Manchester Massive for GB Team

Manchester Massive for GB Team

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Manchester Massive for GB Team

Story posted October 28, 2009; by Larry Hickmott | World Cup Home Page | World Cup Preview |

For individual riders in the British teams for the Manchester World Cup, there will be personal goals they will want to achieve but for Team GB as a whole, Manchester and this World Cup season that lies ahead, there are even bigger challenges with the rumours of a change in the Olympic programme for Track Cycling.

It is also the first International Track season post Beijing Olympics where the team can get on with the business of winning and getting that Olympic feeling back. The person steering the team on the track is Great Britain Cycling Team’s Track Performance Manager Shane Sutton. The tough talking Aussie is truly unique and not for nothing is he in demand as a motivational speaker.

Geraint Thomas chatting to endurance coach Dan Hunt and Performance Manager Shane Sutton after an indvidual pursuit effort in training, Wednesday, October 28.

Shane has that typically Australian in your face manner which he uses to motivate his riders when required before then slipping back into the shadows where he has the ability to sit back and see things in a training programme or racing scenario that few, if any can see.

Quite simply, he calls a spade and spade and is about as in your face as you get but in a way that the riders enjoy. Chatting with Shane is more an exchange of banter than a serious discussion about this or that and it is not surprising that Shane is mentioned quite a bit in Chris Hoy’s autobiography. There is certainly a lot of mutual respect between him and his riders.

Like his riders, Shane is well up for this first match of the season on the Track and agrees it’s going to be a competitive World Cup where as performance manager, he’ll be able to see where his riders, and their rivals, are right now in the lead up to the World Championships.

“Manchester is massive for GB” he says. “I wouldn’t say we had our greatest season last year, which is not a reflection on the riders, but on the down time and that period where we were taking stock. Now, we’re really focused on this and want to get a good platform to work off and get some really good results that sets us up for the World Championships.”

It was a full house for GB at the track on Wednesday, October 28 as they all warmed up for the competition on Friday.

The big goal, he explained, is for his team to get the feel good factor back into the team they had post Manchester Worlds and Beijing.

Only three weeks after the Manchester World Cup comes the second Track Cycling World Cup in Melbourne but before he commits on who will be travelling to that World Cup in a squad of around 14, he wants to see what the results are from this weekend. By way of example, he says, ideally, that he’d like to see two of his big stars, Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy, do well enough in Manchester to not have to do the Melbourne event so they can go straight into their preparation for the Worlds.

Looking even further ahead at the other World Cups, Cali and Beijing, Sutton says that from a coaching perspective, the team feels it’s better to skip Beijing so they can work through and prepare for the Worlds without any disruptions. The aim is simple, knock over Manchester and Melbourne straight away and then let the team go back to whatever phase the coaches want to work on at that specific time.”

Chatting about whether the timing of Manchester is ideal, it’s here the straight talking Aussie shows his true attitude. Whilst it may not be perfect, Sutton says matter of factly  the hurdle is there, so we have to jump it and get on with it.

“That is the mentality we have to get back in to with this squad. It (the world cup timing) isn’t ideal and we’d have liked it late but then again, every athlete and coach has their own preferences. The key with GB is everyone is as keen as mustard and wants to get that Olympic winning feeling back so whether it’s the first one or the last one, it’s a case of deal with it.”

It is the one thing that a lot people like about the performance manager – there is no dilly dallying around a challenge. He confronts it head on and there is little that will stand in his way for very long.

Having nailed down the strategy for Team GB in the World Cups, what about the riders and who is riding for the team this winter? With London 2012 getting ever closer, is the pressure for spots in the team growing? “I’d like to think so” he says.

Victoria Pendleton pictured during an effort on Wednesday, October 28 during the training session for the GB team.

“There needs to be upward pressure to have success at the top. A rider can’t just amble on for the next two and half years and think they’re going to walk up and compete for their country. From the endurance perspective, the re-emergence of guys like Andy Tennant as well as new guys coming through like Mark Christian, Andy Fenn and Peter Kennaugh.  There are loads of them and that means they’ll keep G (Geraint Thomas) and the boys on their toes.”

“We’re going back to what we have done traditionally which is incorporating the odd new rider into the squad. We have two Olympic champions (Thomas and Clancy), as well as Burkey who medalled at the Olympics which was a massive experience for him and he was well capable of riding the final at the Olympics.”

“We’re also incorporating riders like Swifty who had never gone inside a ‘5’ in the Team Pursuit, so we’re going back to how we used to work and I think that’s good. We all feel we’re in a good place and there is no apprehension down there in the pit. Everyone is looking forward to the fight and the challenges over the three days of competition.”

Finally, we touch on the changes to the Track Olympic programme and how that will affect the sport at World Championships and World Cups. The way things are going, there will be more events at the Worlds that are now not part of the Olympics than are but Sutton again looks at the positives rather than the negatives. He explains that the Kilo for example is now better contested than it has been and it will be used as a tool by countries for developing riders for the events that are in the Olympics.

He explained that GB have used it to develop riders for the Team Sprint, riders such as  Matt Crampton and David Daniell. “People will now see with the Omnium coming, the Kilo as being a stepping stone for an Omnium rider. The Points race too, is from a head coaches point of view, an ideal tool for us to develop an Omnium rider, to give them experience at race scenarios.”

“We can’t forget either that it is still massive to be a World Champion in cycling.”

Ben Swift leading the Men's Team Pursuit squad during a training effort on Wednesday.

In finishing, Shane explained that developing an Omnium rider, just like the Aussies did for 2009, that the Omnium event at the World Championships will no longer be simply a development event at the Championships itself. The development instead will take place at World Cups and in training and then at the Worlds, GB, like other countries, will have to put riders into the race who are contenders.

The changes to the programme it seems are no more a challenge than the events that are already there. At least for GB. When the Kilo was axed, there was a period of mourning for it but it turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened for Chris Hoy. Who’s to say that GB won’t take full advantage of these latest changes and one of those who has been given a key role is Endurance Coach Dan Hunt.

At the last Olympics, he helped steer two athletes to Gold and Silver in the one event, the Women’s Pursuit. Now, he’s in charge of the Team Pursuit for Men and Women as well as the Omnium. Having only taken on the role recently, it has been a busy time for him.

It is he says a massive learning curve, adding “I am not reinventing the wheel here, there’s just been a change in leadership, not a change in direction. First and foremost I wanted these guys to get back to enjoying their team pursuiting and enjoy being part of the track team on home turf.”

With the competition starting on Friday, Geraint Thomas was spending the Wednesday training session doing Individual Pursuit efforts with the help of coach Dan Hunt.

Dan says that right now, the team is in a good place and that come Friday, the Brits will be going out there to qualify spots for the Worlds. One rider who has a heavy programme is Lizzie Armitstead. As well as the two bunch races, which the coach says will count towards qualifying for the Omnium, Lizzie is also doing the Team Pursuit. Like Sutton, Hunt is no stranger to telling it how it is and admits that the rumoured changes by the IOC are badly timed.

“It does affect the riders a lot” he told me. “It’s like having the rug pulled out from underneath you. You prepare for something for three or four years and then get out of bed one morning and suddenly it’s not there anymore. The challenge now for athletes and coaches alike is to adapt and if we do that, we’ll be successful but if we dwell on the past, then we’ll fail.”

The Track Nationals was the first time Dan was in charge of the Men’s Team Pursuit track side and he admits his lads did a fantastic job. “The lads have really good morale and enjoy being back on the boards.” With the World Record well under four minutes, he says there is however a danger of talking about 4.01’s and 4’s and being disappointed.

“We need to remember that only 18 months ago in Olympic year, we were qualifying at World Cups in 4.04’s by and large and we thought that was pretty good back then. So for these guys, after having raced all week at the nationals and having had two big weeks on the track before that, they went out there tired and it could have gone either way. But, they went out, controlled it and held it together and they were all delivering well on their last turns and we can carry good confidence now into the World Cup.”

In normal GB skinsuits, the three World Champions in the Women's Team Pursuit, Lizzie Armitstead, Wendy Houvenaghel, Joanna Rowsell during a training drill on Wednesday.

Turning our attention to the one endurance event where GB will not be represented, the Madison, Dan was not shy in coming forward at expressing his disappointment in the scheduling of events, said to be because of TV commitments. Traditionally at World Cups, the Madison has come on the final day but at Manchester, it’s on the Saturday and the Team Pursuit is on the Sunday.

“Once the announcement came from the UCI suggesting that the Madison was no longer going to be an Olympic event, I wrote to Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton and asked is there any need for us to ride the Madison because it massively compromises the Team Pursuit. The Madison will probably finish at a quarter past ten on Saturday night and the lads are expected to be up for qualification at 8.30 on Sunday morning.”

“Take Ben Swift, he’s come into the team after the road after not having Team Pursuited for two years and done an absolutely cracking job to go 4.01 as part of that team last week. He came off the track full of confidence, thinking he could deliver a little bit more for us and really enjoyed being part of it. So to take his legs away with a Madison on the Saturday night and potentially leave him with a slightly negative experience on the Sunday is a bit pointless.”

Hence, GB will not have any riders in the event and will go into the Team Pursuit fresh and raring to go with the goal being to score as many qualifying points as possible. The team know they are good shape but the big unknown is how the other countries like Denmark are. Come Sunday, Dan and the rest of the thousands packed into the Velodrome will get their answers. I for one, can’t wait!

A rider at her first World Cup, Becky James, getting some coaching advice from Jan van Eijden.


The GB Team for the Manchester World Cup and the Events they are riding