The final major track cycling event before the Olympics was the world championships held in Melbourne. In many events this was a stronger competition than the Olympics will be due to the ill-considered decision to only allow one competitor from each nation into the individual events at the Games. The stupidity of this was nowhere better illustrated than in the men’s sprint event where the quarter-finals had three competitors from France and two each from Britain and Germany. So at the Olympics four of the best eight sprinters in the world won’t be in the individual sprint. A complete joke. I want to see the best competing in the Olympic Games.
The likely winner of the gold medal at the games is going to be the same although there is a chink in the armour which emerged. France’s Gregory Bauge was completely dominant in every sprint until the second race of the final when Britain’s Jason Kenny tried to sprint all the way from the start instead of just using the first laps as a tactical build-up to the final 200 metres. He nearly caught Bauge napping and only lost the race after a ruling that he had come off the sprinters line and impeded Bauge. The Frenchman was clearly exhausted after the race and this may be useful for the Games. If this tactic is tried in the first race of the final, which is best of three, then it may so exhaust Bauge that he won’t recover for the other two sprints even if he wins the first. I can’t see any other way of beating Bauge if he is in the same form as he was in Melbourne.
If Britain was a little unfortunate to lose that sprint on a disqualification, in the women’s sprint things went the other way. Victoria Pendleton hadn’t looked at her best in the team sprint, where she and Jess Varnish had only finished fourth behind a very impressive German team, or in the early rounds of the individual sprint. In the semi-final she was up against home favourite Anna Meares who had set a world record in the qualification for the sprint. In the first race Pendleton crashed to the track while edging over towards Meares who was passing her in the home straight. Race two also went to Meares but she was then relegated after the judges ruled she had impeded Pendleton. Race 3 was won by the narrowest of margins by Pendleton who appeared to have slightly better stamina than Meares over the three races. The final saw Pendleton taking on Lithuania’s Simona Krupucaite. Pendleton won the first race but lost the second only to see the Lithuanian disqualified for a very marginal infringement in taking her line. Victoria thus equalled the record of six women’s world individual sprint titles. The manner of victory was a little unsatisfactory and the sprints were rather spoiled by over-zealous officiating. There were numerous disqualifications for minor transgressions which seemed to make little difference to the final sprints. It is difficult to assess who is the top sprinter at the moment but if I were to predict the Olympic winner now I would tip Meares.
Sir Chris Hoy had been beaten by Jason Kenny in the semi-final of the sprint and the GB team had been disqualified in the team sprint. His championships were redeemed by a brilliant piece of opportunism in the Keirin where he switched to the inside of the track on the final bend and somehow found a gap between the two riders ahead of him to take the gold.
The British team pursuiters both won gold medals in finals against Australia. The men’s event was a classic with the lead changing hands several times. GB seemed to have it won but the Aussies remaining three men finished very strongly to almost snatch victory. The women had a clearer victory after a well paced race took them ahead after a fast start from Australia. Both winning teams set new world records on the very fast track in Melbourne.
One of the winning pursuit team was young Laura Trott, who went on to win the omnium event which will be in the Olympics. I particularly enjoyed her riding in the elimination race where she lurks at the back and then just does enough to avoid being last over the line and face elimination. In the London World Cup and in Melbourne she has won the race employing those tactics. Trott looks to be a real star in the making for the Olympics with a possible two golds on offer.
Ben Swift is part of the team pursuit squad but didn’t make the team in Melbourne. He made up for it by winning the scratch race, a non-Olympic event, with a beautifully timed effort with a few laps to go. He just avoided being reeled in by the pack.
So, a successful championships for Britain a few months from the Olympics. GB and Australia dominated the medals table with the Brits having the edge in the Olympic events.