Wiping the floor with the opposition is impressive, but the way Victoria Pendleton won her fourth sprint world title in five years demonstrated the depth of determination that exists in the British Cycling squad.
Clearly we are not witnessing a vintage year’s offering. It is only eight months since the Olympic Games in Beijing and Britain’s riders may not be off the boil, but many are certainly on the back burner.
And yet the results continue to come. Two gold medals, four silver and two bronze from a team missing three of its Olympic heroes, Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Romero, is a distinctly impressive result.
It’s important to see the four year cycle between Olympic Games as a circle. Beijing and London represent the very highest point. Right now, the Great Britain team is at the bottom of the circle, biding its time, trying to enjoy the competition without the pressure and still winning medals.
All the Olympic kit and equipment has been packed away. Many of the riders, particularly the sprinters, had a very light racing schedule over the winter track season, appearing only at the Manchester and Copenhagen World Cups.
Pendleton is not a robust competitor. She is not a robot. She admits to feeling pressure, both external and self-inflicted. Last year she beat people by bike lengths. Today she won by centimetres, but the victories said more about the competitive spirit that lurks beneath the breezy, media-friendly exterior.
There were not many comfortable wins for Pendleton in the women’s sprint competition. The semi-final against Olga Panarina was as easy as it looked, but then who is Olga Panarina?
The anticipated final against Simona Krupeckaite failed to materialise when the Lithuanian was beaten by Willy Kanis.
In the first race of the final it was close. Really close. We’re used to seeing Pendleton streak clear, but this was close enough to cause everyone in the velodrome to look up at the big screen to see who’d won.
And then she lost race two. Kanis, who is the only person to have beaten Pendleton in a match sprint in a year, after taking her to three races in the World Cup semi-final in Copenhagen, beat her again.
It set up the final race, and Pendleton, aiming for her fourth world sprint title, her seventh rainbow jersey in all, was up against it.
The final race ebbed and flowed in a way all the classic sprint encounters do. First Pendleton looked to have it, then Kanis came back and was in front as the came out of the final bend. On the line it was too close to call, but after a moment’s deliberation Pendleton got it.
The surge she produced may not have given her Olympic glory but it was an astonishing outpouring of determination, something that typifies this British team.
With a best-ever bronze medal in the 500-metre time trial, a slightly disappointing silver in the team sprint and now gold in the sprint, she enters the Keirin on Sunday with a chance to medal in four events in a single championships, if she can gather her thoughts and quell her emotions overnight and go again.
It was always going to be the women who would keep the British flag flying highest here in Pruszkow. The team pursuiters held off competition from a string of teams gathering behind them, now Pendleton has added a second gold.
Common consensus is these championships have not reached the heights of Manchester or Beijing. Of course they haven’t, they were never likely to, but there are so many positives. There have been eight medals, enough to put Britain second in the medal table with a day to go.
Australia lead, but if Pendleton were to win the Keirin, or Lizzie Armitstead could take the points race, despite the bruises sustained in Friday’s scratch race, the top spot in the medal table could still be Britain’s.
But for Josephine Tomic’s gold medal in the women’s Omnium, Britain could be top tonight.
And to top the medal table would be truly remarkable. A weaker team, blooding youngsters across the board, giving up on the men’s individual pursuit entirely here, has managed to challenge at the top of the table.
The determination of Pendleton, or of Armitstead, was shown also by Pete Kennaugh in the Madison. He crashed and could quite easily have pulled out, but he did not. He battled on, and afterwards spoke engagingly about his race.
Though thwarted by the crash, the battle plan was being followed to the letter before it happened.
Most Madison races have the viewer transfixed, and this was no different. It was easy to admire the Danes because they followed a formula the British have used in the past. Whether they could have coped with the pure speed of Cavendish if he’d had the chance to open up and go for gold is open to question. Kennaugh, in his first world championship Madison showed that he is already in the picture for 2012.
British riders knocked out of the sprint
All three British riders were knocked out of the men’s sprint competition at the quarter-final stage. Ross Edgar lost 2-1 to Azizulhasni Awang. Jason Kenny bowed out to the favourite Gregory Bauge and Matt Crampton lost to Kevin Sireau. The final place in the last four was taken by Shane Perkins at the expense of Mickael Bourgain.
2009 UCI TRACK CYCLING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
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The CW Hub: Track World Championships index
Women’s points race: Armitstead proves she’s a future champion
Men’s Madison: Danes win as Kennaugh hits the deck
Women’s sprint: Pendleton wins fourth title
Women’s scratch race: Silver for Armitstead
Men’s kilo TT: Nimke beats Sir Chris’s kilo record to take gold
Men’s team pursuit: Britain get fourth
Women’s team pursuit: Britain clinch gold
women’s team sprint: Reade and Pendleton score silver
Men’s scratch race: Cavendish marked out of contention
Men’s individual pursuit: Phinney wins gold
Men’s team sprint: France beat Britain
Men’s Points Race: Newton gets bronze
Women’s individual pursuit: Houvenaghel beaten to silver
500m TT: World record for Krupeckaite, bronze for Pendleton
NEWS AND FEATURES
Track worlds day four summary: Sensational Pendleton digs deep
Track worlds day three summary: Armitstead again
Track worlds day two summary: Golden girls deliver
Track worlds day one summary: steady start for team GB
Why there’s no Brit in the individual pursuit
No individual pursuit for Britain at track worlds
No room for complacency in British Cycling: Iain Dyer interview
Cavendish in the frame for Scratch race world title bid
2009 Track Cycling World Championships preview
Crampton set to fill Sir Chris Hoy’s team sprint spot
2009 World Track Champs GB squad named
Hoy to miss world track champs
Track World Championships: British medal winners
CW’s Dummies’ Guide to Track Racing
Day three: Track Worlds 2009
Day two: Track Worlds 2009
Day one: Track Worlds 2009
GB RIDER PROFILES
International track results last season: 2007-2008
International track results this season: 2008-2009
2008 TRACK WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS LINKS
Full results from the 2008 track worlds
Report: Sunday, day five>>
Report: Saturday, day four>>
Report: Friday, day three>>
Report: Thursday, day two>>
Report: Wednesday, day one>>
Track Cycling World Championships 2009 official website
Union Cycliste Internationale