With a year and a half to go to the Olympics, the British team have their work cut out as other nations pull away on big gears
Great Britain won four medals at the Track Cycling World Championships in Poland two weeks ago, meaning they hit the modest UK Sport medal target. But they are now chasing the Netherlands and Australia all the way to Tokyo.
Times in many of the events are getting faster as gear sizes get significantly bigger across sprint and endurance disciplines. Sprinters are now racing on massive 140-inch gears.
“They’ve increased hugely in a very short period of time. In every event they’re considerably higher,” Britain’s endurance coach Iain Dyer said. “The female sprinters are racing on gears that Chris Hoy wouldn’t have ridden a kierin on in London.”
The increases in speed and gear size of the team pursuit has moved the event more into the realms of sprint riders. Australia set a new world record in Pruszkow of 3-48.012 to beat Great Britain to the gold medal by almost three seconds and the difference in the size and shape of the two teams’ riders compared with previous years is clear to see.
Australian Leigh Howard got himself released from his Aqua Blue contract in 2017 to return to the track after six years on the road. “The difference between road and track is getting bigger and the ability to switch between the two is getting harder and harder. I’ve gained around 10 kilos from when I was on the road,” he said.
The British team is doing the same. Three-time Olympic champion Ed Clancy was perhaps the event’s first sprint-endurance hybrid rider, as Dyer calls them. “Team pursuiters generally are doing more work in the gym,” Dyer said.
“To exploit the gains means the start has become more demanding. You can eke a 10th of a second in your second, third and fourth kilometres, but those gains are pretty hard won. The lower-hanging fruit is at the start of the race.”
Australia’s 1-01 minute opening kilometre ridden on bigger gears pushes the demands of the event into the realms of sprinting, hence the change in rider type. This evolution all but rules out road riders returning to the event for the Olympic Games.
“Without being name-specific, I think the door is closing on athletes of that type,” Dyer said. “But not exclusively, let’s not forget Brad [Wiggins], Geraint [Thomas] and Pete [Kennaugh] have raced very fast times.
“But the sort of gears used now would probably snap in half a team pursuiter from eight years ago.”