Gender balance comes at cost of endurance events, says Beijing champion

Individual pursuit Olympic champion Rebecca Romero has attacked proposed changes to the women’s track programme at London 2012 that, if adopted, will prevent her from defending her title on home soil in three years’ time.

World cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has proposed a shake-up of track events at the London Olympics in a bid to balance the number of events open to each gender. At Beijing last year, there were seven events for men and three for women, which the UCI wants to change to five each – individual sprint, team sprint, team pursuit, keirin and omnium.

The events that would disappear from the games are the men’s and women’s points races, the men’s madison, and the men’s and women’s individual pursuits. Romero, a silver medalist in the quadruple sculls at Athens in 2004, switched to cycling to focus on winning gold in an individual event, and did just that in the women’s individual pursuit at Beijing, beating team-mate Wendy Houvenaghel in the final.

In an interview with the Press Association, Romero said she was “shocked” when she heard of the proposals, which she described as “ludicrous,” adding that believes the changes “could potentially destroy track cycling".

She continued, "I think it's too radical and unnecessary and I can't understand the reasoning behind it. I thought changes to the Olympic programme were supposed to create inclusion and I just see that it will create exclusion to have such big changes.”

The International Olympic Committee is due to vote on the changes at its next session in December, and while Romero believes that it is right to seek to redress the gender imbalance in terms of the number of events, that is going to come at the expense of endurance events.

"You're taking away, essentially, with regards to the individual pursuit, one of the purest forms of competition that there is on the track for an athlete,” she said, adding “I'm just disappointed that I won't be able to go and defend my title in London."

British Cycling has already amended its programme to take account of the proposed shake-up, a move that resulted in Romero puling out of both the British National Track Championships in Manchester at the weekend and the British round of the Track World Cup which starts there tomorrow.

The 29-year-old from Surrey now needs to decide which event she is going to focus on in the run-up to London, and is widely expected to concentrate on the individual time trial on the road, and event in which she has been national champion.

The team pursuit, an event in which Romero won a world championship medal in 2008 with the British team, is also an option, although according to Romero “it's secondary to an individual medal target for me.”

Other members of the British Cycling team have also criticised the changes, including Bradley Wiggins, who faces being denied the chance of going for a third successive gold medal in the individual pursuit in his home city, and whose comments were reported on road.cc earlier this month.

Geraint Thomas, who won the national title in the individual pursuit at Manchester last weekend, told BBC Radio Wales Sport: “It just leaves two events for us, but there's nothing we can do about it. It's disappointing."

Thomas, who took gold at Beijing in the team pursuit, said that his performance last weekend "was the sort of time that would have got me a medal at the Olympics last year,” adding that “it was good to get up and finally be racing well this year because obviously I had a big crash in March [in the Tirreno-Adriatico] and been out for most of the season.”

Turning to the planned changes to the Olympic programme, he said "I was hoping to ride the individual pursuit and team pursuit in London, but obviously that may not be there any more."

The consignment to history of the 4km individual time trial will also mark the passing of an event that provided one of Great Britain’s most memorable Olympic moments ever. That came in Barcelona in 1992, when Chris Boardman, riding his Mike Burrows-designed Lotus track bike, caught world champion Jens Lehmann on the final lap to take gold.

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.