Four years...a long time in cycling

Four years...a long time in cycling

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Published: 19 April 2012
Report: Simon Powers                                                

This year’s UCI World Track Championships, which took place in Melbourne earlier this month, was memorable on a number of levels, not least for the high standard of racing. World records were broken on a regular basis and the consensus was that it was the “fastest” championships of all time.

The Great Britain Team’s dominance of Track racing in the run up to and during the 2008 Olympic Games has produced a strong response and a general raising of the standards, with Australia, Germany and France, in particular, upping their efforts in the intervening years.

But, just how much has the sport moved on since 2008? We thought we would have a detailed look at the gold medal winning times from Melbourne and compare them with the corresponding times from the same point in the Olympic cycle four years ago, at the 2008 World Championships in Manchester.

It is apparent from the table above that a lot has happened in the four years between 2008 and 2012. It’s interesting also that two of the events to see the biggest gains, the 500m tt and 1km tt, have now been removed from the Olympic programme, in order to give equal medal opportunities to both male and female riders at this summer’s games. These figures are still relevant however, as these events contain riders who currently excel at other events within the Olympic programme.

The biggest leap in performance on the table belongs to two of the newer events which will be included in the Olympics for the first time in London: the women’s Team Pursuit and women’s Team Sprint. It is clear from the sheer number of world records set in these events in recent months that the probability of more record-breaking rides in London is high.

In the women’s Team Pursuit, the last four years have seen the time required to win the rainbow jersey improve by 6.695 seconds. The time clocked by the Great Britain trio at the 2012 world championships, 3:15.720, represents an average speed of just over 0.5 metres per second faster. It is also interesting to note that, based on the average pace in Melbourne, the 6.695 seconds gain puts the team over 100m further up the track than the winning team in Manchester.

Similarly, a 1.112 second gain in the Women’s Team Sprint over the same period equates to a gap of just over 17 metres, based on the average speed clocked by the winning German duo a few weeks ago.

Anyone reading this may be forgiven for thinking, with such massive gains in performance over the four years since the world championships in Manchester, that times cannot get much quicker for the Games this summer. So we looked at the 2008 World Championships and compared the times there with those at the Beijing Olympics a few short months later.


The table above details the improvements in performance between Manchester’s world championships and the Beijing Olympics, revealing an almost one percent improvement. In other words, almost seven seconds was pulled out of the bag across the “against the clock” Olympic races. If this step-up is mirrored in 2012, we could be about to witness some remarkable results in London.

In a recent British Cycling exclusive interview, the GB Team’s men’s endurance coach, Dan Hunt, commenting on the Men’s Team Pursuit, said that: “In order to win the Olympics you’re going to have to go close to 3:50. That is where the big teams are taking it.” In Melbourne earlier this month, the team of Clancy, Burke, Thomas and Kennaugh stopped the clock in a new world record in a time of 3:53.295.

If they were to replicate the same percentage improvement they had between the 2008 world championships and the 2008 Olympics, then this would give them a time of 3:50.325 in London in August. This is close to the 3:50 mark that Hunt referenced and which his team will no doubt be searching for.

The improvement of 0.326 seconds needed to dip under the 3:50 mark might not sound like a lot but even taking the average speed the team clocked in the final at Melbourne as a benchmark, on a schedule needed to clock 3:50.325, they would be just over 5.5 metres away from crossing the line when the clock hit 3:49.999.

And it’s not just the male endurance riders who can be expected to up the ante. The men’s Sprint qualification 200m Time Trial time improved by 1.77 % between the 2008 world championships and the 2008 Olympics. Were this to happen again this year, the projected Olympic time would be a staggering 9.679 seconds. This would be the second fastest time ever and the fastest time in history on a 250m wooden track (the length which is now the required standard for world championships and Olympic games [UCI Cycling Regulations 3.6.068]).

It’s therefore clear that, far from standing still, the times we see on the London track are likely to be even more impressive than those in Melbourne. We already know that the London track is fast from the times clocked at the World Cup event there in February. In less than 100 days time, record breaking looks set to be firmly on the agenda as the Olympic Track cycling schedule plays out in front of packed crowds in London.