Australia dominates world track championship as Britain loses pace
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Australia dominates world track championship as Britain loses pace

by Shane Stokes at 7:24 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Track
 
Best-ever performance by Aussie team

Cycling AustraliaFour years ago at the same point in the Olympic cycle, Great Britain dominated the track worlds and gave a signal that they would go on to be by far the most successful national at the Beijing Games.

The haul in Majorca was impressive: the riders took seven golds, two silvers and two bronze medals there. Over a year later, they crushed their rivals in Beijing, netting seven of the 10 golds up for grabs. Factor in their three silvers and two bronzes, and it was clear they were streets ahead.

However this time round, it is Australia which is in the driving seat. The nation dominated last year’s Commonwealth Games, but Britain’s track chiefs said then that they were saving their best riders for the European championships. They said that the worlds would be a far better reflection of how the two nations stacked up, and that it would be misleading to draw comparisons before then.

Now, worlds completed, it’s safe to say that things haven’t worked out as they hoped. British Cycling is putting a brave face on things, but it’s clear that Australia has now moved into pole position and will return home with a huge confidence boost.

Its haul in Apeldoorn even surpassed what the Britons achieved four years ago. Australian riders clocked up eight golds, two silvers and a bronze medal from the 19 events.

In the Olympic events, Jack Bobridge, Rohan Dennis, Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn won the team pursuit, while Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch were best in the women’s team sprint. Meares took two other gold medals, winning the sprint and keirin.

Shane Perkins was quickest in the men’s keirin, while Michael Freiberg was the most consistent rider in the Omnium events.

The two other victories (in non-Olympic events) came in the individual pursuit, where Jack Bobridge won after netting third in 2010, and in the men’s Madison where Cameron Meyer and Leigh Howard were first.

The three other medals came in the women’s scratch race and the men’s points race, where Kate Bates and Meyer picked up silver medals, and in the individual pursuit where Hepburn took bronze.

Britain finished back in fourth in the medal table, in terms of victories; France (two golds, one silver and four bronze medals) and Belarus (two golds, one silver) finished ahead of its riders. It won just one event, the women’s team pursuit, where Wendy Houvenaghel, Dani King and Laura Trott triumphed. It also picked up three silvers and five bronzes.

One consolation was that it amassed the second-highest number of medals, nine to Australia’s eleven, but that’s still a huge turnaround from Majorca four years ago.

Australia on top:

In contrast, it was the best-ever performance at the track worlds for Australia and shows that it is back on course after a few below-par seasons. It has been building strength since the last Olympics and with so many of its riders being young, it suggests that a very bright future lies ahead.

The average age is just 22 years of age, with the two oldest riders – Jason Niblett and Kate Bates – being only 28.

Meares is 27 and physiologically, she can expect to keep gaining strength for several more seasons. She feels that the overall team performance is something which will proved further encouragement as the riders work towards London 2012.

“It is a boost, for sure, morale-wise,” she stated. “Morale carries confidence and self-esteem and happiness and all those kind of things snowball into the team around us as well.”

On a personal level, the worlds was hugely rewarding in that she took three gold medals. “The success level is far beyond anything I've ever achieved,” she said. “My career goal, since I was 16 years of age in the QAS (Queensland Academy of Sport) was to win a world title in every [sprint] discipline. I've done that. I've finished that dream and I'm so excited about what the prospects can be in the next year or two.”

The rest of the team will be equally motivated.

Brailsford claims everything is under control:

Despite netting just one gold medal, Britain’s High Performance chief Dave Brailsford insisted that things were still on track. “The key question for 2012 is, are we in medal contention?,” he told Reuters. “There’s always room for improvement. But we’re doing well in the team pursuit, and in the men and women’s team sprint, too, we’re closing the gaps. So there’s reason for optimism in all of them, especially if you bear in mind some of our key riders aren’t here or have been ill.”

One gold doesn’t compare to the seven picked up in Majorca, though. Britain was absolutely dominant there, and other teams struggled to try to pick up one gold medal in the face of the onslaught.

Dave BrailsfordBrailsford now claims that comparisons are irrelevant. “It’d be like if you looked at where Manchester United were in the 2007 league and you say ‘ooh, they’re not 13 points clear this time round’,” he said. “It’s different people, different countries, different times. That was then, this is now.”

“That kind of comparison is only logical if you think ‘can we get another eight gold medals in London 2012 and the chances of that are pretty slim’.”

Despite those words, Brailsford will head away from Apeldoorn knowing that there is a lot to do. The young Australian team will continue to improve, while several of the past British winners are now over 30 years of age. Triple Beijing gold medallist Chris Hoy turned 35 last week, Victoria Pendleton is 30 and Bradley Wiggins – who won two golds last time round – will have his 31st birthday in precisely one month’s time.

Hoy’s last worlds participation without a title was back in 2003; this time, he had to make do with a silver and two bronze medals. He pledged to fight on.

“We'll lick our wounds and get ready for next year,” he told the Evening Standard. “It'll be all guns blazing for London and there will be better improvements.”

Meyer warns that the Australians will also keep working hard. “We have all trained well, we have the right coaches, we have the right equipment and when we go out onto the track we are always confident because we know our fellow teammates are performing well. If they can perform well, we can perform well,” Meyer said. “We’ve all been in camp together training and I think it’s a motivation thing.

“We can keep our confidence high for the next 15 months and we are going to be a very hard country to beat in London.”

On the basis of the performances in Apeldoorn, it’s hard to argue with that.

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