The World Track Championships get under way here today with the British track team cast in a new version of Mission Impossible – to play down their role as outright favourites in almost every discipline.
Shrugging off that mantle of success will be tricky. This is track cycling's highest-profile event since last summer's Olympics, where the squad took seven of Britain's final total of 19 golds, as well as five silvers and two bronzes.
The 2008 World Championships last March were no less of a gold rush and served as a launchpad for Team GB's Olympic success. The British won over half the events on offer – nine – as well as two silvers.
But some key faces are missing from the GB line-up, among them Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Romero, who won six Olympic golds between them.
Just one rider from the team pursuit squad in Beijing, Ed Clancy, is taking part and it is strongly rumoured that Great Britain will not field anybody in the equally emblematic men's individual pursuit, won by Wiggins in both Athens and China.
The lack of Hoy, nursing a hip injury, will perhaps be most keenly noticed. Great Britain's most successful Olympian since 1908, the Scot has been a stalwart of the GB team line-up since 1995.
But while expectations of sackfuls of medals understandably remain, Britain are adamant that at these World Championships short-term loss will be accepted for long-term gain.
"The most interesting thing will be the arrival of new faces on the scene and people heading in new directions," says the performance director, Dave Brailsford. "It's a point in the Olympic cycle where we're prepared to lose more now in order to move forward in the future."
"There will be older, more familiar riders, but a lot of the younger ones are coming through, too."
Among those will be 22-year-old Matt Crampton, who replaces Hoy in the team sprint line-up tonight alongside the Olympic champions Jamie Staff and Jason Kenny. "There's certainly a chance for Matt to step up," points out the coach, Iain Dyer. "He's on his way up, and he's going to make Chris's job to get back in the team extremely difficult."
"The coaches have been told that if there's ever a time to experiment, it's now," Staff adds. "And we've been told this is really a no-stress race and we can go out there and have some fun.
"Everybody's really laid-back and enjoying it, which is nice, 'cos obviously leading up to the Olympics things get tense and stressful because you're fighting for your position. This time round there's definitely more of a laidback feel."
Among those riders testing slightly deeper waters than usual will be the Olympic sprint champion Victoria Pendleton, who will be racing in all four events on offer in her discipline – the 500-metre, keirin, individual and team sprint.
Pendleton's partner in the team sprint, Shanaze Reade, has been even more ambitious. Poland will be one of just three World Championships the 21-year-old will be taking part in this year, together with 4-Cross – a type of mountain biking – and BMX.
If Reade's and Pendleton's experimentation at this point in the Olympic cycle could be expected, the return of the top road-racer Mark Cavendish constitutes a much bigger surprise.
A stinging defeat in the Olympic madison left Cavendish the only member of the track squad not to take a medal, and swearing he would never appear on the track again. British Cycling's announcement that Cavendish would take part in the scratch and madison events here therefore caused a huge stir. But endurance coach Rod Ellingworth is convinced the Manxman's U-turn has logic. "He wants to win, he's excited about it and all that stuff after the Olympics was because he's a guy who shows his emotions," Ellingworth says. "But Mark won't forget what he's done for the track" – he has won two gold medals in the madison at world level – "and he'll always want to come back to the track."
Cavendish's morale, in any case, should be on an all-time high, following his recent epic win in the Milan-San Remo Classic in Italy. The Manxman's victory was the most important for British male road cycling since Tom Simpson took the World Championships in 1965. Whatever happens here, then, will arguably be a bonus.
And whatever the changes in the GB track line-up, their reputation alone may well prove a key psychological weapon. "Just thinking about the fact they're coming makes your heart sink a little," admits Spain's Tony Tauler, who took Olympic silver in the madison. That much at least has not changed since Beijing.
Making tracks GB's World Championships medal hunters
GB SQUAD IN PRUZSKOW
Men's sprint: Ross Edgar, Jamie Staff, Matthew Crampton, Jason Kenny, David Daniell.
Men's endurance: Chris Newton, Mark Cavendish, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Peter Kennaugh, Jonathan Bellis.
Women's sprint: Victoria Pendleton, Anna Blyth, Shanaze Reade, Jess Varnish.
Women's endurance: Wendy Houvenaghel, Lizzie Armitstead, Joanna Rowsell, Katie Colclough.
Leading performers from Beijing and previous World Championships are:
*Won gold in the individual and team sprints at last year's World Championships in Manchester. Came second in the women's keirin.
*Won gold in the individual sprint at Beijing.
*Pendleton is the only Briton defending an individual world title at this year's World Championships.
*Was the only member of Britain's cycling squad not to win a medal in Beijing, finishing eighth in the madison.
*Cavendish won the madison with Wiggins at last year's World Championships.
*Won the 185-mile Milan to San Remo Classic on 23 March in a photo finish.
*Finished second to Rebecca Romero in the women's individual pursuit at Beijing.
*First in team pursuit in last year's World Championships.
*In last year's World Championships, Reade won gold in the team sprint with Pendleton. It was only her second track race, making her the first woman to win a track championship in her rookie year.
*This year she is expected to compete in both the individual and team sprint events.
*Reade took part in the BMX event at the Olympics. Despite being favourite, her third crash of the competition meant she finished last in the final.
*Won silver behind Chris Hoy at Beijing in the men's individual sprint, and won gold in the team sprint alongside Hoy and Jamie Staff.
*Won gold at Beijing in the men's team sprint alongside Hoy and Kenny.
*Came second at Beijing in the keirin behind Hoy.
*Came third in the men's individual pursuit in Beijing.
*Won gold in British men's team pursuit in Beijing.
*Won the team pursuit in last year's World Championships.
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