How Team GB have become the greatest velodrome cyclists on the planet
t’s safe to say that Great Britain’s cycling team doesn’t like being boiled down to buzz phrases. However there was one phrase that buzzed around the velodrome centre like a mosquito over the final few days of track competition in Rio, as journalists and rivals tried to get to the bottom of Great Britain’s extraordinary success.
The GB cycling team — the athletes, coaches and mechanics in the track centre but also the army of coaches, sports scientists and performance analysts whose work often goes unseen — were “controlling the controllables.” It meant deploying new skinsuits, riding new bikes, and practising starts, changeovers and splits so much in training that they could treat their preolympics Newport holding camp as a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
Laura Trott’s second competition of the Games — after helping GB to dominate the women’s team pursuit — is about as uncontrollable a track cycling event as you’ll find at the Olympics. The omnium takes place over two days, involves six tests of endurance and features three bunch races where just about anything can happen. But just you try telling that to the 24-year-old from Cheshunt.
“I felt in control, I felt strong, I felt good out there,” Trott said after winning gold and, in so doing, becoming Britain’s greatest ever female Olympian. “I’ve done so much hard work for the points race [the final race in the omnium], training and doing race stuff with [women’s endurance coach] Paul Manning that I knew coming into it that I would have the legs for it.”
She had the head for it as well. There are multiple races going on within a points race as a rider’s target varies from racing for the hell of it, chasing a medal, to defending a podium position. Each rider’s tactics will depend on what they feel is the more achievable outcome based on their form and what they believe their opponent’s form is. Keeping tabs on all of this and watching as tactics change mid-race, while riding on the limit, is a task that few riders ever master.
Trott’s form in Rio was so hot that it almost offset the unpredictability of bunch racing. She held the elimination race — Trott’s speciality — under her thumb. She finished second in the opening scratch race to Tatsiana Sharakova, meaning the Belarussian would be her quarry in the pursuit and she’d benefit from a couple of laps of her slipstream. By the time the points race came around, she made the highly experienced Sarah Hammer look ragged throughout the 100-lap race, as she wrestled a bike that looked too big for her.
Track events, August 11-16
Track cycling medal table Country Gold
Great Britain Netherlands Germany China Italy USA Australia Russia New Zealand Denmark Belgium Canada France Malaysia
6 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Silver 4 1 0 0 0 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 Bronze 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 2 1 1 1 1 Total 11 2 2 1 1 2 2 2 1 2 1 1 1 1