Great Britain Cycling Team technical director Shane Sutton is confident that two-time world champion Becky James can return to the squad and surpass her previous achievements at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
James, who will miss next month’s UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Paris, has been side-lined by a knee injury since last summer, resulting in a frustrating enforced lay-off from competition and a programme of intensive rehabilitation.
And with the 2015 championships in France looming, Sutton sees James as the missing piece in a squad which has seen significant improvement since 2014’s competition.
"This is a big worlds for a lot of the riders. The only downside for us this world championships is that we haven’t got a fully-fit Becky James,” said Sutton.
James’ absence is set to continue beyond the world championships, as the 23-year-old’s rehabilitation continues, leaving an in-form Jess Varnish to carry the torch in women’s sprinting.
Former lead sprint coach Iain Dyer provided further detail on James’ road to recovery: “Becky is more than three-quarters of the way through her planned rehab programme that's being done in conjunction with the EIS (English Institute of Sport) intensive rehab unit facility at Bisham Abbey,” said coach co-ordinator Dyer, who has worked closely with James throughout her career in the team.
“Treatment has stepped up another level this week and hopefully by this time next month we'll know what cards we're holding,” Dyer continued.
“We'd like to see her back on the bike in the course of the next month. It won't be with the worlds in mind, she'll have a long road back but it would be great to see her back."
With a worlds return ruled out, James faces an uphill struggle to return to her brilliant best, when in 2013 she took the sprint and keirin world titles in Minsk, Belarus.
To get there the Abergavenny-born rider will need to qualify for next season’s UCI Track Cycling World Cup via the summer’s international track meetings in order to reassert herself in a growing women’s sprint team, with Danni Khan and Katy Marchant joining Jess Varnish and Vicky Williamson for the winter world cup campaign.
"I'm convinced that with the coaching and the support services that we'll put her back to not only where she was but will surpass what she's done in the past,” said Sutton. “And she's going to have to because the goalposts have moved.
“She's had an injury but I'm quite sure that she'll bounce right back and surpass everything she's done previously and go on to great things in Rio. I'm sure of it."