night's race for the gold medal in the men's team pursuit competition with his fist pumping skywards as Britain took the title here at the world track championships in world record time.
It was an image that summed up another evening of extraordinary success for the home squad, who also won gold in the day's two other finals. Rebecca Romero, who took up cycling only two years ago after winning a rowing silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, won the individual pursuit title, beating the defending champion by more than six seconds, before Victoria Pendleton and Shanaze Reade completed a British clean sweep with victory in the women's team sprint.
After two days of competition Britain have won four of the six finals so far – Wiggins took gold in the individual pursuit on Wednesday – and are on course to better their achievement of 12 months ago, when they won seven of the 18 golds at the 2007 world championships. How times have changed since the world championships were last staged on this track eight years ago, when Yvonne MacGregor was the home team's only winner.
The British team pursuit quartet of Wiggins, Paul Manning, Geraint Thomas and Ed Clancy had qualified for the final in a slower time than their opponents, but in the race for gold Denmark trailed from the very first time check as the home squad sped around the track in a wonderful display of power and control.
After one kilometre Britain had an advantage of half a second, which they had doubled by the halfway point. Under pressure, the Danes lost a rider before the three-kilometre mark, by which time they were trailing by more than two seconds. The silver medallists still joined the elite group of countries to have recorded a time of under four minutes, but they were powerless as their opponents completed the 4,000m in 3min 56.322sec, eclipsing the world record Australia set in winning Olympic gold four years ago.
Wiggins, having swung off the front, was celebrating well before the finish, as was Dave Brailsford, British Cycling's performance director, who did a jig of delight in the centre of the track. Wiggins, who will now attempt to win a third gold in partnership with Mark Cavendish in tomorrow's madison, said afterwards: "I knew we'd won it with four laps to go. We've been training at that sort of speed in practice. It was just a question of putting it together on the day over the four kilometres."
He added: "We've had a couple of illnesses over the last few weeks which at one stage had put to bed any thoughts of a world record here, so I think we can go even faster. I was pretty ill a few weeks ago, but I quickly recovered. My form has got better and better."
Wiggins' performances this week have been all the more remarkable considering the difficult start to the year he has endured. In January his father was found dead in suspicious circumstances in Australia, while his T-Mobile road racing team announced they were pulling out of the sport in protest at a series of drug scandals. He has since joined most of his former T-Mobile colleagues in the Team High Road squad.
"It's been a bit emotional these last few days, especially with the world championships being held here in Manchester," Wiggins said. "When you go into two finals on the back foot like that it's such a relief to see that you've won. Up to that point you're just concentrating solely on the schedule and the coach on the line."
Romero has made the transition from world champion oarswoman to world champion cyclist at breakneck speed. The 28-year-old from High Wycombe won silver at last year's world championships, took gold in a recent World Cup race and claimed the world crown here in emphatic style.
Although Romero's winning time of 3min 30.501sec was slower than she had recorded in qualifying, she led America's Sarah Hammer from the start and her victory never looked in doubt. In qualifying Romero had set a track record time of 3min 29.513sec to reclaim the British record, which had been taken from her minutes earlier by Wendy Houvenaghel, who went on to lose the bronze medal race to Australia's Katie Mactier.
"The plan was just to ride my pace," Romero said after the final. "I wasn't really aware of what else was going on, because basically it's an individual time trial. Winning in an atmosphere like that in front of 3,000 people was incredible. You just don't get that sort of atmosphere in rowing." Romero is aiming to become the first British woman to compete in two sports at the summer Olympics.
If she wins a medal in Beijing she will be the first Briton to win medals in two sports since Paul Radmilovic, a Welshman, won gold medals in water polo and the 4x200m relay in 1908, as well as further water polo gold medals in 1912 and 1920.
Pendleton, who is aiming to repeat her feat of winning three gold medals at last year's world championships, and Reade set a world best time of 33.186sec in topping the qualifying times for the women's team sprint. A poor start meant that the British pair were half a second slower in the race against China for the gold medal, but they still won with something to spare. "It's been a fantastic couple of days," Pendleton said. "Everything's going our way."
Team GB's medal power
INDIVIDUAL PURSUIT – GOLD Rebecca Romero
TEAM SPRINT – GOLD Victoria Pendleton and Shanaze Reade
TEAM PURSUIT – GOLD Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Paul Manning
INDIVIDUAL PURSUIT – GOLD Bradley Wiggins
TEAM SPRINT – SILVER Ross Edgar, Chris Hoy, Jamie Staff
TODAY'S PROSPECTS: Points: Mark Cavendish, Sprint: Chris Hoy, Team Pursuit: (possible line-up) Rebecca Romero, Wendy Houvenaghel, Joe Roswell
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