Great Britain head coach Shane Sutton believes the team’s current group of track cyclists are ‘heading towards greatness’ after an impressive showing at the track cycling world championships in Belarus.
A mixture of Olympic champions and senior world championship debutants saw Great Britain win nine medals – five of which were gold – to top the standings at the first major track meeting since the London Olympics.
It was an encouraging start to the journey to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games according to Sutton, who challenged the team to build on the impetus gained at the competition.
"If you're working from platforms and datums and whatever, if you look to where we were at the beginning of the last Olympic cycle, I think we're in a much stronger position, a much healthier position, you can virtually name your team for Rio now,” Sutton said.
"I think this team is heading towards greatness in four years' time. They're joined already as a team, they're a very young squad, and they all get on, they're all on the same page.
"It's quite exciting from my point of view and Dave's [Brailsford] point of view to see us come here and see us perform with this particular squad.
"If we continue working hard, we will continue to medal well at world championships. That's what the world championships is about.”
The five days in the Minsk Arena featured four medals for Becky James, the first British rider to achieve the feat at the championships. The 21-year-old claimed gold in the sprint and keirin along with team sprint and 500m time-trial bronzes.
The former junior sprint and keirin world champion beat Germany’s Kristina Vogel to become sprint world champion and added the keirin crown a day later.
“We have always believed she’s got the ability and we’ve always believed she’s got the best race head we’ve seen from a British athlete for a long time."
Shane Sutton on Becky James
There was also gold in the women’s team pursuit as Elinor Barker successfully slotted into the trio with Laura Trott and Dani King. Jason Kenny won a first word keirin title and Simon Yates, one of six senior world championships debutants, earned a rainbow jersey in the points race.
Silver medals in the men’s team pursuit and omnium for Laura Trott also added to a productive five days in Belarus.
"We don't come here for the experience,” Sutton commented. “We're coming here to win medals. This isn't about going to the worlds and just going along for the ride. It's about going to every worlds between now, I also think it is about building momentum.
"Medals builds momentum. We need to keep this going.
“You win Olympic medals on one-hundredths and one-thousandths [of seconds] so we want to keep moving them forward and given our coaching knowledge and the support team we have got we will find areas to improve.
“We will go away and break down these performances, look at the power and the speed and all the traces and I am sure there will be something we can find to move us onto Rio and being very successful.”
James’ exploits meant she had a 100% medal record in Minsk and competed on all five days. It is the culmination of an injury free season which also saw her medal at the Cali, Colombia and Glasgow UCI Track Cycling World Cup rounds in addition to winning four national titles at the British Track Championships last September.
Her success comes as no surprise to Sutton, who recognised her potential when she first joined the British Cycling Olympic Development Programme aged 15.
“We have always believed she’s got the ability and we’ve always believed she’s got the best race head we’ve seen from a British athlete for a long time,” Sutton said of James.
“The way she pinned the German [Vogel] on the fence, her tactical nous was good, now she has the engine to match. We revisited the gearing six months ago, she’s moved up the gears and leaned right down.
"Vicky [Pendleton] is probably one of the greatest of all time as far as sprint women go and she will always hold that mantle alongside [Australian Anna] Meares and Natalia Tsylinskaya from here [Belarus].
“This girl [James] compares with all of them. I think she has probably got a little more tactical nous than most of them, we saw the fruits of that here.
“She has probably got a steeliness more than them as well in the sense that she went one down [in the individual sprint fin against Vogel]) and fought back but she probably hasn’t got the raw speed yet that Vicky had.
“Vicky in her top flight was incredible. Vicky was born with it. She had the gift, she could pedal at a great cadence.”