Today at the Olympics: Chris Hoy's boys are moving with the times
British Cycling is ready for a fresh challenge after Beijing
A key segment of Great Britain's hopes and dreams of 2012 Olympic success gets up and running (or rather pedalling) this afternoon as the first of their 14-strong track racing team swings into action at Stratford's Velodrome.
The biggest potential problem? Injury and last-minute illness notwithstanding, it is that as the dominant force in Olympic track cycling, the slightest sign of vulnerability will be exploited by the opposition – or as Dave Brailsford, British Cycling's team principal, tends to put it: "We have gone from being hunters to hunted."
A quick glance at the most immediate reference point, Australia's World Championships this April, confirms this: in Melbourne, of the 10 events that figure in London, Team GB captured gold in five – a possible medal in the men's team sprint was lost only because of an exceedingly rare relegation – plus there was silver in the men's individual sprint and fourth places in the women's team sprint and the men's omnium.
Only in the women's keirin was there definitely ground to be made up but, with sprint queen Victoria Pendleton saying before the Games that she is in the best form she has ever been, it's hard not to be optimistic about the chances in that, too.
If there is to be a cap on British expectations, much of it is not of GB's making. The restructured format of the Olympic velodrome racing means that a rerun of Beijing's track gold rush – seven golds, three silvers and a bronze – is mathematically impossible. Recreating the Beijing "spirit", though – what male team pursuiter Geraint Thomas graphically confirmed in Melbourne as "that feeling of 'let's go out and smash it'... the whole squad believes we can do something similar to Beijing" – is certainly one area where the British appear to have succeeded. But it is this afternoon that Sir Chris Hoy's defiant warning in Australia – "we will go into London with all guns blazing" – starts to be put to the test.
Today Sir Chris, together with Jason Kenny and Olympic rookie Philip Hindes, will have the first opportunity to outshoot the opposition in the men's team sprint – just minutes after Pendleton, in her last Olympics, and Jess Varnish, 10 years her junior, compete in the equivalent women's event.
The focus will be particularly intense on Hindes, given that the 19-year-old is new to the Olympic game, racing with two gold medallists from Beijing in the same speciality and acting as "man one" – a role vital for bringing the team up to top speed as fast as possible.
Jamie Staff, the previous rider in that role for GB, could produce 2,350 watts (over three horsepower) with a torque – rotational force – that is briefly equal to that of a Formula One car. And British Cycling's sprint coach, Iain Dyer, is satisfied that even if Hindes' form has taken longer to show, that is normal for the first man out of the blocks and he will be in full flow this afternoon.
"Traditionally the man one's top racing condition takes more time to come through, because the strength component is more crucial and they are training a little deeper," Dyer tells The Independent. "But it went very well for him in Newport [at the training camp] and continued to go well here, so we're very optimistic."
Complacency about their Olympic success has never been a factor, Dyer said, even if they had wanted it to be: "With Jamie retiring after Beijing, we already had to start all over with the Olympic sprint, we had a lot of options and a lot of people wanted to put their hand up and be considered."
As for candidates to pair up with Pendleton in the women's team sprint, "Shanaze [Reade, the BMX star] figured heavily early on and Jess was pretty young at that point, so from that point of view it's been quite a journey".
"Far from resting on our laurels, we've been working our tails off from the moment [the last Olympics] finished. For example, two weeks after Beijing myself and Jan [van Eijden, the sprint tactics coach] were at the European Championships and starting from a clean sheet all over again."
"It [the Olympics] is the pinnacle of your competitive cycle over four years and it makes no difference where you put it around the world. But when you do four years of World Cups and World Championships, the slate is wiped completely clean. You start all over again."
With that kind of philosophy, for all that London is the be-all and end-all of many Olympic aspirations, Dyer and the British track management are already looking ahead. "It's pretty seamless," Dyer said. "We've got a lot of young guys knocking on the door and we'll be looking to give them some opportunities post-Olympics to step up and start to fill some big shoes."
Though he sees a bigger picture, Dyer agrees that for Pendleton the chance to be pulling down the curtain on her career – as seems 99 per cent certain – in London is a unique opportunity.
"For sure, any domestic athlete going into this event thinking this is going to be their swansong competition is bound to be stimulated by it, no matter what the sport. They'll pour their heart and soul into it, and getting a great result" – hopefully as early as this afternoon for Pendleton and Varnish – "would be a great way to sign off."
Beijing repeat? Team GB's cycling hopes
Men's Team Sprint (Final)
Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy took gold in this to set the ball rolling in Beijing. But can Philip Hindes, just 19, emulate Jamie Staff in the crucial "Man One" spot? Australia are the team to beat, with France and Germany close behind. Medals are decided today.
Women's Team Sprint (Final)
Jess Varnish makes her Games debut at 21 as Vicky Pendleton begins her Olympic swansong in the first ever women's team sprint at this level. They notched up a world record in Stratford in February.
Men's Team Pursuit (Final)
GB beat Australia twice in three hours, eclipsing their own world record to take gold at the World Championships in Melbourne. But the margin was extremely tight.
Women's Keirin (Final)
Pendleton will have to pull out all the stops here just 24 hours after contesting the team sprint. She has a World Championship gold and two silvers in this since 2007, and a European title last year.
Women's Team Pursuit (Final)
Victory at the World Championships and a world record after a stunning final kilometre, plus world titles in 2008, '09 and '11, make GB odds-on favourites. Australia are the big rivals again.
Men's Omnium (Final)
Ed Clancy was only just outside the medals in Melbourne and this is Britain's weakest of the 10 Olympic events. Consistency and the timed events are Clancy's strongpoints but he may be vuln-erable in the elimination event.
Men's Individual Sprint (Final)
France's Grégory Baugé says he feels like a caged tiger, waiting to add Olympic gold to his three World Championship titles. He did not lose a single leg of his best-of-three rounds in Australia, where Kenny took silver.
Men's Keirin (Final)
With four world titles in five starts and an Olympic gold in 08, Hoy will be the man to beat, especially as he will be fresher after missing the individual sprint.
Women's Individual Omnium (Final)
Laura Trott's world title in April came after never being out of the top two throughout the six-discipline event. All six medals she has won have been gold.
Women's Sprint (Final)
The last track event – and the last of Pendleton's glittering career – gives her a chance to "do a Hoy" and take three golds in a single Olympics. Anna Meares of Australia is her biggest rival.
What's on TV...
TV: 9am-1pm, BBC1
9.50am Rowing Bill Lucas and Sam Townsend hope to claim gold for Great Britain in the men's double sculls final. Shortly after, the British men's lightweight four compete in their final at 10am. The final of the women's eight finishes off the day at Eton Dorney at 12.30pm.
TV: 9am-2pm, BBC3
10.33am Swimming Rebecca Adlington begins the defence of her 800m freestyle crown, starting with the heats at the Aquatic Centre.
TV: 1pm-1.45pm, BBC2
From 1.30pm, Boxing Men's lightweight boxing last 16. GB's Josh Taylor is up against the Italian Domenico Valentino, the world amateur champion from 2009.
TV: 1.45pm-4pm, BBC1
3pm Shooting Men's double trap final. If he got through the morning's qualifying round, Britain's Peter Wilson will be in action and has a decent chance of a medal.
3.18pm Canoe Slalom After missing out on a place in the C1, David Florence should make it through to the C2 final alongside Richard Hounslow.
3.30pm Table Tennis In what may be hard work for the eyes, the men's final is on at the ExCel, which is expected to feature China's Ma Long.
TV: 4pm-6pm, BBC1
4pm Cycling The first action from the Velodrome begins, as Britain's Victoria Pendleton and co feature in the women's team sprint qualifying. The final is at 5.50pm.
4.30pm Artistic gymnastics It's the women's individual all-around final. Hoping to replicate some of the success the men's team has encountered at these Games, Rebecca Tunney and Hannah Whelan look to bring home medals from the field of 24.
4.50pm Cycling Back to the Velodrome, Great Britain's men start the qualifying in the team sprint. The final takes place at 6.10pm on BBC 2.
TV: 7pm-10pm, BBC1
7.40pm Swimming Women's 200m breaststroke final is the first final of the night at the Aquatics Centre. Ryan Lochte will hope to add to his 2012 Olympic medal haul in the men's 200m backstroke final at 7.48pm. Michael Phelps could win Olympic medal number 20 in the men's 200m individual final at 8.19pm, but may have to best two swimmers who have already beaten him at this Games: Chad Le Clos, and Lochte. The women's 100m freestyle final ends the night at 8.37pm, where Fran Halsall could face the American Missy "the Missile" Franklin.
TV: 7pm-11pm, BBC3
8pm Basketball Men's Group A: Great Britain v Spain. Following an opening match blowout by the Russians and a heart-breaking loss to Brazil on Tuesday, the British will need a win to have any hope of advancing from their group, but will be in tough company against Pau Gasol and the 2008 Olympic silver medallists.
10.15pm Basketball Always worth a viewing, the US men's basketball side seek to justfy the latest "Dream Team" tag when they take on Nigeria at the Basketball Arena.
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