Australia back on top at Track World Championships as gap year pays dividends

Australia won two team pursuit golds on day two at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Pruszkow, Poland. A scratch race gold brings their tally up to four in two days as they return to the top after missing the event in 2018

The Australian squad snatched the team pursuit mantle back from Britain’s grasp on Thursday night, winning both the men’s and women’s events and setting a world record in the process.

With just a year and a half to go to the next Olympics the ball is now firmly in their court. A year after setting a world record at the Commonwealth Games then men’s quartet went faster still with a 3-48 minute ride.

Veteran of the men’s team Leigh Howard put it down to Australia’s single-minded focus on the team pursuit, an approach brought in by Simon Jones, the British coach who took over at Cycling Australia as performance director back in 2017.

“We’re a very committed team. We have one focus, we don’t have any other focuses on the road or anything else,” said Howard.

“There’s one very clear target, that’s the Olympics and the team pursuit. That’s one big reason we keep going faster.”

The Commonwealth Games performance came after the Australians famously missed the 2018 World Championships, most of the World Cups and all the long haul travel that went with it.

Jones admitted that gave them the chance to reset and refocus and it continues to pay dividends. In Pruszkow where they had only ‘favourable’ conditions they took another 1.7 seconds off their record with a huge final turn from Kel O’Brien who took the speed back up to over 66kph for the last 500m.

The run in wasn’t exactly smooth for the Australians either. Ten weeks ago Alex Porter crashed at the National Madison Championships: “I broke my collarbone, fractured six ribs, a vertebra and punctured a lung.” he explained.

“I was just hoping to make it here. So to get a 3-48 is pretty surreal. I was off the bike for probably 10 days and it took me two or three weeks to come back to full training. The coaching staff did a great job to get me here”

Australia celebrate breaking the world record and winning the team pursuit title. Picture by Szymon Gruchalski

The women’s race was much closer with Australia winning by just two tenths of a second after their lead tumbled in the last two laps as the final three riders split under the pressure.

Close or not, there was no hiding the disappointment for the British riders who had ridden quicker in training last week.

“As a team we rode well.” Laura Kenny said afterwards. “I feel like I’ve let the girls down I feel like I haven’t had the best legs the last couple of days and I feel quite a bit of responsibility”

Both teams went slower this evening than they had in their round one rides earlier in the day, and as the Australian trio split, the Brits clawed back a deficit that had gone out to almost a second with 750 metres to go but it was little consolation.

Great Britain women’s team pursuit. Picture by swpix.com

It’s their first women’s TP gold since 2015 following three years of dominance by the American team. They could only manage seventh this year, clearly missing Chloe Dygart who was battling injuries through much of 2018.

In the men’s Keirin, Jack Carlin made it comfortably through to the final but after moving to the front when the derny swung off he was soon boxed in as others came over the top.

“The problem is you get out of the box and you’re 3-4 people back, its a long way to come back,” he said after finishing fifth.

After winning two silver medals at last year’s Worlds, Carlin now just has the men’s sprint to go but shows no signs of pressure to perform.

“I’ve got myself set in the GB team and there’s real promise within the whole team,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t show it yesterday in the team sprint but this is probably the strongest we’ve been within GB. It’s just a matter of making it click.”

Matt Walls (GB) rides the scratch race at the 2019 UCI track cycling world championships. Picture by swpix.com

Matt Walls finished sixth in the men’s scratch but admitted to making a few mistakes through the race. Riding in his first World Championships he was found himself exposed on the front on a few occasions and couldn’t respond when the final sprint started. Gold went to Australia’s Sam Welsford started the event less than ten minutes after winning the team pursuit.

Matthijs Buchli of the Netherlands won the keirin, continuing the country’s resurgence in men’s sprinting.

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