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Team GB build for future even in defeat

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Chris Bevan | 23:03 UK time, Friday, 26 March 2010

After the sheer elation of Sir Chris Hoy's victorious keirin ride on Thursday night, seeing Great Britain's team pursuit squad pipped for gold by a rampant Australia was undoubtedly a bitter pill to swallow for British cycling fans in Copenhagen.

But, if there is one track event where there is definitely a silver lining in defeat for British Cycling's performance director Dave Brailsford, it is in the four-man 4km race around 16 laps of the Ballerup Super Arena.

Yes, Brailsford had to watch riders from Australia - Team GB's fiercest cycling rivals - wave from the top of the medal podium for the fifth time this week, and in a highly-valued Olympic discipline to boot.

But keeping London 2012 in mind, we should remember Britain were without three of their strongest pursuit riders, Bradley Wiggins , Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh, who with Brailsford's approval - not to mention under his jurisdiction at Team Sky - are currently concentrating on the road, not the velodrome.

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And, even if Britain's young quartet of Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Ben Swift and Andy Tennant had struck gold in the Danish capital - and they came desperately close to doing so in a super-fast final that was the first in the event's history where both teams finished inside three minutes and 56 seconds - there are other reasons why their performance was so significant.

What is worth more than any gold medal is the evidence this week that, far from providing a distraction to Britain's ambitions on the track as might have been feared, the presence of Team Sky will actually enhance it by allowing Brailsford to micro-manage his prize assets - not just stars like Wiggins, but young riders with big potential like Swift and Geraint Thomas.

Ben Swift

Since December, the 22-year-old Swift has been able to concentrate on the World Championships and work on the team pursuit, something that would not have been an option had he stayed with Russian team Katusha, who he rode for in 2009.

As Brailsford explained to me, Team Sky has not had any negative impact on his planning for these championships - whether it be the presence of a rider like Swift, or the absence of the likes of Wiggins, who is focused on getting on the podium at the Tour de France in July.

In fact the only effects are positive; planning for track and road is in perfect harmony.

"If Bradley was still riding for Garmin, then would he be here? No. That's not Team Sky related, it's more about Bradley and his career," Brailsford said.

"It's the same with Ben, who is here. We sat down with him and worked out a programme that allowed him to come out of road racing and on to the track in good condition, make his senior debut here and put in a very decent performance.

"Now we will allow him a few weeks to get his road legs back and he might underperform a little bit until he gets back to where he belongs.

"That control is a massive benefit for a few weeks. That is a massive benefit from our perspective of also having Team Sky and being able to control road and track and it also works with Geraint Thomas. Our team pursuit squad here is not our number one line up and Geraint would make that, no doubt about it. However, like Bradley, he wants a year on the road.

"But I'm sure you will see Geraint back. We will be at the World Championships next year with our A-team in the team pursuit. We will take our strongest line up and be absolutely ready to go."

What about the riders? Well, Swift is certainly happy enough with his dual agenda. He was clearly disappointed with a silver medal but will still take a lot of positives away from his first world championships, including added incentive to triumph at the 2012 Olympics.

Seconds after stepping off the podium at the Super Arena, he told me: "I will definitely continue doing both road and track up to London - that is a big objective for me. If it doesn't happen for me I will try to push forward on the road but for the moment I want to do them both.

"It's been a fantastic experience this week, even if there is a lot hanging around that comes with it. I've enjoyed it and we have had a really good time. The team has been together since the start of the year and it has been a really good period."

Jason Queally

It's almost certain there will be more of the same to come for Swift - and the rest of the team pursuit squad, including Jason Queally.

Queally's fairy-tale return to the British set-up only got as far as the British pen this time around but he still deserves a mention here for forcing himself back into contention 10 years after his gold medal in the 1km time trial at the Sydney Olympics.

Brailsford never acts without good reason, particularly with London on the horizon and, if Queally can continue his technical development, then even at the age of 39, he too can be part of a bright future for Britain in the team pursuit.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Yes it's a young UK team but you didn't point out that the aussie team is even younger. Cam Meyer as the old man at 22. Hepburn and Dennis are both under 20. Whilst Wiggins and Thomas can come in, the aussie have talent not riding too. Potential for an absolute thrillers in TP every time they meet.

  • Comment number 2.

    Perhaps the lack of success of British cyclists across all disciplines in former times has made me wary of our immediate, and assumed, position as a cycling tour de force. In both the velodrome and the Women’s road programme Britain rocks, yet in terms of the men’s World Cup road events we have still a way to go.
    The Scot, Robert Millar – unquestionably the best “Grand Tour” rider GB has ever produced - realised very early on in his career (aged 19, I seem to remember) that success was not going to come his way unless he subsumed his natural instincts, bit the bullet and moved, full time, to France (OK Belgium). Team-wise, through a continental training regime, linguistically and in ones general lifestyle, one needs to live the life of a champion in order to so become. Brailsford, it seems, concurs with this policy.
    Surely, no matter how improved the infrastructure and the progression - those qualities that have become the breakaway tenets of Brailsford’s Team GB tenure – they must be now seen as under pressure from the current situation. I had assumed that Brailsford would stand down as Team GB director when he accepted the commercial role as supremo of Sky professional cycling team. The conflict of interests’ situation inherent in this dual appointment, especially considering the sponsors’ position as media moguls, does not altogether make for a soundness of future for Team GB.
    However Sky (and how I cringe over Murdock’s involvement) has come out of the current deal pretty well - an advantage, it now seems, that will continue. The National Team sponsored by the same company that employs the National Coaching Director as the DS of their professional road team – is it just me, or does that sit uncomfortably with anyone else? Clearly not you, Chris! Massive lottery fund support for the emerging GB talent - from early 2000 through to those Beijing golds (and beyond) - gave ANY prospective sponsor a high quality, ready-made, YET relatively cheap, athlete base: the real expense in any sport, of course, being the development phase. And that is even more expensive in those sports, like cycling, where technical considerations are paramount.
    Brailsford meanwhile continues to promote the commercial sector through the window of nationalistic success: the Grand Scheme objective being to produce a British winner of the Tour De France. This though (unlike bagging more Olympic gold) he admits, may take some time.

  • Comment number 3.

    Er - sorry to be picky, but Queally's a sprinter, not a member of the pursuit squad.

  • Comment number 4.

    #3, you having a giraffe? Sorry to be picky but you need to read up on Queally.

  • Comment number 5.

    No mention of the Aussie team riding with only 3 riders for a lot of the time and still winning..

 

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