By Sophie Smith
British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton is unperturbed about the amalgamation of arch-rival Australia’s track endurance squad with a national domestic trade team ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, adding Team GB is on the rise.
Australian Olympian Jack Bobridge made the announcement this week that he will depart from the WorldTour to join the majority of his national team pursuit squad members at the Continental Budget Forklifts outfit from 2015.
The move will enable five new signings in Bobridge, fellow London Olympic silver medallist Glenn O’Shea, as well as Luke Davison, Mitchell Mulhern and Scott Sunderland to work closely together, and with Cycling Australia High Performance, ahead of the Rio Games where the nation is determined to overhaul two-time Olympic champions Great Britain in the premier event.
“If they want to get a certain amount of control then it’s the right move but ultimately it doesn’t bother us what any other team around the world does,” said Sutton.
“We’ve never been governed by what anyone else does so we’ll map our pathway out and we’ll stick to it. We believe we’ve got the best endurance coach in the world now onboard and we feel that we’ll deliver when it matters.”
Ironically, its rumoured British Cycling will adopt the same approach as that of the Aussies in 2015 with the advent of the Continental-ranked 'Team Wiggins', which Cycling Weekly has previously reported.
“We’re always pretty much ahead of the game, so watch this space!” said Sutton. “We have an outcome focus, which is Rio. We have a strategy in place, how we’re going to arrive there, already and we’re working towards that outcome now.”
Bobridge is the reigning individual pursuit world record holder and has represented Australia at the Olympic Games twice. Lauded as the “real deal” by Lance Armstrong prior to turning pro in 2010, the 25-year-old Belkin rider has managed rheumatoid arthritis throughout the duration of his WorldTour career.
His move especially is likely to boost the morale of the Australian men’s team pursuit squad in the same way as that of Bradley Wiggins at Great Britain. It’s understood Wiggins will rejoin the track squad after the Spring Classics next season and race with it from thereon to Rio.
“I don’t think there’s any pitfalls at all. Obviously it’s how they make it work,” Sutton observed of the amalgamation.
“You’ve got to remember there is an adaptation on the part of the guys like Jack coming out of Europe. He’s got to adapt to a domestic scene, which sounds really rosy and everything else but once you come out of that big scene you need a coping strategy. Let’s hope that he copes with that because he’s a quality bike rider and I believe he warrants being in the WorldTour scene. It’s going to be a big change for him to adapt to.”
Sutton readily accepted that Australia has made inroads in the men’s team pursuit where Great Britain has not since the London Olympics. A fresh-faced Aussie quartet claimed first scalp of the 2014-15 season at the world cup in Mexico last week posting a 3-55.976 in the final to win gold.
British Cycling underwent an internal review this year after its flawless campaign at London 2012. Sutton was appointed technical director in April when decorated Team Sky principal David Brailsford resigned from his post as head of performance. He has made his own impression since with structural reshuffles including the appointment of German Heiko Salzwedel as men’s track endurance coach.
“I was disappointed with our performance in the Commonwealth Games [where a Wiggins-led team pursuit finished second to Australia] and I think that wasn’t a great time for us either,” said Sutton. “We weren’t ready and we were in transition and there was a lot happening within. Also, you can’t just sustain the level continually year after year after year. We’re starting to build now.”
Sutton was not at the World Cup but took great confidence from the overall performance of the entire national track squad, including the women’s team pursuit, which with newcomers in Ciarna Horne and Amy Roberts, plus Elinor Barker and Olympic champion Laura Trott, beat Canada by almost five seconds to win gold.
“We’re fortunate that we’re blessed with a talent pool that seems to go on and on. You wouldn’t believe that we could have that big a gap on the world still with two new faces,” Sutton said. “That was really pleasing and it goes to show how strong we are in that particular event. If anything is our blue riband event it’s that one.
“We’re notoriously good at periodisation and getting our outcome right,” he continued. “We will be the best we can be in Rio, and normally that’s pretty good.”
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