Updated: Tuesday, 21st November 2017 @ 7:00pm

What did the Track Cycling World Championships mean for the British team?

What did the Track Cycling World Championships mean for the British team?

| By Tom Holt

The Manchester-based British Track Cycling team have made the short trip back over the channel from France after a second successive below-par performance at the annual World Championships.

As the dust begins to settle and the analysis begins the final medal table will not be offering head coach Shane Sutton much cause for optimism.

A meagre haul of just three medals, all silver, is a far cry from the heady days of Olympic dominance less than three years ago.

But are Britain’s cyclists worried?

"I said back in 2010 that I didn't care if I never win a gold medal again until the Olympics, and I'll say it again now," said Laura Trott after the February 18-22 event.

 

 

Yet for every world class track cyclist the focus of a year’s development will be the World Championships.

The last two years have seen British cycling return home from the highlight of the season scratching heads and wondering what might have been.

Britain topped the final medal standings in Minsk 2013, but re-discovering such a high level of achievement has proved elusive.  

Following that event Sutton was confident enough to declare to the British Cycling website that Great Britain’s cyclists were "heading for greatness." Greatness looks a long way off after a second successive failure in one of the sport’s most prestigious events.

The struggles of Cali, Colombia in 2014, where the men failed to bring home a single medal, could be passed off by Sutton as an anomaly, but following the failure of both male and female teams last week in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines results have to be regarded as an area for concern.

Even the replacement for Victoria Pendleton as the poster girl of British Cycling, Trott, was only able to cling defiantly to a silver medal in the omnium matching the one she won the year before, giving the Brits their only individual medal of the event.

In a championship where any area for optimism was scarce Sutton can point to the encouraging display in the men’s team pursuit.

After failing to medal in 2014, an improved performance and creditable second to a strong New Zealand team offers encouragement, especially with the prospect of Bradley Wiggins returning to the team following Paris-Roubaix in April.

An imperious display by the Australian women’s pursuit team finally broke a run of gold by British teams that stretched back to 2011.

The women’s team pursuit remains one of an ever diminishing number of events where British competitors can still call themselves genuinely competitive.

It is difficult to ignore and a damning indictment that 2015 has become the first year that Great Britain have failed to come away from a track world championships with even a single gold medal since 2001.

Britain still have medal contenders heading into Rio 2016 but a lot still relies on the ‘if’ factor. Can Becky James return from a serious knee injury? Could Mark Cavendish or Ben Swift be persuaded to sacrifice more lucrative road obligations? Can Jason Kenny recapture some of his old form?

 

 

One thing we now know for sure is that the advantages in methodology and technology held by the British team for at least the last two Olympic cycles have gone.

The medal hauls and strength in depth of the Australian, German and French teams mean that for the first time in a long while British cycling has found itself on the back foot.

This is not however the time to panic and fear that the track cycling revolution in this country has reached its zenith.

Over the last decade British Cycling has been spoilt. Riders of the talent of Sir Chris Hoy or Sir Bradley Wiggins are once in a generation for a cycling nation of our size and to have them competing for so long simultaneously has inevitably left us with inflated expectations.

The truth is that we are still in the baby steps of establishing ourselves as a major cycling nation and setbacks are part of any development process.  

The real fruits of past successes will be evident in the youngsters who are inspired to take up the sport by the heroes of the very recent past. So far, they are yet to fall from the tree.

More good news is that the World Championships will roll around again, this time on home soil in London at the Lee Valley Velo Park on March 2-6 2016.

In the same year as the London Olympics that very velodrome hosted a Track World Cup event which served as a brilliant precursor to the real thing. Imagine how a similar thing next year could tee up Britain’s cyclists for Rio…

However, another underwhelming display at such a crucial juncture could be catastrophic to Olympic preparation.

Main image courtesy of Cyclingnews Archive Channel via YouTube, with thanks.