Chris Hoy and Team GB expected to follow Bradley Wiggins' medal success
Track cyclists will be hoping for medal success today after Bradley Wiggins' gold win in the time trial.
In all likelihood, however prolific they are it will be a step back from Beijing four years ago where they blazed a trail with seven golds, three silvers and two bronzes.
Cycling governing body the UCI put paid to a repeat of that by introducing the one-rider-per-nation-per-event rule, meaning that Britain will not be quite so medal rich in the table after events at the Velodrome.
But the team showed at the World Championships in Melbourne earlier this year that they are once again top dog in the sport.
Partly because of that UCI ruling and Jason Kenny’s fine form at both the worlds and in training since, Sir Chris Hoy has been denied the chance of completing the fairytale of defending all three Olympic titles.
Hoy still has two golds on the line, starting with today’s team sprint although he, Kenny and the teenager Philip Hindes will have needed to have taken a huge step forward in the intervening four months since their disqualification at the worlds to dream of winning gold here.
Hoy has accepted the decision over the British individual sprint spot with good grace, going as far as saying that British Cycling “had made the right choice”. He even pointed out his tussle with Kenny could aid his team sprint and keirin hopes having “inspired me to work harder”.
“I’d love to be going for three events but now I can only do two,” he said.
The other thing to have inspired him in recent days was the Tour de France victory of former track team-mate Wiggins, something Hoy, caught up in the emotion of it all, perhaps overdramatised by calling “the greatest achievement of any British sportsman ever”.
The person hoping to set Hoy on the road to glory is 19-year-old Hindes, a German-born rider with a British father who switched to the Team GB in 2010. A potentially awkward plastic Brit debate has been neatly swatted away by Hindes himself, who cannot understand the fuss and points out “I feel British” without any irony as he delivers the words in a German accent.
He has aided his Britishness by learning the national anthem, has a penchant for Yorkshire puddings, and is being versed in British comedy by Hoy, who has recommended the Inbetweeners for a rider who shares the Scotsman’s dry sense of humour.
For Hoy to have medal aspirations, much rests on the dream number that Hindes is able to produce as man one in the team sprint. Four years ago, that figure was 17.1sec thanks to predecessor Jamie Staff. Hindes won’t quite get to that but he has been repeatedly setting personal bests in the countdown to the track cycling at the Games.
Also in action on day one are the women’s sprint pairing of Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton, who is bidding for three golds in her final ever track meeting.
On the evidence of her recent documentary, the event will once again be an emotional rollercoaster for Pendleton, who will also go in the individual sprint and keirin.
Of the emotional baggage that follows the Team GB pin-up, she said: “I still win so it’s fine, that’s how I am.”
As for her physical state, she added: “I’m definitely in better form entering a competition than in my entire life. I’m very happy with where I am right now. What will be will be on the day. Who knows how fast everyone will do? I’ve done the most I can do.
“Every session I’ve taken away something positive. When I go on the startline, I won’t think, ‘I wish I’d done things differently’.”
Helping her in that quest is Varnish. The pair struggled in Melbourne but mostly because Varnish had been ill in the build-up so a truer sign of their capabilities was the test event in London preceding it in which they broke the world record.
Varnish has been registering personal bests in training and revelled in watching the Pendleton documentary alongside her team-mate, both of them bawling their eyes out over what Varnish called “the soppy stuff with Scott [Pendleton’s fiance]”.
For her part, Varnish insists she does not feel undue pressure to deliver for one of Pendleton’s last stabs at Olympic glory. “Whatever happens, we both know we’ve pushed ourselves to the limit,” insisted Varnish.
The other British contingent in action today are the men’s team pursuit, who are the current world champions.
Geraint Thomas, part of the line-up that won gold in the event four years ago, predicted that: “The world record will go.”
He and Ed Clancy, the relative novices in Beijing, are now the experienced heads in a line-up that will also see Steven Burke, Pete Kennaugh and Andy Tennant fight for the four available slots. Clancy said there was a “sense of deja vu” in the build-up.
The hope is that deja vu will be repeated in the medal table.
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