Great Britain will field a tightly-focussed team of gold medal potential athletes for the 2014 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico from 10-13 April.
Head coach Jon Norfolk will lead a squad of seasoned campaigners and new faces at the first major international para-cycling track competition since London 2012.
"We've gone for a slightly smaller team selection-wise this year,” said Norfolk, who took on the role of para-cycling lead coach in June 2013. “I think as a programme we reflected on London performances and that transition from podium performances to gold medal performances as well.
"There's been quite a tight selection for world championships with a lot of athletes competitive and potentially in the position to be selected. So we've gone fairly narrow but of a high quality."
Multiple Paralympic and world champion Dame Sarah Storey makes her return to top-flight competition following the birth of her daughter Louisa in June 2013. Competing in the C5 class, Storey will ride the 500 metre time trial, pursuit, team sprint and scratch race.
Storey will be joined in the team sprint by Crystal Lane, who also rides the C5 500 metre time-trial, and Jody Cundy, who will also ride the C4 kilometre time-trial, pursuit and scratch race.
Jon-Allan Butterworth will look to retain his kilometre world title in the C5 class, and also take advantage of Aguascalientes’ high-altitude location to improve upon his kilometre world record set at the 2013 British Cycling National Track Championships in Manchester.
Silver medallist in the pursuit in London 2012, Shaun McKeown will ride the C3 kilometre time-trial and pursuit.
Two new tandem pairings will compete at world level for time in Mexico in the B category for blind and visually-impaired athletes, joining the established duo of Lora Turnham and Corrine Hall.
“In terms of tandem there's a few established riders and pairings in there,” said Norfolk. “Neil Fachie, who's been experienced in a few Paralympic Games up until now, riding with a new pilot Pete Mitchell.
"On the women's tandem we've got Sophie Thornhill on the back and Rachel James on the front, which is a new pairing in terms of international Paralympic competition.”
Thornhill and James made their debut on the tandem at the Newport International Para-cycling Cup in 2013 and came within a few hundredths of a second of breaking the kilometre time-trial world record. Their performance was remarkable considering they had just five weeks experience together on the tandem.
Thornhill and James’ subsequent work on the track as cemented their partnership and given them opportunity to improve their track craft in the sprint.
Neil Fachie won gold in the kilometre time-trial at London 2012 with pilot Barney Storey and has also struck worlds gold with Craig Maclean. However, Aguascalientes will see Pete Mitchell pilot Fachie, competing in the sprint and kilometre events.
Mitchell sprung to prominence in 2007, winning the junior national title in the team sprint before achieving numerous podium finishes at national and European level in the sprint and team sprint. Mitchell joined the para-cycling squad as a sighted pilot in 2012.
The championships stand at the midway point between London and Rio in the Paralympic cycle and Norfolk is excited about consolidating performances in classes and events that Great Britain have historically dominated, while seeking new medals in other classes.
"It's a key marker for us,” said Norfolk “and also to see where the international competition is… how we push and challenge those seasoned campaigners in the categories we've been successful in before but also see where the potential gaps are in other categories as well.”
Taking over the management of a team that dominated in London could be seen as a recipe for complacency. However with Rio fast approaching and international competition heating up, Norfolk is focussed on ‘future-proofing’ his rapidly evolving squad.
“Development has its cyclical nature,” he said. “Some countries step up and perform at different events and at different levels so I think it's important that you still train like you're in second place.
"I think that regeneration of what you do, constantly assessing what you do, whether it's been successful or not is a key part of keeping ahead of the game.
"The Paralympic environment is one that does change very quickly with new faces and new performers so we've really got to future-proof ourselves and protect ourselves from countries moving and developing really quickly at higher levels.”