Published: 24 May 2012
Words: Simon Powers
Jan Van Eijden, Olympic Sprint Coach for the Great Britain Cycling Team, has spoken of how much times have moved on with regards to sprinting on the track but has highlighted that he is happy with the team’s performances and feels they are in a good place relating to Olympic medal contention.
It was twelve years ago when Jan Van Eijden came to Manchester as a young 23 year old German sprinter to take the title of UCI Sprint World Champion. Back then, the event was a very different beast than the one portrayed on the track in Melbourne during the 2012 world championships last month. Back in 2000, Van Eijden, who is still considered to be one of the best sprinters in the history of the sport, rode a qualifying time of 10.432 seconds. A time which, in 2000, placed him 5th in qualifying would have placed him in 45th place in the 200m TT just 12 years later. This is testament to just how much has changed in the discipline at this level in little over a decade.
“Every time you step on your bike as a bike rider, you need to be prepared that you may crash, you shouldn’t have it in the forefront of your mind though but it can happen as you’re not on your own on the track in the sprint”.
Jan Van Eijden
“I think the fastest qualifier back then went through in 10.1 or 10.2, it’s just testament to how much the sport has moved on since then.
“This is the case now not only in the 200m TT but also in the sprints themselves. Even the first round in Melbourne was so close. Despite making it through the qualification, the first round is no easy heat anymore, even if you qualify fastest, second or third, there is little room for complacency."
The times clocked by the men in the qualifying 200m TT set the pace for just how competitive the event is now.
“Although the 200m times in Melbourne weren’t world record pace, the amount of people going under 10s has simply never been seen before. Even though people argue that it’s a fast track, I think it’s more an indicator of the level at the moment.
“Because London was five weeks before Melbourne and the World Championships are the pinnacle. I think that most nations took London as a step through, to go to the venue and get a feel for the Olympic track. Definitely most people had their focus on Melbourne, in my opinion."
During the event, the standard from both men and women highlighted the fact that the requirement to be on top of your game this summer is going to be crucial. Furthermore, it emphasised that no one can take winning for granted nowadays. Even though Victoria Pendleton qualified in fifth place, she proved that, despite not being the fastest in qualifying and having had a crash in heat one of the semi-finals, in sprinting, you can still come back and win the event.
“This just goes to show that even if you do not qualify fastest you can still go through and win. It’s not as simple as being fast in the time trial.
“Every time you step on your bike as a bike rider, you need to be prepared that you may crash, you shouldn’t have it in the forefront of your mind though but it can happen as you’re not on your own on the track in the sprint.
“Vicky was prepared for this and I think, it gave her that little bit of a kick. Even though Anna Meares said after the first ride that it’s all done now, it’s best of three so if you win the first one and your opponent crashes, you know that they can come back through the next two rides. Vicky came back really strong after that, you could see that she really wanted it."
Another area where progress was made across the board in the women’s sprint events was the women’s team sprint. This will be the first time that this event will be in the Olympic programme and as the move on from London in February to the world championships illustrates, there are some strong contenders for this title who will all looking to make their mark on the event.
“I think the team sprint in the London world cup was a big step for Jess Varnish especially. Even in Melbourne during qualification, she rode the second fastest time of her life. It’s just that other nations had moved on massively, especially the Germans.
“We certainly learned something as a coaching team from having London then the worlds, I think we are definitely in with a chance in London. We just need to see how far we can progress in the lead up to the games this summer."