Jason Kenny won the sprint world title in a thrilling battle with Australia’s Matthew Glaetzer, taking Great Britain’s medal tally to seven on the fourth day of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships.
After qualifying second a day earlier, Kenny cruised through the early rounds to set up a quarter final meeting with New Zealand’s Sam Webster, the Briton beating the kiwi in two straight heats.
The reigning Olympic champion faced Poland’s Damian Zielinski in the semis and held off a strong challenge to take race one. Zielinski threatened to get the jump on Kenny in the second leg but Kenny delivered stunning speed to overtake the Pole to reach the final without a decider.
Fastest qualifier Glaetzer and Kenny were separated in the 200-metre seeding by just a thousandth of a second and it was almost as close in race one of the final, the Australian beating Kenny on the line by a tyre’s width.
But a superb tactical and physical effort saw the Briton heighten the tension in the Lee Valley VeloPark, forcing a deciding third race. And come the crux, Kenny didn’t disappoint, closing a big gap on Glaetzer to regain the title he last won in Apeldoorn, 2011.
"To win the sprint is special. It's the blue riband event," said the 27-year-old from Bolton.
"Twelve months ago I remember sitting in the stands, watching the semi-final and the final and it just seemed like a world away. I'd been first-round fodder and we'd all gone home early.
"Now for me to be in the final and for Callum (Skinner) to make the fifth to eighth, we've turned it around. We need to make sure we make the most of the next five months."
Teammate Callum Skinner progressed to the quarter finals and a great battle with Denis Dmitriev of Russia.
Skinner, who beat defending world champion Gregory Bauge to reach the quarters, found steely resistance in the 2015 silver medallist. The Russian proved too powerful in race one, leaving the young Scot with a lot to do.
Skinner refocussed and turned the tables in race two to set up a decider but the Russian was stayed strong and took the third race, the 23-year-old Scot eventually placing eighth in the minor final.
Strong start for Trott in the omnium
Laura Trott got her challenge off to a strong start, ending the first day of competition in silver medal position.
Trott took third in the scratch, winning the bunch sprint after Amalie Dideriksen and Simona Frapporti took the top two places. But it didn’t take long for the 2012 world champion to hit the top of the rankings, taking second in the pursuit behind Sarah Hammer.
Second in the elimination race left Trott tied on 112 points with long-time rival Sarah Hammer with three events remaining.
Omnium sixth for Cavendish
Mark Cavendish finished sixth in the men’s omnium after battling for a podium position in the final points race.
Sixth overall after three events on Friday, Cavendish placed 12th in the kilometre-time trial, dropping a place overall, 38 points adrift of leader and defending champion Fernando Gaviria Rendon of Colombia.
A rousing ride in the flying lap saw the Manx Missile take fourth place, moving him up to fifth overall, eight points away from a medal position with just the points racing remaining.
The 2011 road world champion didn’t wait long to post his first points in the gruelling 160-lap finale, taking three points in the second sprint. A win in the next sprint saw the Manxman move into bronze medal position but with a gulf separating himself and gold medal contenders Elia Viviani and Fernando Gaviria, Cavendish would need to produce something extraordinary to progress further up the leader board.
Lap gains from Cavendish’s key rivals saw him slip to sixth place and with five sprints remaining the opportunity for a lap gain was diminishing with every lap.
The Briton was a marked man but continued to battle for sprint points as the race reached its conclusion. A defiant win in the final sprint left Cavendish in sixth place in his key Rio target event, as Gaviria retained his world title by a whisker, tied on points with silver medallist Kluge and third-placed O’Shea.
“Hopefully I did enough for selection, I don’t know,” Cavendish told BBC Sport.
“We’ve got an incredibly strong group of guys for the Olympic Games, we’ve got an absolute load of riches there.”
“We’re not discounting Mark at this point in time,” said Great Britain Cycling Team technical director Shane Sutton. “That decision is between him, us and the coaching team, so we’ll sit down and see where we go.”
After taking fifth place in the team sprint on the first day of competition, Katy Marchant and Jess Varnish were back together on the start list in the individual event.
But an 11th place qualifying effort pitted former-heptathlete Marchant against Virginie Cueff in the 1/16 finals, Marchant unable to defeat the Frenchwoman.
Varnish progressed further, despite qualifying six places behind her teammate. The rider from Bromsgrove overcame Dutch powerhouse Elis Ligtlee to progress to the 1/8 final but was beaten by Lee of Hong Kong.
A tough draw in the repechage, against the on-form Cueff and Australian legend Anna Meares ended Varnish’s hope of progress.
Nelson impresses in worlds debut
Emily Nelson made an impressive senior world championships debut in the points race, briefly leading the competition after winning the fifth of ten sprints in the 25-kilometre event. But as the race wore on, the 19-year old, who took world cup bronze in Hong Kong, slipped out of medal contention and managed to avoid a late crash to finish an excellent fifth, with Poland’s Katarzyna Pawlowska taking the world title.
"It's so special it being a home world championships,” said Nelson. “The crowd were absolutely amazing. Every time I did something or hit the front I had the whole crowd behind me. That's really, really special.
"I got some points early on and just tried to hang in there. I blew a bit towards the end but that's racing.”
The final day of competition tomorrow sees the culmination of the women’s omnium and sprint, the men’s keirin and the final event of the championships, the men’s Madison, which sees the 2008 world championships pairing of Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish reunited.