February 25th 2016
Thanks to a squad led by Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton, Britain topped the medal table the last time the Track Cycling World Championships came to the UK, in 2008.
Hoy took two gold medals and one silver in Manchester, setting a benchmark for that summer’s Olympics. He went on to top the podium three times in Beijing.
“I’m expecting Jason Kenny to become our Sir Chris Hoy of this Games,” Shane Sutton, British Cycling’s technical director, told Sport recently. “Given his record, the guy deserves more accolades bestowed on him than he actually gets. But I believe he will step right up again.”
Kenny, Sutton says, is capable of setting a similar benchmark at the Lee Valley VeloPark in London next week: “Traditionally, the likes of Kenny get it right when it matters. It’s down to periodisation and good coaching. We know we will have an element of pressure to deal with in London – it’s a home worlds. But it won’t just be from the outside; it will be an inner pressure from the riders. It means a lot to them.”
At last year’s worlds, however, Kenny – the reigning Olympic champion in the men’s individual sprint – was eliminated in the first round by Venezuela’s Hersony Canelon in Paris. It was a disappointing end to a campaign in which little went right for him. Kenny and his teammates finished eighth in the team sprint and he looked out of sorts in the keirin.
Kenny began this year on the pace, however, taking individual bronze and team gold at the Track Cycling World Cup in Hong Kong in January. And he believes adding to his three Olympic and two world golds this year is a realistic possibility.
Shane Sutton told Sport the Team GB track cycling squad is the ‘greatest team in British sporting history’. Does that put pressure on you?
“It doesn’t really change anything. I’m on my way to my third Olympic Games, hopefully. And I’m just approaching it in exactly the same way as I approached Beijing. The whole team will be doing the same. We know what has given us success in the past, we know what it takes to win and we carry that mentality. It doesn’t matter what has been before. We’ve had two incredible Games, in Beijing and London, but we’re going into Rio now as if it’s our first time and just doing absolutely everything we can.”
Last year’s worlds did not go as planned. Does not winning take the pressure off, in a way? You have something to chase.
“No. Because we always want to win. It was devastating at the time. But at this point in time it doesn’t matter who won the worlds last year. Right now, everyone is even. It’s not that we haven’t been trying! It’s really cut-throat. The difference between winning and not getting a medal, and looking really average, is tiny margins.”
Did early elimination mean you changed anything about your approach?
“After the London Olympics, we had a break, came back and started trying to win more races. The fact that it went well didn’t really affect that [the way we work]. The last few World Championships haven’t gone that well, but it hasn’t changed our approach. We were disappointed at the time, obviously, but we go away, have a break and just do the same thing again.”
Can you repeat your Olympic success from 2012?
“It’s possible. We have all the elements in the team to be able to do that again, for sure. It was difficult in London, it was difficult in Beijing and it will be difficult this time. But I’ll be giving 100 per cent and I believe in the team we have around us. And I believe in the riders themselves.”
Britain tends to rely on the cyclists to get the ball rolling in terms of collecting medals at an Olympics.
“The thing with cycling, particularly track cycling, is that it’s very measurable. We know exactly – well, roughly – what it is going to take to win on the day. Obviously if someone turns up and smashes the world record, there is nothing we can do about it. But generally, if we go into it knowing we are on record pace, then we know we’re in with a great chance of winning. I remember in Beijing, Nicole [Cooke] won that first gold medal [in the road race], and it was like the floodgates opened – it was a gold medal every day until we travelled home.”
What’s it like having Sir Bradley Wiggins back in the squad?
“It’s good. Obviously he’s a big personality, and a big name. He’s achieved a lot, so to have someone like him around – it’s a bit like having Sir Chris back. That kind of big profile, big name. That helps take a lot of pressure off guys like myself, who would rather just get our heads down. Everyone wants to talk about Brad and to Brad. Which is fair enough. Suits me fine.”
You recently bought a new Kawasaki – does that mean you’re a petrol head?
“I am. Anything with an engine I like. Anything that goes fast. Laura [Trott, Kenny’s fiancee] is not a massive fan. She certainly doesn’t like going on the back. She hates it. But we are in quite a dangerous sport anyway – we spend so many hours on our bicycles, there’s probably a good chance of us hurting ourselves on those. But if I come off a race and I get on my bike and ride home, I kind of have to make sure I switch my brain into ‘normal human being mode’, and not just go for any old gap that’s there like I would in the velodrome. I have to tone it down a little bit.”
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