Published 2 July 2012
Words: Simon Powers
Jon Norfolk, the GB Cycling Team’s Olympic Academy Sprint Coach is excited by the team’s sprint line up for this week’s Under 23 European Track Championships. He also sees it as an invaluable chance for newer riders to show their talent in a major competition setting.
The Under 23 sprint team has been based around the Team Sprint event, but riders will also compete in both the Keirin and Sprint. Meanwhile the under 23 endurance squad will be giving the event a miss due to extensive road commitments this summer but for the sprinters, this is clearly their chance to shine.
“Due to the number of riders we are able to take, they have to be a team sprint rider in order to get access to the other events,” said John when we spoke to him on the eve of the team’s departure.
Philip Hindes, who rode as part of the silver medal winning team sprint at this event last year will have other commitments this summer, having been selected to represent Great Britain in the Team Sprint at this summer’s Olympic Games. Jess Varnish, who also rode last year, has similar commitments, as she will be riding the opening lap in the team sprint at London. Jess’s absence means that last year’s Junior Team sprint medallist, Victoria Williamson can slot in to her place, riding with Becky James.
Reflecting on these absences, Jon Norfolk said: “It’s a great testament to the strength of our under 23 programme, that we are missing riders such as Philip Hindes and Jess Varnish this time round. They have moved up the ranks and this is great for us and the sport. It also gives us a little bit of space for other people to step up to the plate as well.” Looking ahead to the event, he said “It’s definitely a key development tool for these riders this time around”.
As there will be fewer staff available for the team in Portugal, due to Olympic preparations and commitments, Jon will be working alongside Matt Winston and the duo will act as coaches, soigneurs and mechanics for the entire five day competition.
“We’re really happy to do this as it’s such a key event for these riders,” said Jon. “It will definitely help with possible selections for world cups later in the year. With the likelihood of some notable departures after the Games this summer, this is the perfect opportunity for riders to show their worth in competition on the track.”
Jon then expanded on the mindset he is looking from the riders in Portugal: “We have a really strong group which has been competitive since the junior years. What we have tried to instil in them this year is that it’s no longer enough to be the best in the group. Both time-wise and from a performance perspective, you need to be looking at the bottom of the next group. Pete, Kian and Callum need to be comparing themselves with the likes of Philip Hindes and Ross Edgar. Some days it feels a million miles between these guys and the Olympic riders but on others there really is a healthy overlap.”
As well as the Under-23 riders, two Junior Sprinters will be travelling to Portugal to represent GB. They are Matt Rotherham, Senior British National Kilo Champion in 2011, a title he won with a with a blistering time of 1:03.671 and Danielle Khan, who although relatively new to the boards, is a former speed skating academy athlete.“Matt’s going really well, since his great ride at the Senior Nationals last September his performances in training have been really impressive,” said Jon. “We’re looking for some great performances from Matt, to show that he is in line for academy.”
As in any European competition, there are likely to be strong contingents from the German and French teams, as Jon pointed out: “There will be some quality teams there but that will be great for the competition. It won’t be any good if there was no one there. There will be some great performances out there and hopefully we will be in the mix.”
Looking beyond the European Championships, Jon and the riders have a busy schedule ahead of them: “After this, is the UCI Junior World Track Championships in New Zealand at the end of August and for the U23 riders Senior Nationals in late September will be a really important race. When we get back, we are looking at around nine weeks until the Senior Nationals. Afterwards, there is the possibility of riders earning places in the Senior Europeans and the World Cup Series, which is due to kick off in Cali in October.”
For many of the GB Team’s top riders the London Olympics has dominated the sporting horizon for so long that it has been hard to look beyond the Games. However, sport, like life itself, never stands still and the Under-23 and Junior riders are looking to a more distant future. Concluding our chat with us, Jon sumed it up neatly: “There was a time where everyone thought the world was going to stop after the Games, now though we’ve got plenty planned and we’ll be straight back into it just a few weeks later.”