This article titled “Britain’s Olympic cyclists are on track for a golden summer” was written by William Fotheringham and Guardian staff, for The Guardian on Sunday 22nd January 2012 15.55 UTC
Are preparations in good shape?
Overall, the team look more rounded than in Beijing but it would be unwise to expect a repeat of the gold‑medal rush of 2008. Great Britain cyclists will have medal hopes in all 14 track and road events, but on the track they have not laid down a marker in the same style they did a year from Beijing: among their eight medals at the last world championships, there were only two golds compared to seven in the 2007 world championships.
The big development has been the emergence of a world‑class men’s road squad, spurred by the creation of Team Sky. Winning road-race gold in London will be a bigger ask than at the world championships in Copenhagen, due to the tougher course, but Rod Ellingworth will select from strength with a priceless asset in Mark Cavendish.
The women’s road team no longer amounts to Nicole Cooke alone – although that creates issues of its own – and Emma Pooley has kicked on since her surprise silver in the time trial in Beijing. London will come a year or two too soon for the emerging mountain biker Annie Last, although the BMX rider Shanaze Reade remains dominant in her field and will be a solid contender for gold.
On the track, the team have adapted well to the rejigged programme: Jess Varnish has slotted into the start position in the team sprint alongside Victoria Pendleton, the women’s team pursuiters are now probably the best GB cycling gold‑medal hope, and Laura Trott and Ed Clancy are European champions in their respective omniums.
However, the opposition have raised their game in the last four years: Russia and New Zealand have emerged in the team pursuit alongside Australia, the Germans beat GB’s world-best time for the team sprint in the autumn, and France’s Grégory Baugé has dominated the match sprint since Beijing.
If there is one concern about the track team, it is that they need three individuals to be in perfect form: Pendleton, Sir Chris Hoy – the squad’s iconic leader – and pursuiter and omnium rider Clancy. As many as eight medals could depend on this trio.
What issues must still be resolved?
The next six months is largely a matter of fine-tuning, but there is one burning question: the perfect lineup for the men’s team sprint has yet to be determined. Hoy and Jason Kenny are nailed-on, but the right man-one – a starter who can get close to 17sec for the first lap – has proved impossible to find since Jamie Staff’s retirement.
Elsewhere, Pendleton has changed her training approach, and the outcome remains to be seen, Hoy and Kenny are in a straight fight for the single men’s match-sprint slot, and there remains a chance that Bradley Wiggins could be a last-minute inclusion in the team pursuit, if need be.
Key selection events for the track squad are the London world cup at the Olympic velodrome in late February and the world championships in Melbourne in early April.
The other major issue is leadership in the women’s road-race team, which has two strong finishers in upcoming Lizzie Armitstead and the Beijing champion Cooke. Accommodating both will be a challenge for management.
David Millar’s possible participation – in the road race and time trial – depends on the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s hearing in March on the British Olympic Association’s lifetime ban for drugs cheats.
What they say
Dave Brailsford, Team GB cycling performance director
“Overall we’re well on the way. We’re happy with where we are at. On the track, training has been going well. Our squad is well established and the sprinters in particular have just put in a big, consistent training block, and we’re in good shape. We couldn’t ask for more. In BMX Shanaze Reade will be in medal contention and in mountain biking Annie Last is progressing well.
There’s been a lot of progress made on the road, both road race and time trial. Looking at Brad Wiggins and Emma Pooley there’s no reason why we won’t be competitive in all four events, men and women, and that’s a sign of how much ground we’ve gained in the last two years.
We don’t do medal counts but in terms of being podium competitive, there is no area where we can be written off, even with an outside chance.
On the track we can be competitive in all disciplines but the number of nations in that position has increased. Now there might be five or six in most areas, whereas in Beijing it was any one out of three or four, so the competition is tougher. We are in the mix but so are more people.”
GB cyclists are nailed-on favourites in only a couple of events – women’s team pursuit and men’s keirin – but last time round the team progressed rapidly in the run-in and there is plenty to come, from boffins and athletes alike.
2013 New Year honours?
Arise Sir Mark of Cavendish.
Performance director Sara Symington
With six months to go … Everyone is working really hard, not just because they want to be a part of the London Olympics, but because they want to be competitive when they’re there. No stone is being left unturned in the quest to be successful, and what also helps is that competition for places will be fierce, so the selection shoots in April are going to be tense. That is keeping everyone on top of their game, though they realise that making the team – we’ll have three men and three women taking part – will be only the start.
Medal tally prediction … It would be unfair of me to talk about targets. Everyone in our squad is capable of competing with the best in the world.
Key dates Olympic selection shoots: 31 Mar-1 Apr, 14-15 Apr, 19-21 Apr.
Performance director Jens Grill
With six months to go … Badminton has a year-long qualifying race which does not finish until the end of April. The world ranking list of 3 May will then be used to determine which players are eligible. Until then all the GB squad members still in contention will be looking for vital ranking points. England’s Chris Adcock and Scotland’s Imogen Bankier defeated several seeded opponents on the way to silver in mixed doubles at the world championships last August. This proves our players have the ability to rise to the big occasion.
Medal tally prediction … One medal is not completely unrealistic, but our immediate objective is to get players qualified in all five disciplines.
Key dates 6-11 Mar: Yonex All England Open Championships. 3 May: selection deadline. Late May: squad named
Performance director Chris Spice
With six months to go … Our longer term goals are to ensure our Futures and Junior programmes are strong and at the same time to have improved national leagues for men and women, as well as having a fully operational performance system of elite talent development. We are on track with our targets for the Games, having both teams compete in the 2011 EuroBasket tournaments (European finals). We anticipate with good preparation and both teams having all our top players that we could be ‘the’ surprise sport of the Olympic Games.
Medal tally prediction … Our goal is for one of our teams to finish in the top eight at the Olympic Games, ie the quarter-finals or better.
Key dates 18 Jul: women’s international, GB v USA, Manchester. 19 Jul: men’s international, GB v USA, Manchester.
Performance director Rob McCracken
With six months to go … The squad has performed very well in 2011 and to win 11 medals at three major tournaments and have five boxers qualified for the Olympic Games is a superb achievement. All of the men and women have made significant progress in the last 12 months and their results show they are accomplished international performers who can challenge for a medal in every tournament they enter. As long as the boxers continue to work hard we have every reason to feel confident as we head into 2012.
Medal tally prediction … We have been set a target of between two and five medals, between the men and the women, by UK Sport.
Key dates 13-22 Apr: men’s European Olympic qualifying. 9-20 May: women’s world champs & Olympic qualifier.
Performance director John Anderson
With six months to go … Our preparations are going to plan. We have a philosophy of continuous improvement in our Olympic programme. Since September 2011, our athletes in both sprint and slalom disciplines have been training at their home venues and making the most of the calm weather in the UK. However, many are now heading off for periods of warm weather training in Australia, Florida and South Africa. Energy is being focused on delivering quality performances in every training session.
Medal tally prediction … We are targeting three medals in total in canoeing, including two gold medals among them.
Key dates Slalom: 13-15 Apr Olympic selection event, Lee Valley. Sprint: squad named mid-June.
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