My thoughts on the cycling at the Olympic Games.
I thought that the British team had little chance of doing as well as they had in Beijing but the performance was even better in London. In Beijing the professionalism of the British team had caught other nations by surprise but this time they had raised their level. For the GB squad to do as well as they did was truly remarkable.
At the World Championships earlier in the year the team had done well but other countries also looked good and even with the home advantage at the Olympics I thought Britain would find it hard. However, the final preparations and peaking at the right time were perfect.
The ironic thing is that Victoria Pendleton didn’t win her main event, the sprint, despite looking in much better shape than she had at the World Champs when she did win, though she did have some help from the officials then. In fact this was the best I’ve seen Pendleton look since she won her three titles at the World Championships in 2007. This meant that she was able to win the Keirin for the first time at a global championships since then. I’ve never been convinced by Victoria’s tactical riding in the Keirin but when she is riding as well as this she can make up for any mistakes in that department. Actually she rode pretty decent tactical races this time as well. I expected her to win the sprint after that but it seemed that the fight went out of her after her relegation in the first race of the final. In the second race she had a moment when she could have made a long sprint of it which might well have won the race and also tired out Anna Meares who tends to struggle when it comes to a third race. The moment passed and Meares won race two as it seemed that Pendleton had nothing more to give in the home straight. She just seemed relieved that it was all over. That was the final race of Victoria’s career. I don’t see her making a comeback. She has left a magnificent legacy fot the next generation. In my opinion Victoria Pendleton has claims to be the greatest sportswoman Britain has ever produced.
The next generation is already here. In Laura Trott there is a ready made successor to the title of Queen of the velodrome. Laura also has a wonderful, bubbly personality and this combined with her talent should make her one of the stars of British sport over the next few years. This year she had already won world titles in team pursuit and omnium and added the same titles in London.
The omnium is a bit of a strange event for the Olympics. It was brought in as a sop to the competitiors in the individual pursuit and points races when they lost their place in the Games as more sprints were introduced. It’s a good way of padding out the programme as there are so many races for just one gold medal. They really shouldn’t have got rid of classic events like the individual pursuit. Having team pursuits is fine but unfair on good riders who don’t have team-mates to back them up. There is very little to keep endurance based riders on the track. I can see why the UCI wanted to balance up the number of medals in the men’s and women’s programmes but it shouldn’t be at the expense of longer races. The real problem in this case lies with the IOC who limit the number of medals available to each sport. However, when you see the number of medals available in swimming, for instance, the limit in cycling seems quite low.
Having said that, watching the omnium can be fun, especially when Laura Trott rides the elimination race. This event can be a bit of a lottery but when Trott rides it she always seems to be in control and I never really doubted that she would win it.
The British rider I felt sorry for was Jess Varnish in the team pursuit. She and Pendleton were looking good in the heats but were disqualified for a faulty changeover. There were problems at the World Championships withthis event and I think that something has to be done to make the takeover zone more obvious so that cyclists know where they are. It is unsatisfactory to see so many disqualifications affecting the results. The British men were a little fortunate to get away with some chicanery from Phillip Hindes when he fell over with a “mechanical fault” after making a poor start in the team sprint. This could open a can of worms with riders falling over left,right and centre if they feel they haven’t made a good start. It is difficult to know which of the British teams was the best. Both the men’s and women’s team pursuiters were outstanding in breaking world records again and again.
Jason Kenny showed that it was the correct decision to pick him for the sprint when he won gold in the form of his life. The way Chris Hoy was riding he could also have won gold. It was just a shame that limiting each nation to one rider denied us a great showdown. That was a poor decision by the UCI. Most of the sprinters were already at the Games in the team sprint so it didn’t cut the numbers of cyclists competing in the Games, which was one of the reasons the IOC wanted fewer in each sport, (to restrict the numbers in the village). It just meant the sprints were weaker than the world championships, which is perhaps what the UCI wanted.
To end with Sir Chris Hoy seems appropriate as his Olympic career is also ending. To maintain his level over so many years in a variety of events,don’t forget that his original favoured event, the kilometre, was removed from the Olympics, is remarkable. He did get the benefit of multiple medals being available to him which boosted the numbers but he is without doubt one of Britain’s greatest ever sportsmen.