East London’s Lee Valley Velodrome, the venue of Team GB’s record medal haul in 2012, saw Britain take an impressive medal count for the first time since Olympic triumph four years ago. Five golds, one silver, and three bronze were enough to see the British team placed above rivals Germany, Australia and Russia respectively. Despite this, the road to Rio is not paved in the same colour as the medals that once again hang around Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish’s necks. The championships showed some of GB’s weaknesses that will have to be improved upon if they are to achieve their aim of bettering their performance in London.
Good showings by both men’s and women’s endurance were the backbone of the strong performance. The near miss by GB to win the men’s team pursuit on the second day showed that they are in good form and seem to be peaking at the right time in the Olympic cycle.
One significant milestone was Jon Dibben’s points race gold. Not only was it Dibben’s first World Title—thoroughly deserved after a consistently successful 2015/16—but it was also the first gold medal won by a british man at the World Championships since 2013. When he spoke to The Mancunion in October last year, GB endurance coach Chris Newton was adamant in his belief that Britain’s men would finally end their gold medal drought before the Olympics. That duck having now been broken appears to have vindicated that confidence and will come as a tremendous relief to the management team.
Part of the revitalisation in the success of the men’s team is surely down to Team Wiggins. The existence of a special squad, spearheaded up by Wiggo himself, devoted to the men’s endurance team the whole year round will have eased commercial pressures on all the riders to do unnecessary road racing during the rest of the year. All four of the silver medal winning pursuit team are Wiggins riders, along with points winner Dibben and Individual Pursuit bronze medallist Andy Tennant.
Laura Trott once again showed her class as the pre-eminent female endurance track rider, claiming two golds in the scratch race and omnium. She has been the world number one for some time and is fast becoming Britain’s only safe bet for glory in Rio, by consistency being at the top of the sport in all four years of this Olympic cycle. She will be the favourite for the Omnium in the summer and a key part of the pursuit team, that will be raced with four riders over four kilometres at the Olympics for the first time, matching it with the men’s event.
Jason Kenny also made his mark by taking the individual sprint title—his first gold medal since Keirin glory in 2013. After a poor recent few years, Kenny appears to have peaked at the right time, especially with younger British sprinters like Lewis Oliva and Matt Rotherham having strong seasons breathing down his neck.
However, no matter how Britain fared at other events at these Championships, Mark Cavendish’s performance in the Omnium was always going to come under the most scrutiny. The rider L’Équipe named as the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour de France has famously never won a medal at the Olympic Games, being the only empty-handed member of the track team in Beijing. He managed sixth place in the omnium and gold with Wiggins in the Madison on his return to the World Championships, but will have to improve on that over the spring. This will be especially difficult, since most of the international track events take place between September and March, meaning that there will be precious few opportunities to make any gains.
Under these circumstances, it is now highly likely that they will opt for points race victor Dibben, seeing as he had been the first choice for the omnium until Cavendish declared his intention to compete in the event. Cavendish’s road commitments also complicate things somewhat, with potential dispute between his employers on the road (Team Dimension Data) considering him for all three weeks of le Tour and GB director Shane Sutton insisting that he leave at least a week early to prepare for the Olympics.
What will also be the major disappointment of the Championships is the failure of Jess Varnish and Katy Marchant to qualify for the Olympics in the team sprint. They finished fifth overall, seemingly enough to see them through but were only two places ahead of France, and needed to be three ahead to gain the final European place at Rio. Varnish, disappointed to have missed out by one place and angry at the GB management for not prioritising their qualification, told BBC Sport “How many more times can I keep putting my life on hold, making these choices for my career, if it’s not going to pay off, through no fault of our own?”.
It will also be disappointing that GB failed to hit the mark in as many Olympic events. Three of the five golds came in events that are no longer in the Olympic programme (points race, scratch race, and Madison). While winning them shows good form, they will really have to finely hone the events that they will be competing in at the Olympics.
This year’s World Championships have shown that Great Britain are still a force to be reckoned with in track cycling. The usual suspects of Trott, Wiggins, and Kenny are now back to their best, with new talent like Dibben and Tennant looking to make waves on their Olympic débuts. However, as has been the case for the last four years, domination is by no means assured and we might well be in for a shock if we expect GB to surpass their 2012 haul of seven gold medals, especially since there are now only nine up for grabs to start with. Britain have performed above expectations compared to how they have been over the last four years. Let’s hope this means they can translate this into more Olympic glory.