What with inquiries, allegations, leaks, Jiffy bags and a sense of crisis after crisis, the months after Rio have not been a typical post‑Olympic period for British Cycling, and the world championships during the past week were not typical fare either, in spite of a haul of five medals. These included a gold for Elinor Barker on Sunday in the points race, the second after Katie Archibald’s triumph earlier in the week in the omnium.
The medals have come exclusively in endurance events – the women’s Madison and the men’s and women’s scratch races were the other medals – with no sprint medals and, by the standards set in the recent past, relatively little to show in either of the team pursuits, which still stand as the blue riband event of the championships along with the match sprints.
Barker was the performer of the week, claiming a gold and two silver medals. Astonishingly she is still only 22. “Considering the country I am from [Wales] and the calibre and age of the girls who succeed in Great Britain, [that] seems a bit old really.” She added, with tongue presumably in cheek: “I probably need to start planning for retirement and babies and that.”
Between the sprint and endurance squads the men managed a single bronze in Hong Kong, which is slim pickings indeed, although the team pursuit is clearly a work in progress and the youthful team sprint trio of Ryan Owens, Joe Truman and Jack Carlin appear to have moved on since their strong showing in the Glasgow World Cup last November.
Archibald’s was the only medal in an Olympic event, although there is a chance that the men’s and women’s Madisons may return to the programme for Tokyo. It is quite a contrast with the 2013 Worlds in Minsk, where Becky James first came to prominence and Jason Kenny landed the world keirin title, but fourth in the medal table is far from disastrous.
There are obvious reasons for the disparity, primarily the chasm left by Jo Rowsell’s and Sir Bradley Wiggins’s retirements, Laura Kenny’s pregnancy and the extended breaks currently being taken by the double Rio sprint medallist James, and Jason Kenny, the most decorated member of the squad. Another absentee was the sprint head coach, Justin Grace, who is recovering from liver surgery.
It is not clear when James or Jason Kenny will return and after Kenny’s wife’s revelation this week that he will make a decision on his future in the next six months – whether to return to cycling or direct his attention elsewhere – it is not even clear whether he will turn a pedal in anger again.
While Rowsell will be missed, and Laura Kenny’s return date is uncertain, the women’s endurance side looks particularly strong, with Archibald, Barker and possibly Emily Kay set to compete for the omnium slot that Trott has made her own since 2011. Similarly the team pursuit should see strong competition with Manon Lloyd and Emily Nelson in the mix.
Equally in the men’s team pursuit Ed Clancy is set to return for his fourth Olympiad once he has put in a stint on the road for his trade team JLT-Condor, while there is a strong reserve of talent from the road in Geraint Thomas, Owain Doull, Jon Dibben and Peter Kennaugh.
Unlike Minsk – where Barker was the only Great Britain debutant – there was an obvious emphasis on youth in Hong Kong, although it is unclear to what extent this was a coherent development strategy and to what extent a tactic forced by circumstances. There is an interim feel to all this, which is inevitable given the extent of recent change.
The uncertainty that has followed the departure of Shane Sutton, a fixture in the team since 2003, and a key influence across the board, has yet to give way to a new era under the new performance director, Stephen Park, who was present in Hong Kong in an observer role as he has yet to take up his position officially.
Park said he had expected the team to be more marked by recent events, particularly the scrutiny that has followed allegations of bullying and discrimination, and the uncertainty around the inquiry into those allegations, which has yet to be released. “I’ve been really impressed with how the coaches and the support staff have worked,” said the Scot.
“It would’ve been not unexpected for them to come here a little bit reserved, a little bit reticent almost, bearing in mind the level of public criticism there’s been over British Cycling over recent months. But that’s not what I’ve observed. I’ve observed a group of people who have absolutely committed to what they’re doing.
“It’s far too early for me to make any kind of professional level judgment but my feeling, my gut tells me that some of those young riders are destined for great things.”