The Great Britain team won a silver and bronze medal on the opening night at the Track World Championships in Belarus today. Becky James and Victoria Williamson won a surprise bronze in the women’s team sprint while the men’s team pursuit quartet took silver after losing out to Australia in the gold medal final.
“It’s been a good day. It was really unexpected,” said James after receiving her first senior World Championship medal. “It was hard for Vicky stepping in. We were both a bit gob-smacked when we looked up and we qualified faster than the Aussies.”
Williamson was brought in to the team late on after Jess Varnish pulled out with a back injury. The 18-year-old put in a solid first lap in both qualifying and the bronze final, but all the while James was champing at the bit.
James, who has had her fair share of injuries and set backs in the last two years, deployed a not often seen tactic in both the rides that helped her post the fastest second lap of all the teams.
Coming round the second banking she moved up above the blue stayers line to put a gap between herself and Williamson. Then, with perfect timing she dived back down and accelerated up the inside of Williamson, just as she was pulling off at the end of her lap.
That tactic saw James go faster than Olympic champion in the discipline, Kristina Vogel (Germany), and Shuang Guo (China), the only cyclist to win three medals in London
“We worked that out probably in the last session in Newport.” Said James. “We just thought we’d try something new and because my form’s come through quite nicely we wanted to get as much speed as possible off the lap.”
“I was feeling good and just taking a bit of height, having a gap, being able to rush it and then getting that bit more speed for the lap, rather than having to work through. It just worked out great.”
James’s performance on the opening night bodes well for the rest of the week, and the future of British women’s sprinting. Four years ago and Victoria Pendleton was desperately hanging on to her form post-Beijing. She battled through to win the hardest fought sprint world title of her career, and set up a long exhausting run to London.
Now, in the Rio Olympic cycle (and yes, everyone is already talking about Rio 2016), British sprinting appears to be in rude health, despite the loss of Pendleton. Williamson and James will only improve, as will Varnish – the ‘veteran’ of the group at 22 – when she returns from injury.
Germany won the women’s team sprint ahead of China.
The British men went one better in the team pursuit to win silver, but the reaction was more muted than that of James and Williamson. Losing to rivals Australia is never easy for the British team, and a four second beating was particularly hard to swallow.
“You come here trying to win but, you know, all we can do is our best,” said Andy Tennant, who had struggled in both of the rides. “Between the four of us we gave it all and left it all on the track. We didn’t have it as a unit and we’ve got things to work on.”
On paper the British team looked strong, including Steven Burke and Ed Clancy – both of whom are Olympic champions and world record holders – and Andy Tennant, who was the fifth rider in the London 2012 group. But the quartet didn’t perform as well as they could on the night, going slower in the final than they did in qualifying.
Burke rode brilliantly in both rides (and will ride the individual pursuit this week), but Clancy has only just returned to TP training after dabbling in the team sprint since last Autumn. Sam Harrison stepped in to the team with some aplomb, moving in to the man three position for the final to give Tennant an easier ride.
The team is also somewhat in limbo. GB men’s endurance coach Dan Hunt has moved to a role in Team Sky, leaving academy coach Chris Newton in charge of the team pursuit squad. Although Newton coaches the academy riders who now make up a good percentage of this group (Jon Dibben is also here this week) he admitted the future coaching structure around the team pursuit was still to be decided.
A silver medal is however an improvement on this time four years ago when the team only managed fourth place (the first time they hadn’t medalled at the worlds in nine years) at the Worlds in Poland. If you need a reason not to panic consider that team included three of the four riders who went on to win in London.
Another encouraging result was that of 20-year-old Kian Emadi. The sprint academy rider finished fourth in the kilometre time trial with a 1:01.756 minute ride. Emadi has posted a faster time than that, but only at altitude in Colombia. France’s Francois Pervis won the event.
Tomorrow he has the daunting task of riding as man three in Britain’s team sprint line up. Not only taking Sir Chris Hoy’s role, but having to hold on to the back wheels of Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny. “[I’m a] A bit nervous,” he admitted. ” But I’ll just get through tonight, get some good recovery in and see how I feel tomorrow.”
“In an ideal world it maybe wouldn’t be this order, but it is the World Championships and it’s an honour to ride in [the kilo].”
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Becky James and Victoria Williamson take bronze in the women’s team sprint
Women’s team sprint podium
GB in men’s team pursuit final
Ed Clancy on the front
Kian Emadi in the men’s kilo TT
France’s Francois Pervis wins the men’s kilo TT