Olympics 2016: Team GB's golden girls of cycling must rediscover winning edge in time for Rio Games

They returned from the World Championships in Paris without a single gold medal - a result that would have been unthinkable not so long ago

Click to follow
The Independent Online

“We do like the noise, but it will be good to be able to hear yourself think,” says Joanna Rowsell. This was something she could not do three years ago when she, Laura Trott and Dani King delivered the third gold of Super Saturday – in the team pursuit – amid the roar of the velodrome, just moments before the heroics began in the Olympic Stadium.

This week marks a year until the start of Rio 2016, which will, it has to be admitted, be a different experience for Team GB and its supporters. But the track cycling team, which their coach Shane Sutton likes to call “the most successful sports team in British history”, are hoping it will not be too different, even if replicating the successes of London, and Beijing before it, will be intensely difficult.

“The build-up to London was the biggest, most intense thing there will ever be in my life,” Rowsell adds. “When I started cycling, it was that year that they announced they had got the games in London. From 2005, my whole cycling career was all based around the London 2012 Olympics. It was never about Rio, or Beijing, it was always London 2012. So that’s a big deal, but as an athlete, as soon as we had won that gold medal I had new goals in mind, new things that I wanted to achieve.

“It was brilliant to go through that process and achieve that because it had been such a long build-up, but it’s quite refreshing not to have the same home pressure that we had there.”


The team is not yet set in stone but 20-year-old Elinor Barker from Cardiff has won two World Cup gold medals and a silver alongside Rowsell and Laura Trott since 2012.

That silver was won at this year’s World Championships in Paris, from which Great Britain returned without a single gold medal. That would have been unthinkable not so long ago, prompting much concern that the rest of the world had finally caught up, that the famous “marginal gains” of the Dave Brailsford era (their talismanic coach stood down in April 2014) had all been pared back.

“Having a disappointing championships this close is a good experience to go through,” says Barker. “It makes you look at your training, at everything you’re doing. I think we’ve got enough time to change it in time for Rio – to realise what mistakes we made, what we did do right, what we must do better.”

Brailsford himself always used to say that getting to the top is one challenge, staying there is harder. But it would be wrong to think that Great Britain have been left behind. “There’s catching up, and there’s going past, isn’t there?” says Barker. “I don’t think anyone’s gone past us.”

But the disappointments of Paris do not always register with the wider public, who will, in a year’s time, tune into the world of track cycling and expect Team GB to deliver.

“People can put as much expectation on our shoulders as they want,” says Rowsell. “It’s down to us to block that out and concentrate on our performance. When a nation sets the bar as high as GB did in Beijing and London, it’s easy for people to chase you, and copy you. We’ve got to try and push new boundaries.

“People get complacent with our event, and the history we’ve had, but I try and ignore that. When you get on the start line, it doesn’t matter what you’ve won before, world titles, World Cups, world records, they don’t matter. That race is all that matters.”