Great Britain has won its first gold medal of the 2011 UCI Track World Championships in the women’s team pursuit, Dani King, Laura Trott and Wendy Houvenaghel beating the United States easily in the final. In the women’s team sprint, however, Australia’s Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch just pipped Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton to gold.
The pre-championship billing had focused on whether Great Britain could regain the crown they lost to Australia last year in the women’s team pursuit, but as it turned out, the latter failed to even secure a medal, edged out in the bronze medal run-off by New Zealand.
In the final, it was the United States who seemed to set off quicker, although that was as good as it got for them, with Great Britain already edging ahead with just half a lap gone. The 18-year-old Trott, 20-year-old King and Houvenaghel, aged 36, quickly stretched their lead was quickly stretched to over one and a half seconds, and although at times the Americans appeared to threaten to close the gap, the British pulled away again.
The story of the race was summarised by the way in which the two teams crossed the line; Great Britain, three riders abreast, in 3:23:419, the United States in some disarray with a deficit, based on when the third rider passed, of nearly two seconds.
Pendleton and Varnish had qualified fastest for the team sprint final, with their opponents in the heat, China, going to the bronze medal run-off against France, which the Chinese won by a whisker.
In the final, Meares put in a trademark powerhouse start to put Australia ahead at the halfway point, despite a hugely determined effort by Varnish to hold on. Into the closing lap, and Pendleton was flying as she tried in vain to close down McCulloch, the Australians winning by 0.288 of a second in 33:237.
With Great Britain’s focus not so much on achieving gold medal success in these championships as laying the groundwork for London 2012, the performance was an encouraging one and Varnish may well have done enough to secure a position as preferred partner to Pendleton over BMX star Shanaze Reade.
Meanwhile, the British men will have two representatives in tomorrow’s individual sprint semifinals. Sir Chris Hoy roared through the final bend on the outside to power past Germany’s Robert Forsteman in the first heat of his quarter-final.
A little later, he made it 2-0 when the German, who had embarked upon in a game of cat-and-mouse with the four-time Olympic champion, left a gaping hole on the inside as he was caught looking the wrong way that Hoy was happy to dash through, leaving his opponent no hope of recovery.
The second Briton to make it through to the semi-finals, for which World Champion Gregory Bauge and fellow Frenchman Mickael Bourgain have also qualified, is Jason Kenny. However, alone of the semi-finalists, he needed three heats to get the better of Australia’s Shane Perkins after the latter won the second heat to square matters at one-all.
The only men’s event to be settled on the night was the individual pursuit, an event in which Great Britain’s only entrant, Sam Harrison, did not start after being switched to the Omnium following Ed Clancy withdrawing through illness.
The medal races were an all-Antipodean affair, with three of the Australian team who had yesterday won the team pursuit involved, only New Zealand’s Jesse Sergent, who put in the second fastest time in qualifying, preventing a potential clean sweep.
In the bronze medal race, Michael Hepburn, around half a second down on compatriot Rohan Dennis three-quarters of the way through, pulled out a terrific final kilometre to claim the prize.
Jack Bobridge, who earlier this year broke Chris Boardman’s longstanding world record in this event, got off to a fantastic start against Sergent and there was only going to be one winner. The gap stabilised to around two seconds midway through the race, but Bobridge pulled away inside the final kilometre to win by some margin.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.