Great Britain's track cyclists have real momentum behind them after a near flawless opening night on the velodrome in Rio de Janeiro
The opening session on the Rio Olympic velodrome was only a little bit longer than two and a half hours, but in that time Great Britain scored a hammer blow on its rivals in the track competition at these Games.
Time will tell if it proves to be the sort of knockout we saw in London four years ago, but Thursday night could scarcely have gone any better for Team GB. After four years where GB’s road to Rio has at times looked rocky and precipitous, the golden glow is back.
The 2016 world championships where Great Britain’s women’s team pursuit squad could only manage bronze and the men’s team sprinters were a distant sixth suddenly feel a long time ago.
GB men’s team pursuit woes from the 2014 worlds in Cali – where they finished eighth, their worst result in 15 years – is ancient history.
The fallout from the departure of former technical director Shane Sutton in May was barely spoken of.
And whether through body language around the track or through things they say, you can already sense an element of helplessness amongst Britain’s rivals.
Teams that scored victories over Great Britain on numerous occasions in the four years leading up to these Games have just watched the Brits turn up to Rio on top form, with top equipment, and blow them out of the water.
“I’m starting to get used to it, it’s the same every time,” said Danish team pursuit coach Casper Jorgensen. “Between the Olympics you think they’re struggling and that maybe this year they won’t make it, but every time you get close to the Olympics they improve a lot.”
“I expected that already,” said Dutch rider Theo Bos. “They’re gonna win a lot of gold medals. We knew that four years ago and they’re gonna do it again. They don’t care about the world championships, only about the Olympics.”
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Things haven’t quite gone as far as Dave Brailsford teasing the opposition with a tongue-in-cheek remark to French press about Great Britain’s ‘extra round’ wheels, but rivals have again been left scratching their heads by the new equipment that Great Britain have turned up with in Rio.
“I think they have really good wheels, and their helmets….and their skinsuits are really fast,” added Jorgensen with a wry smile.
“I don’t know anything about them, but you can see that they really improve when they come to the Olympics, and that’s the only time when they use all this equipment.”
“They have done it three times in a row; the whole team knows they have something in the pocket for the Olympics.”
Another thing Great Britain has on its side is the crowd. With the lack of natural light and broadly similar surroundings, most modern indoor velodromes feel much like one another. On Thursday, besides the dancers who dropped down into the stairwells between events to bring some Brazilian flair to proceedings, it could have been London.
British Cycling president Bob Howden was watching from the stands, the stadium PA boomed with the voice of a British announcer in Anthony McCrossan, Union flags were draped over the stands, and Callum Skinner’s family was jumping up and down along the back straight. The velodrome was rocking to the British success.
The track cycling talisman of Sir Chris Hoy was looking down and waving from upon high with a halo around him, although it was actually just the BBC studio setup on the top row of the stands and the heavenly glow was from the bright TV lighting equipment beaming down.
“It felt like a home Olympics with all the GB flags in the stands,” said team sprint gold medalist Phil Hindes. “It felt like London.”
GB has only won one gold so far but the pressure is now on their rivals, in no event more so than in the team pursuit. Australia’s men, third fastest in qualifying, have considerable technical gains to make up and know that can go a lot faster. But so could GB – Bradley Wiggins was the weakest link, if there was one, in qualifying and pulled off with 3km gone in his effort on Thursday.
The USA, immediately after watching Great Britain’s women set a new world record in qualification, went out at blistering pace before slowing right down in the final kilometre and clocking a time over a second slower.
The British quartet of Elinor Barker, Joanna Rowsell Shand, Laura Trott and Katie Archibald have all the confidence that comes with a perfect effort under their belt, and a fifth rider in Ciara Horne who could give one of them a rest during the first round on Saturday.
Great Britain know they’re fastest, they know they’re going well. And worst of all for their rivals, they know there’s room for improvement too.