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Hoy's perfect 10

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Chris Bevan | 22:46 UK time, Thursday, 25 March 2010

Ballerup Super Arena, Copenhagen

The message from British Cycling so far this week may be that medals don't matter much at these World Championships - but try telling that to Sir Chris Hoy.

Sweat was still dripping from the Scot's face after he stepped off the podium where he had collected gold for the keirin, and his first request was for a pair of trainers so he could release his aching feet from the discomfort of his painfully tight cycling shoes.

But he still wore the beaming smile that had been plastered across his face from the moment he clinched his 10th world track title and the sense of pride he radiated showed exactly what it meant to get his hands on another coveted rainbow jersey after injury denied him the opportunity in 2009.

Yes, the road to London 2012 is more important but personal success matters too - especially with a landmark victory such as this - as well as giving the British fans who travelled to Denmark something to cheer about.

hoy_2_595_ap.jpgHoy won his first world title in 2002 - photo: AP

And, seeing as the keirin is still an OIympic event, I'm guessing British Cycling's performance director Dave Brailsford was delighted as well, meaning everybody connected with the British team was happy, probably for the first time this week.

That's because, until Hoy's memorable triumph, day two of racing in this quiet Copenhagen suburb had been horribly like day one, from a British perspective in any case - I'm pretty sure the Australians here had enjoyed it rather more.

Hoy, who had been undone by a broken pedal on Wednesday at the start of the men's team sprint, began his keirin campaign by being sent crashing to earth by a rival rider, with Malaysia's Josiah Ng Onn Lam subsequently - and rightly - being disqualified for cutting across the 34-year-old Scot at the start of their first-round heat.

Beforehand, Hoy's race had been stopped because fans had hung Union Jacks too near to the track and it seemed everything was against Britain in general, and the reigning Olympic champion in particular.

Unscathed after the crash, Hoy dusted himself down before storming into the second round, though precious little else went right for Team GB in the next few events.

There was another case of deja vu in the women's team pursuit, where Wendy Houvenaghel had taken silver in the individual event on day one.

This time, Houvenaghel, Lizzie Armitstead and Joanna Rowsell lost their title to the resurgent Aussie riders, and seeing New Zealand break their world record in the bronze medal race just rubbed salt into the wound.

And the disappointment suffered by Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish, who finished fourth in the team sprint, echoed that experienced 24 hours earlier by Chris Newton when he was denied a place on the podium by one point in the points race; with Newton's near-misses continuing on Thursday when he had to settle for fifth place in the scratch race.

In the meantime, Australia were mopping up the medals, with their women adding the team sprint to their team pursuit crown and making it four wins in two days.

Does it matter? Not to Brailsford, who is adamant that wins in any non-Olympic discipline are, well, fool's gold - but he admitted some of his riders, like many fans, can sometimes take a bit more persuading.

brails_595_getty.jpgBrailsford has been a key figure in Britain's cycling success - photo: Getty

"The overall medal table this week is not the critical thing," Brailsford told me when we spoke, appropriately enough, during the men's individual pursuit; an event Britain used to be unstoppable at but do not bother with now it has been dropped from the Olympic programme.

"There are, dare I say, a lot of soft medals in non-Olympic events which will cloud the picture," he explained. "We will just look at the Olympic disciplines and where we are at in those in relation to the rest of the world.

"We also have to be mindful that we are mid-Olympic cycle and our riders have to be able to come back and have more to give when it really counts. If you max out here, which I think a lot of the other nations are doing, then where do you go? We are not maxed out, that's for sure.

"But do the riders always understand that we are looking at the bigger picture? No, no and no. Most of the time it is very difficult for them to accept. And it is even hard for us to take too.

"It hurts me, and I can stand back and see an overview of what we are trying to do in moving step by step towards a much bigger goal. For the riders, a lot of them judge themselves by their performance on a bike so, when they don't win, they perceive they have let people down.

"It's not like that though. My only concern is that they go out and give it their best shot. We have got to fight but we don't have to win. We don't have to win anything here."

Despite his victory, Hoy agrees with the party line - although he realised the significance of breaking Britain's gold medal duck in a sport we have become used to dominating.

"It was important for the team as well," Hoy added. "Although the performances across the board from our riders have been excellent, we hadn't won a gold medal and inevitably the media were going to start asking questions. So it's good to take a bit of pressure off the rest of the team."

Minutes after crossing the line, Hoy was talking about developing his keirin tactics to keep his edge up to the London Games and saying how he will have to improve if he wants to be champion again.

But all that can wait, as first he will have the chance of an 11th world title when he rides in the sprint on Sunday. Only France's Arnaud Tourmant, with 14, has more rainbow jerseys and Hoy is confident of moving closer to that mark before this week is out.

"This win is great for my confidence," explained the Scot. "I certainly ride on morale and when my confidence is up I get the best out of myself. There's no pressure on me now. I've retained the world title in an Olympic event. The sprint is going to be an extremely hard challenge but it's one I'm looking forward to now, so bring it on!"

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  • Comment number 1.

    I may be mistaken but wasn't it New Zealand that broke the womens team pursuit world record? at least thats what i heard on commentary but they might be wrong. Good blog none the less, i do get the sense though as you have pointed out that Team GB are looking at the bigger picture, that being London 2012 yes it would be nice to rack up the medals at these championships, but i think this is more to gauge where GB are compared to the rest of the field, who are no doubt trying to beat GB who are - at least recently - rightly regarded as the benchmark in Track cycling. From what i have seen so far, the aussies and Kiwis are looking impressive at these games, but i have no doubts that Team GB will be top of the tree come the Olympics when it will truly matter especially on home soil.

  • Comment number 2.

    Oops, yep it was New Zealand who broke the women's team pursuit record... I've just changed that.

    Lots to think about already from these Championships...I spoke to the Australian performance manager (head coach) Paul Brosnan about their resurgence today, and will hopefully do the same with someone from the New Zealand team tomorrow (Fri) to try and get their perspective on this week, the 2012 Games, their own chances and what they make of the British team.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm 100% behind Dave Brailsford on this one. Track cycling is still a relatively minor sport, although exposure in the UK is growing as a result of Olympic success.

    The only way to increase its exposure is through more Olympic success, and that's where efforts must be concentrated. Take the recent Winter Olympics as an example. We had world champions in the squad who didn't perform, and whose names will be forgotten. Everyone knows who Rhona Martin is though.

    As an aside, I'm really disappointed there isn't individual pursuit anymore. We really owned that one.

  • Comment number 4.

    The Olympics matter because thats where the funding is aiming at, halfway through the four year cycle, they're probably bang on track...sorry about the puns!!

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    It must be so infuriating for the track cycling events at the Olympics to be changed almost every Games! It's ridiculous. Now they're removing the men and women's individual pursuits, why?

    You wouldn't remove the men and women's hurdles from athletics would you. It's a terrible shame for the British team.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm not with Berrisford on this. Being World Champion, is being World Champion. You try telling those guys and girls in the "non-Olympic" disciplines that they aren't as good as the rest. Funny that, because we are now competing in disciplines we just "didn't care about" before because they were non-Olympic.

    Berrisford's right on one thing: the public need convincing, because as far as I am concerned, he's not doing his best to put us at the top of the medals table, which is what history will remember.

  • Comment number 8.

    I totally agree with some of the previous comments regarding the removal of the individual pursuit from the Games. It's ludicrous! The pursuit is one of, if not THE, blue ribbon event of the track cycling programme. GB has always been a major player in the pursuit, think back to Hugh Porter, Tony Doyle, Sean Yates, Chris Boardman, Graeme Obree and of course now Wiggo and co., perhaps the Olympic Committee is looking for a way to end the GB dominance? Oh well, we'll just have to console ourselves with the team pursuit medals! I agree that there should be parity between the mens and womens programmes, but not at the expense of such a classic race as the pursuit.


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