The World of Track Cycling descends on Manchester, as Team GB go home with a five medal haul
From the 10th to the 12th November, Manchester welcomed a plethora of cycling talent. From Olympic and World Champions, to an emerging group of young talent, hundreds of cyclists descended on the city’s UK National Cycling Centre. For one weekend Manchester played host to not only its usual resident of British Cycling but to guests from around the globe, as the second round of the UCI Track Cycling World Cup got underway on Friday afternoon.
The velodrome proved the perfect venue for the event, balancing a level of extravagance you may expect for such an event with the informality guaranteed in such a closely packed arena. The relaxed atmosphere allowed spectators to observe from within touching distance of the riders, as they banked up the steep corners of the track. Meanwhile warmups and equipment preparation became unavoidable and intriguing viewing. By the end of each day’s session a sense of familiarity, impossible in most major sporting events, formed between spectator and rider.
Admittedly it takes some getting used to the infamously intricate and imaginative race types. The ‘Madison’, ‘Keirin’, ‘Omnium’ and ‘Scratch’ all mean little to the average audience member. Those of us unfamiliar with the sport, save for during those two weeks of passionate support and expertise that roll around every Olympic year, were forced to desperately flick through our programmes and skim read through the rules as the countdown for the next race ticked down. However once rules were at least partially understood, it made for an electric weekend of racing.
The event, the second of four this season, featured a number of British riders, including several Olympic athletes and medal winners, mixed in with much young talent. However, the big names weren’t always the talking point. A notable oddity of the tournament is the acceptance of non-national teams, often sponsored or supported by their country’s cycling body but competing as a separate squad.
Used by Team GB to field academy riders, Team Breeze and Team 100% Me are an example, with the national team using the opportunity to include more riders. Team 100% Me’s Callum Skinner, silver medallist in the individual sprint at Rio, picked up a Bronze medal in the 1km time trial, coming agonisingly close to the one-minute barrier at 1:00.868. It was a barrier that Australian star Michael Glaetzer managed to break, a record at sea level, coming in at 59.970s, a promising result in preparation for the Commonwealth games next year on his home turf.
Of the non-national teams developing in the world of track cycling, most notable is Team KGF. Comprised of a quartet of amateur riders, who live, eat, and train together in Derby, while funding everything largely out of their own pockets, Team KGF are making an increasingly big name for themselves in the sport. Having won the team pursuit at the National Championships in January, followed by a seventh place finish in the opening World Cup event in Poland, they came to Manchester with hopes high.
A close heat, employing some unorthodox tactics, put them through to the Bronze medal race. Then, spurred on by an enthusiastic crowd, they went head to head with France, unfortunately being pipped to the post in the final 500m to take fourth. For a team with their limited resources and numbers, employing tactics to utilise their strengths to their maximum, it was an impressive effort, and they will go forward even more inspired to succeed.
The standout star of the event was Katie Archibald. The Olympic Gold Medal winner in the Team Pursuit impressed in both individual and team events in Manchester. Friday night saw her go head to head with American star Jennifer Valente in the Omnium, cycling’s multi-race event, in which Archibald is the current World Champion. The elimination race, one of cycling’s most entertaining, saw the two battle it out until only they remained, with Archibald summoning a final sprint finish to knock out Valente, putting them 2nd and 1st respectively.
Finally, with little separating the two, they headed into the points race, a 20km race with points awarded every ten laps for contesting sprints. Anyone’s game. Archibald took charge quickly, doing her best to stay ahead of Valente and reduce the 6 point margin between them. With ten laps to go, and double points on this last sprint, Valente still led by a single point. Archibald kept Valente behind her as she sped round the track, the roar of the crowd following.
It was not until the final lap that Valente moved into another gear, as she slowly worked her way past Archibald, taking pole position over the finish line and claiming Gold. A bitter-sweet result for Archibald, but no doubt inspiring. She went on to help GB to Gold in both the Madison, alongside teammate Elinor Barker, and the Team Pursuit. With the Madison now an Olympic event, Archibald will face an interesting dilemma as to what to pursue for Tokyo.
With their win in the Team Pursuit the women finished the event on a high, joining the men’s team and giving Team GB a total of three Gold medals, and five overall. Germany topped the event’s table, with sprinter Kristina Vogel taking home three Golds, in the Sprint, Keirin, and Team Sprint. Elsewhere Wales’ Jonathan Mould took silver in the 15km Scratch Race.
It was a successful event not only for British riders but for the sport in general. Team GB’s stars will go on to the next World Cup in Milton, Canada with expectations high. As, we can hope, will Team KGF. Already shaking things up in British Cycling, there seems no signs they’re going to stop, and with several notable retirements and temporary absences within the GB squad, they’re certainly getting themselves noticed by coaches, looking to fill those gaps before Tokyo in 2020. Meanwhile Manchester will look forward to the National Track Championships in January.