Wiggins adds pursuit silver to medal haul
Tuesday 24 August 2004
Britain's track cyclists have set themselves such high standards that silver medals are almost a disappointment. The team pursuit team of Steve Cummings, Paul Manning, Chris Newton and Bradley Wiggins lost to Australia in the race for gold here yesterday as the world champions confirmed their supremacy in the event.
Britain's track cyclists have set themselves such high standards that silver medals are almost a disappointment. The team pursuit team of Steve Cummings, Paul Manning, Chris Newton and Bradley Wiggins lost to Australia in the race for gold here yesterday as the world champions confirmed their supremacy in the event. "We have got to a level where we want to win all the time," Dave Brailsford, the British performance director, said after the race.
Graeme Brown, Brett Lancaster, Brad McGee and Luke Roberts never threatened the world record of 3min 56.610sec they set in the first round on Sunday, but their winning time of 3:58.233 was enough to secure a winning margin of more than three seconds. It also brought a measure of revenge for McGee, who had lost to Wiggins in the race for the individual gold medal on Saturday.
A gold and a silver, however, represent a stunning achievement by 24-year-old Wiggins, who is still hoping to add to his medal collection here. Wiggins, who has also been making a name for himself in Europe as a road cyclist, and Rob Hayles are both fancied to perform well in the madison. Britain also have medal prospects in the keirin with Jamie Staff and the points race with Chris Newton. With Chris Hoy having also won gold in the one-kilometre time trial, these Games are proving as big a success for the British team as Sydney four years ago.
The team pursuit is a spectacular event, with eight cyclists on the track riding head down in search of pure speed. The race is run over four kilometres, with the teams of four riders starting on opposite sides of the track. They ride in as tight a line as possible to maximise the benefit of slipstreaming. After one lap at the front, the lead rider swings off to let the next man set the pace. The idea is to catch the other team, though at this level races are nearly always settled on time difference.
Australia have been the outstanding nation at this discipline for several years now and the form they had shown in reaching the final meant that Britain knew they had to ride the race of their lives if they were to challenge. They chose to gamble by riding a larger gear, in the hope that they could outpace the Australians without losing too much time in the early stages as they built up speed.
The tactic appeared to make little difference to the result. Although the Australians established an early lead, quickly opening up a gap of more than a second, the British had cut that back by the 1,000m mark. However, the British were never able to get up to the Australians' speed and the margin gradually grew as the race unfolded.
"The Australians have set the standard over the last five years and we knew that it would take something really special to beat them," Brailsford said. "We decided to gear up and go for gold because we thought that might just make the difference for us. We knew that if it failed we would still have the silver medal, but the lads are really disappointed. They thought they could win."
Wiggins paid tribute to the gold medallists. "The Australians are the best team there has ever been," he said. "When there are teams like them up against you there's not very much you can do."
Manning said that he had been concentrating so much on his own ride that he had no idea how far ahead the Australians were at the end. "The Australians set the best qualifying times, but we were riding to our own plan and we thought we could win," he said. "I'm pleased to get the silver, but ultimately there's disappointment in the team because we were going for the gold."
Cummings, Hayles, Manning and Wiggins were not the only British riders to feel the pain of defeat. Newton and Bryan Steel rode in the earlier rounds and Brailsford faced a difficult decision over who to select for the final because he knew the organisers would not award any additional medals. It was a particular sadness for Steel, who is retiring after the Games.
It was Australia's third cycling gold of the Games. McGee, who is competing in his third Olympics, took his medal tally to five, but this was his first gold. "As an Australian, this is paradise," he said. "This is the top of the top. This is as good as it gets. Since I was 17 years old I wanted to win this medal for Australia, and today we did it."
Wiggins, 24, and McGee, 28, are good friends off the track and the Briton had words of high praise for the gold medallist. "He is a fantastic athlete, a fantastic competitor," Wiggins said. "It has taken him three Games but he finally got it. I'd have rather taken it off him but it went the way it went. I'm pleased for him."
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