Our preview of the Great Britain team also features extensive interviews with the riders – courtesy of British Cycling and the Press Association. Are they on track for their second visit to the 2012 Velodrome in August?
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With the London Olympics only 6 months away and with only the final round of the World Cup and the World Championships in Melbourne in April left to rack up Olympic qualification points, the test event that the Olympic Velodrome is hugely important to all the nations involved. But with their home games approaching – and having dominated the competition so completely in Beijing four years ago – it’s particularly important to the Great Britain squad.
It’s so important – and so well timed in terms of the track season – that the Great Britain team management even considered sending an under strength squad to the Worlds – or even not going at all. They’re now committed to sending a full squad, but the fact that they even considered it shows how important the ‘London Prepares’ event is.
In many respects, this will be a dress rehearsal for the Games with – give or take the restrictions on squad size imposed by the IOC and the possible inclusion of Bradley Wiggins post-Tour – something very close to the Olympic line-up.
The rest of the World Cup hasn’t figured so prominently in the team’s preparation – with a strong Sprint squad braving the cold of Astana but almost no presence in Cali which provided an outing for the Women’s Team Pursuit squad – would brought back a Gold Medal and a young Academy squad starting their preparations for Rio 2016 in Beijing.
The team has preferred to run a series of intense ‘boot camps’ in Manchester, Palma and Perth – with team principal Dave Brailsford making sure that everybody knows they have no more access to the Olympic track than any other country – a situation that will continue after the games with the velodrome closed for over a year while the legacy bike park is completed.
The endurance riders boot camps have been the most disruptive with Team Sky road riders Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift and Peter Kennaugh missing the early season road races to concentrate on building their track form.
And while the Sprinters may appear to have spent the winter filming razor and shampoo commercials, they’ve been on their own series of camps.
So where does Jess Varnish think Great Britain’ Women’s Team Sprint duo are – relative to the competition – at this stage of the seasom? She told the Press Association “Obviously, the Australians are still up there, and the Chinese did a really quick time – they sort of matched the world record at their home World Cup in Beijing. So, we’ll see how we go.”
“It doesn’t really matter how you do at other competitions. It’s all about on the day where everybody’s there.”
Varnish’s Team Sprint partner Victoria Pendleton has three more competitions left before retiring at the end of the Olympics in August. “I just want to make the most of every last opportunity that I have. It’s kind of weird. I was thinking about it yesterday – this is the last time I will do a World Cup. It’s really weird. I feel a little bit emotional because it has been a whirlwind of a short career and I have travelled so much been to so many World Cips and you just take it for granted that there will be another one next year so it’s kind of a weird scenario.
This one’s a little bit different, though? “Yeah, definitely. It’s not as if I can suddenly train harder than I have ever done before because I feel I do the most I can do anyway. I am always trying my best but it definitely keeps me in a nice frame of mind, a good frame of mind in terms of knowing that I am ticking these things off. It’s quite exciting and daunting at the same time. It’s definitely – I think getting this close to the end… gosh! – it’s definitely given me a new lease of life almost so yeah, it’s definitely a positive thing.
How’s her form? “I am just on the back end of that gym training phase so I have been doing it all through the winter and I am pleased with the results. I have probably gained more strength in that time than I have for the last 3 season. I feel I have developed some exercises what I achieved last year or the year before. In terms of strength training I am really pleased that I have dedicated that period of time to it. I know that does take a little bit away from my top end speed but the preparation was definitely worth it so I am not by any means in a specific phase yet. that will start after the world cup.”
Better form still for the Worlds? “Yes, definitely the World Championships I will be well on the way. I will go back in to the gym to consolidate the training I have done and missed through being at the World Up. After that point it will be more race specific through the World Champs towards the Olympics so…hopefully that’s when we will see some speedy legs.”
And will she missing racing her great Australian rival Anna Meares? “I am not going to miss racing full stop. It’s really hard to explain…I have really enjoyed it but I think because I have beaten everyone already once – not that I am satisfied with that – I have done it… there isn’t anyone who has beaten me and I have never gone back and beaten them so I kind of feel that I have ticked a lot of the boxes already. There is maybe at the moment six girls in the world who are within the range of winning a gold medal at the Olympics. They are all very close in the top echelon.
Is that the strongest field u can remember? !Yeah, definitely. The speeds and the qualifying times have got faster and faster over the last 3 years and there has been a real improvement in women’s sprinting so it has moved on, the game has moved on. I still consider myself within that top group so anything is possible really.”
She sounds as though she’ll be relieved when it’s all over. When PA puts the question to here, she doesn’t even have to thinki about it. “Yeah, I think i am actually. Everyone says: ‘ You will not be able to stay away from it.. give it a couple of years and you will be back’ and I was like ‘Yeah maybe in a diff
erent discipline..’ I won’t miss that at all. I would really enjoy to do like a bunch race or any kind of racing a bit different. I quite enjoy that. I miss that, I used to do it as a kid and haven’t been able to do anything like that. I may not say goodbye to cycling in total but definitely to track sprinting. I won’t be missing that, believe me! It’s the worst event isn’t it?!”
“First of all you are at the track all day so mainly doing nothing so you can’t escape the environment and it’s just up and down up and down and you have to get for a race, then chill out, then you have to get up for a race… it’s just…
And the Olympics will be more intense still? “I have come to this conclusion… it’s taken me three years… that it’s just another bike race on a different track with the same girls. I might win, I might not win, but I have no more control than that.. so I just have to kind of.. I am really feeling more relaxed than I have felt in a long time about the whole thing…I am not saying I don’t care. Of course riding around a wooden track on a bike with no gears and brakes is a bit random. It’s entertaining at the end of the day. It’s not life or death…
“I might make it seem trivial by saying that but that doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously because I have spent my whole life trying to be really good at it, if not the best. That’s all i can do and I will always continue to do my best. It’s in my nature so I have nothing to worry about do I? Steve has been trying to tell me this from the start and it wasn’t until it turned 2012 that… it kind of… hit me. I suddenly thought I don’t want to wish this year away full of dread and anxiety and despair. I want to enjoy it because it will be the last time I do it.
“That’s where I am right now. Whether i stay here or not is the question. I feel really positive at the moment. In 2010 I said I was going to quit – I said that was going to be it after the Worlds and everyone said: ‘This is the best Worlds performance we have ever seen. You just can’t’.. and I said: ‘That’s because in my head I’d said that this was the last time i was going to do it’. It’s been hard. 2008 was miles behind me in the horizon and I looked the other way and 2012 seemed impossibly far away and you just felt as if you were stuck in the middle of nowhere, in no-man’s land. But I think now that I am finally arriving at this end of it I am thinking yeah I am going to enjoy it and say that I did my best whatever happens. A result would be great, obviously but I have had a really good run.”
What about the Men’s Sprint squad? For Kenny, Sunday will be the first time he pulls on the World Champions jersey in competition. He told PA “I’m not sure [how I’ll feel] to be honest with you. Obviously, it’ll be special, racing in it come Sunday. It doesn’t really change anything as far as we’re concerned now.”
“We’re so close to the World Championships and that’s our main focus now. We’re deep in our preparations. It’ll be special to wear and hopefully I’ll be at the sharp end in the sprint, but we just have to wait and see.”
And his form? “Not bad. It’s coming back now. We had a good training camp in Perth in December and I’ve just been working hard since then. So, hopefully, I’m starting to get a bit more pure speed back after a pretty slow start to the year, to be fair.”
“So, I’m pretty happy with where I am now and hopefully I’ll be at the sharp end in the sprint.”
How does he feel about the team dynamic with Ross Edgar – excited? “Yeah, I am. If I had to pick, I do prefer riding in Man Two.”
“The thing is, when I’m going well, I’ll ride anywhere. But Man One’s quite a hard place to be when you’re kind of suffering a bit because the time everyone can see on the board.”
“Ross has shown some really good times there, to be fair, and I think he’s coming back from a little bit of an injury now. But he’s showing a bit more potential again to step up and put a good time in. So, hopefully, that’ll put us in a good spot.”
“Obviously, the German guys have stepped up and smashed it recently. But there’s not an awful lot we can do about that except working away and trying to get quicker, which is what we need to do.
“We need to find a lot of time.”
Asked whether the squad could be reshuffles between now and the World Championship, Kenny conceded “Anything’s possible. “Matt [Crampton] showed at the Revolution he’s going well, so you can never write him off. So anything can happen between now and then.”
Talking of Edgar’s form, he told PA “I’ve had a couple of weeks just off the bike completely. I just had to rest. It was a bit of a blow. I came back from Perth and we had a really good stint of training over there and was just looking to do.. it was quite general training over there. I was really looking forward to getting some real quality work done but it just came at that point – that transition point – it was a bit of a psychological blow but I seemed to come out of it alright. I have had a few weeks of proper training which has been alright. The break didn’t hurt me too much. It’s hard to know how much it affected me but I feel alright. I think we will be able to perform OK.
“It was a gym injury. I sort of squatted without any supports and sort of went from squatting without any support to squatting with support but I knocked the weight up 20kg while doing that and it was just a bit too much I think. I didn’t feel it instantly but it was a bit of a wear and tear kind of injury.
“I kept on training on it because I thought ‘these things sort themselves out’, but they don’t acutally (laughs) and it just got to the point where I couldn’t do anything. I was hobbling around. I couldn’t sit down wihtout any pain. I had a scan on it and it brought up a few things, which was a blow. I took a deep breath in and everyone was like ‘It’s gonna be alright’ (laughs) ‘Im sure it’s not that bad’ and then they said I had a bulging disc, I had torn a muscle and there was something wrong with my hamstring. And I was just like ‘OK…!’
“I felt bad. The physio nursed me through it, the whole thing really. He did a great job, really. I was off the bike for 2 weeks. They said I couldn’t do anything for a month while my muscle repaired. We weren’t sure exactly what it was but the pain was coming from the bulging disc in the back so it took a bit more time. With Phil’s help I could come back a bit quicker. It couldn’t have been any quicker than it was. Then it was just a case of testing it and testing it gradually building up the training and seeing what I could do.”
And the World Cup? It’s a big chance for me to show what I can do. Or where i am at now. The only thing is that we are only going to
get better and better. I feel like I want to keep that momentum going and I don’t want to sort of take a step backwards from my last sort of decent lap in Kazakhstan. I want to be faster than I was there and if I am faster than I was there then I will be happy.”
Crampton – riding under the Sky Tack Cycling banner at the World Cup in the Sprint and the Keirin also talked to PA about his form. “It’s good. Good. Good few weeks. Good build-up since Christmas and looking forward to this week.”
Where’s he been spending his time in training? “Team sprint’s the one we all focus on or I look at the most and keirin, I think. Keirin, that’s been my strongest event.