British Cycling has announced a shake-up of its sprint coaching staff in a bid
to widen the talent pool for future Olympic Games.
A disappointing showing from the sprinters at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Pruszkow, Poland at the start of the month highlighted current concerns within the programme, though the restructure has been in the pipeline for many months.
The main change will see Justin Grace step up from his current position as the lead sprint coach on the men’s side to take a more broad-reaching role with responsibility for developing both riders and coaches throughout the system.
A British Cycling statement said Grace will conduct “a system-wide review to deliver sustainable success towards Paris 2024 and onwards”.
Kevin Stewart will be elevated from his role in the senior academy to replace Grace as the lead coach on the men’s sprint podium programme, while Jan van Eijden will be responsible for the women’s programme.
Performance director Stephen Park said: “This restructure is not only aimed at supporting our riders so they are in the best possible position to win medals in Tokyo but also to tackle a long-standing challenge in track sprinting by growing the size of our talent pool.
“In men’s sprinting, the Great Britain Cycling Team has benefited from a ‘just in time’ delivery of talented sprinters to the start line at the Olympics.
“On the women’s side, we have relied on a handful of riders over the last three Olympic cycles. While there has been a lot of success, neither of these are sustainable models.”
Britain failed to win a medal in any of the sprint events at the world championships in Poland, continuing a worrying trend.
Though there were three golds at the Rio Olympics, all were on the men’s side as Jason Kenny won the keirin and individual sprint, plus the team event alongside Callum Skinner and Phil Hindes.
With less than 18 months to go before Tokyo, Kenny – who stepped away from the sport before returning early last year – is yet to return to his pre-Rio form.
The problems in the women’s programme have been well-publicised following Jess Varnish’s allegations of bullying and sexism following the failure to qualify for Rio.
Katy Marchant is the only member of the current team with Olympic experience, having taken individual bronze in Rio. Vicky Williamson remains on the mend from career-threatening injuries suffered in 2016 while Lauren Bate, 19, is still developing.
“Cracking the problem of creating a deeper and wider talent pool for sprinting will not be an easy one – every cycling federation in the world faces the same challenge – and it means doing things differently,” Park added.
“That is why we are looking to Justin – who has worked in high performance systems in Great Britain, New Zealand and France and knows what it takes to win medals – to take a fresh look at what we do.”