Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s Performance Director, insists "we've got more to come," after Great Britain’s track cyclists returned home from last week’s UCI Track World Championships in Melbourne with gold medals in half of the ten events that will feature at the Velodrome in this summer’s Olympic Games.
In the build-up to London 2012, Brailsford has played down prospects of the country repeating its gold medal haul in Beijing, when it won seven of the ten track cycling gold medals on offer, with Nicole Cooke adding an eighth in the women’s road race.
The performance in Melbourne, however, together with hopes of medals in events such as the men’s and women’s road races and, through Shanaze Reade, women’s BMX, suggests the Beijing total may not be out of reach, particularly with Great Britain enjoying home advantage.
"There's no reason why we can't step up again, but then again everybody else is going to be improve,” said Brailsford, quoted on the British Cycling website. “Form's going to decide what happens at the Olympics now."
At Melbourne, Great Britain won both the men’s and women’s team pursuits, while Victoria Pendleton took the women’s individual sprint, Laura Trott the Omnium, and Sir Chris Hoy won the keirin. Ben Swift claimed a sixth gold in the scratch race, although that is not an Olympic event.
Changes to the Olympic programme designed to introduce an equal number of events across both genders mean that events including the men’s and women’s individual pursuits – in which Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Romero both claimed gold at Beijing – no longer feature.
Brailsford’s task ahead of the Olympics has been made more difficult by another change in rules which means that only one rider is allowed per country in the individual events on the track.
In the men’s sprint, for example, that means that Great Britain will be forced to choose between defending Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy, who took bronze in the event in Melbourne, and Jason Kenny, who has faced France’s Grégory Baugé in the last two world championship finals.
The latter has prevailed both times, although Kenny was eventually awarded the 2011 title after Baugé was stripped of it due to ‘whereabouts’ violations. The Frenchman won the title back at Melbourne.
"The dilemma is that if you select now the riders know what they are doing and can train a little bit more specifically,” explained Brailsford. “The downside is that in 16 weeks anyone's form might not to be the same.
"That is the conundrum: late for form, but early for clarity of purpose."
While he would not be drawn on how or when he would select the team, Brailsford insisted that there would be little room for sentiment or past performances.
"Selecting that team is very difficult," he acknowledged. "It doesn't matter what you've done in the past - being Sir Chris Hoy doesn't give you a tenth (of a second). Our job is to pick the fastest guy."
The fact that the final selection has not yet been settled was underlined in Melbourne by the first-time inclusion in the three-man men’s individual sprint line-up, alongside Hoy and Kenny, of the 19-year-old Philip Hindes.
Great Britain was relegated from that event after Hindes finished his lead lap slightly ahead of the point stipulated by the rules, but Brailsford gave a strong hint that the German-born sprinter might feature at London 2012.
"I can't see him going any slower, only faster,” he said. “It certainly gives us more optimism than not so long ago."
In the men’s team pursuit, six riders remain in contention for the four places - Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh, Andy Tennant, Steven Burke and Ben Swift – while four women are in the frame for the three places in the women’s event – Laura Trott, Dani King, Joanna Rowsell and Wendy Houvenaghel .
Besides winning gold in Australia, both squads set world records in qualifying then beat that time again in the final.
"We have seen the best two team pursuits, male and female, of all time. It's a massive step forward," said Brailsford, who revealed that should Swift, who also picked up medals in the points race and Madison, not figure on the track at London, he could switch across to help Mark Cavendish in the men’s road race.
"It will be narrowed down but it doesn't need to be too narrow," revealed Brailsford, who besides his role at British Cycling is also team principal at Team Sky, and he disclosed that Thomas, Kennaugh and Swift would all continue their Olympic preparation by riding in next month’s Giro d’Italia, saying: "You want to keep the competition and keep them hungry."
One of the highlights of Melbourne was a gripping sprint semi-final between Victoria Pendleton and her great rival Anna Meares of Australia, the British rider overcoming a crash in the first of the three races to go through and win gold, and she is also set to ride the keirin and ride with Jess Varnish in the team sprint at the Olympics, after which she will retire.
"When she switches on she has got a fight inside her and a streak of determination that puts her among the greats," reflected Brailsford.
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.