Britain are the world champions in the women’s team pursuit and the hot favourites to win gold in the Olympic event, which begins on Friday.
Joanna Rowsell, Dani King and Laura Trott set a record as they won the world title in April in Melbourne and the same trio are expected to feature in London, although Wendy Houvenaghel, the fourth squad member, could yet force her way into the line-up. Here the World Championship trio and coach Paul Manning talk about what’s required in the pursuit of glory.
“Sometimes on race day — I don’t know if that will be the case in London — I wake up quite nervous. Once I’m at the track, I’m fine. Someone else might feel nervous but it helps we can just talk about it.
We go through the timings for the day, like we’ll be riding for 3 minutes 18 seconds or whatever it is. Our coach Paul Manning’s done it so knows what he’s talking about. He understands not just the technical stuff but the pressures of competition. He’s been coaching us for two years and we’ve got better each time.
I’m the ‘man one’ rider if you like, setting the pace at the front of the team and getting the team up to speed. You need quite a lot of power to get you off the line, as you’re looking to get up to top speed by about a lap and a quarter. It’s quite difficult to get the start just right because you’ve tapered and everything feels a little different. I went out too fast at the Olympic velodrome at the test event and it takes a lot of practice to get it right. The other key is not being bothered about your opposition, like Australia, who went out very fast at the World Championships. I do a lap and a quarter at the start and pull off. I build up so much lactic acid in that first lap and a quarter. You’re getting up to top speed in a very big gear. You then have to make sure you recover from the next turn — we normally do about a lap each but that varies as you’re making a split-second decision. Then it’s all about consistency throughout the 3km. Because of the start, by the third kilometre, I’m just hanging on in there. Everyone relies on their team-mates and you have to help each other out.”
“I’m always excited rather than anxious when we get to the track to warm up. By that stage, it’s time to go out there and prove what you can do. We all talk to each other beforehand and the stuff we say is usually very motivational, positive stuff.
In the pursuit, if Jo goes out too fast or too slow, it’s my job to deal with that. It’s just built into me now to know what feels right or wrong in that sense. I think it just becomes instinctive from so many efforts.
We’re helped by Paul walking the line. If he walks forward, we’re a tenth down and we’re going too slow. If he walks backwards, we’re a tenth up. He has a massive job that people probably don’t realise and he helps us a lot. He’s a great coach and I really feel like I’ve stepped up massively by having him there.
He always knows how we’re feeling and really understands if we don’t know something. Also, it’s not easy looking after that many emotional women. The first six laps actually feel quite easy as you’re getting into it but, if you get it wrong, you can really die towards the end.
Anything can be thrown at you in the race so you have to be prepared. In Australia, at the World Championships, I hit a padded marker but I’m quite a good bike handler so I was okay but it shook me. You’re going fast and so close to each other that you can easily crash, often at the end. When racing, I’m not really thinking anything, I’m just keeping my head down. When you cross the line, you have no idea what you’re doing or where you are.”
“The event starts in some ways when Paul breaks the news of which of the four of us will make the team. He sits us down altogether and I’m lucky that I’ve never been in the position of the person missing out.
You feel really sorry for that person. I wouldn’t like it. I remember Dani was devastated at the London World Cup and I was thinking if I was in that position, I’d be a mess. We discuss what we’re going to do beforehand but it’s about being versatile, not having tactics set in stone and being able to change what you do. It’s hard to know when to go longer and when to go shorter as you know how you’re feeling but you don’t know how the girls are going exactly.
We don’t decide things exactly, like I didn’t decide in Melbourne before that I was going to do a two-lap turn at one point, I just thought I could do it and that was it. We do shout sometimes to each other but in London it was a bit pointless as the noise was so much you can’t hear a thing. Jo is such a fast starter and Paul sometimes has to rein her in. We’ve all got different strengths. I’m the quickest sprinter so I can keep that sprint power in reserve at the start for later on. Dani’s is such a good starter as well.”
“They’re a good team, although it’s come together quicker than maybe I thought it would. They’ve got great self-belief and they will all do their jobs. They’re young and, of course, they have some ups and downs as well but they do feed off each other.
It’s so close between the four of them and, such is the Olympic schedule, I’ll probably look to use all four. It’s a bike race so I’m not too worried about the final time. I’m not worried if they fall behind as I’m confident in the times they’re doing.
I’m never quite happy, which seems a good position to be in heading into a Games. If and when they win, I can appreciate it then and tell them it’s a great achievement.
It’s then that I step back and let them enjoy it. They can get a bit emotional.”