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News feature, March 30, 2007
GB aiming big in Majorca
By Shane Stokes in Palma
In recent years British Cycling has taken major results on the track and is now a real force in world cycling. The expectation now is that the team will be fighting it out for medals in all major competitions. Olympic and world championships golds have all been achieved, and this has resulted in ongoing - and considerable - financial investment from the UK lottery and others. The setup is consequently one of the most professional in world cycling, offering a very significant support and coaching structure for the riders concerned. Shane Stokes spoke with British cycling performance director Dave Brailsford about his hopes for the British team this weekend and beyond.
Dave Brailsford has seen a very strong start to the track world championships in Palma, with Bradley Wiggins taking gold in the individual pursuit and the duo of Victoria Pendleton and Shanaze Reade winning the womenís team sprint. The menís sprint equivalent also resulted in a big result, although the trio of Ross Edgar, Chris Hoy and Craig Maclean lost out on gold by the heartbreaking margin of two thousandths of a second.
Brailsford spoke to Cyclingnews on Wednesday, one day before racing got underway, and said then that he was very happy with how things had gone. "We are ready now, we want to get racing. All the preparation has gone well. The key thing for us is to sit down the night before, which we will do tonight, seeing if there is anything else we could have done to prepare the team. Have we left any stone unturned? I am pretty sure we are going to get to that meeting tonight and say no, we have done everything we can, we are ready to race. We are relaxed, very relaxed. It couldnít be better, really."
When asked who he felt would be the main rivals here in Palma, Brailsford indicated a measure of confidence in suggesting that British Cycling needs to ensure that the riders are in top shape; once this is achieved, the results will follow.
"I think the usual suspects will be up there, I should imagine. Everyone knows who is going to be there or thereabouts, particularly in the timed events. I think we are confidentÖ Okay, things like the team sprint is all about getting it right on the day, the margin is going to be very, very small between the teams.
"But what we are going to be concentrating on is our own time and letting the rest get on with it. We donít really focus on other teams at all, we just do what we can do with what is controllable for us, and maximise the potential of being able to get a medal.
"I think we are in good shape, overall. I think the whole team is in good shape, I donít think we have any real concerns. We will see tomorrow."
The team recently performed very strongly at their home World Cup in Manchester and this has boosted confidence prior to the worlds. "Winning is always good," he says. "It doesnít matter what you are winning. I think there were a lot of key performances in Manchester. We wanted to go sub four minutes in the team pursuit and we did. Bradley [Wiggins] stepped back a little bit after the Olympics, but delivered a good performance there. Likewise with Wendy Houvenhagel and Rebecca [Romero]Ö they are all still progressing, and are progressing very, very well. This isnít the end point, the end point is in a year and a half. So at this stage of the game we are where we want to be at, really."
While the road cycling world championships are a major target for those in pro cycling [and the other age groups, of course], track cycling appears to put a significantly greater emphasis on Olympic success than do their road cousins. The Games are very important for all, of course, but if you talk to those running the British, Australian and other track teams, Beijing is very much the over-riding focus.
"The world championships are important, of course, but it is a stepping stone for us, towards the Olympics," he says. "Everything we do is focussed and geared around the Olympics."
At this point in time, Brailsford feels he has a real pool of talent to chose from. "Ultimately, we have got seven riders to select from for the team sprint. We have got seven or eight riders for the team pursuit, so selection does become an issue. We have been through a selection process which we have looked at and wanted to learn from, and we will take all the information from that and make sure that things are done well. The aim, first and foremost, is to get the fastest team on the line in the best shape possible. That is becoming more of a challenge, it is a challenge that we havenít had to face before. So we are learning about all that.
Having to decide who to pick and who to leave at home is a nice dilemma to have, given that it is born out of having many riders with world-class ability. "We have got some younger riders coming into a team with older ones and managing all of that is important," he states. "But to have such a range of choice is good...it is a new challenge for us and one we welcome. We do need to really study that particular area, though, to make sure we get it all right."
The world championships are taking place on a brand new track, completed this month and which has only been used once before, in hosting the Spanish championship. Many people have been complementary about it; what are Brailsfordís feelings?
"I think it is fantastic, it is a great venue. Really good," he enthuses. "I think there will be some real fast times. Particularly if the weather changes a little bit, gets a bit warmer. Then we could see some really, really fast performances here, which is great."
His words have proved true thus far, with Wiggins going very close to his Olympic record in qualifying. That will gladden him, and so too the two gold medals and one silver the team take out of day one of these championships.