Britain's male team pursuiters passed their first major test of these Games with flying colours yesterday as they headed towards what could be their fourth straight Olympic medal in the discipline since 2000, smashing the world record by a huge margin in the qualifying round.
Just as at Beijing, Britain's foursome – this time composed of the 2008 team pursuit veterans Ed Clancy and Geraint Thomas along with newcomers Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh – clocked the fastest time in the qualifier, improving their own Olympic mark, and the world record they set in April by some 0.7sec. And with a margin of 3sec on the second-placed Australians yesterday, it would appear that the British have built up a sizeable cushion on what are traditionally their closest rivals.
This superiority over Australia, and the rest of the field, is the latest chapter in a longstanding rivalry going back to the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Up until early 2012, Australia had been unbeaten at World Championships, with a 2.5sec advantage over the British at the Stratford World Cup event last February a particularly stinging defeat. Then, at the April World Championships, after the lead changed hands no less than six times in the final, Great Britain's team pursuiters finally cracked that particular bugbear.
Is it fair to say the British are now, once more, in a class of their own? The team pursuit is considered a litmus test for a nation's track prowess, and whilst Italy may hold seven Olympic medals in this speciality, their superiority in it belongs to the distant past whilst Great Britain looked every inch the defending Olympic champions last night.
Already a second ahead of New Zealand, who finished third in Beijing after 625 metres, they were over two seconds faster than any of their rivals by the halfway point. Each time a number popped up on the results board, it said the same: Great Britain ahead. And each time, it brought forth a huge cheer.
Every member of the home team – they were all but indistinguishable in their dark blue kits as they flew around the circuit in one single, seemingly unbreakable line – seemed to turn out an almost identical effort. That was yet more evidence of a superbly cohesive performance, one that predictably sent the home crowd, dejected after the news of Vicky Pendleton and Jessica Varnish's exclusion, into ecstasies.
Upping the pace yet further in the final laps, Kennaugh was already punching the air as they came round the last corner, well aware they had just completed what looked – from the outside at least – to have been the collective ride of their lives. And with Australia so far on the back foot, and no new rivals filling the power vacuum, it is hard to see who will stop Britain taking the maximum prize tonight.Reuse content