While Team Sky were facing further uncomfortable questions on Thursday night regarding their historic use of needles, here in Hong Kong Great Britain’s track riders were doing their best to look to the future.
The squad, shorn of many of their biggest names, picked up a second bronze medal of the UCI Track World Championships, courtesy of 23-year-old Chris Latham in the scratch race.
And although it felt like a fair-to-middling sort of a day otherwise – with both men’s and women’s pursuit teams missing out on potential bronze medals, and Katy Marchant, Joe Truman and Lewis Oliva exiting their sprint events early – the riders themselves were upbeat.
The men’s pursuit team finished fourth, two seconds behind Italy, and the women finishing fifth. The times they posted – a 3 min 58 sec and a 4-21 respectively – were decent enough. But more noteworthy was that both teams featured young riders who will have learnt a huge amount from this experience.
In the case of the men, Ollie Wood (21), Mark Stewart (21) and the inexperienced Kian Emadi (24) teamed up with double Olympic gold medallist Steven Burke. For the women, who were without three-quarters of the team who smashed the world record in Rio last summer what with Laura Kenny pregnant, Joanna Rowsell-Shand retired and Katie Archibald focusing on individual events here, Elinor Barker was the veteran at 22. The Welsh rider was joined by Manon Lloyd (20), Emily Nelson (20) and Eleanor Dickinson (18).
“It’s a very young team, and the level is so much higher than I ever thought it would be, technically and physically,” said Barker after she stepped in for Emily Kay (21) for the first-round ride.
Burke went even further in talking up his young team-mates, saying he was “100 per cent confident” they had the talent to close the gap to Australia by Tokyo 2020. The Australians won the event for a seventh time in 11 years, in 3-51.503. But Burke knows very well that it is not the world championships which count, but the Olympics.
“The average age for this team is 26,” he pointed out. “Compared to last year [when Sir Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy and Owain Doull were riding], it was 29, 30. Australia have got three world champions from last year, two of them went to the Olympics. They’ve got more experience than us. They’ve been team pursuiting longer as well.
“But I’m very confident – 100 per cent – that we can bridge that gap and I think we’ve got a great chance of winning the world championships in the next couple of years and I’m still confident going towards Tokyo. I know it’s going to take a sub-[3min]52, of course.”
Elsewhere, Marchant qualified 16th fastest in the sprint but crashed out to the rider who went 17th quickest, China’s Lin Junhong.
In the keirin, Truman advanced brilliantly to the semi-finals where he attempted to take the race on from two laps out, only to run out of steam, while Oliva was unable to make it out of the repechages.
It was left to Latham to finish the day on a high for GB, and he delivered, emerging late from the pack in his 40-lap scratch race to chase down Adrian Teklinski of Poland, who won gold, and Lucass Liss, of Germany, who got silver.
The biggest cheer of the night, though, was reserved for the Malaysian Azizulhasni Awang – one of track cycling’s most colourful characters – who finally won the keirin after a decade spent trying. Awang is most famous in the UK for a crash in a Manchester Track World Cup event in 2011 which left him with a 20cm splinter sticking through his calf. He remounted his bike and finished third.
UK Anti-Doping, meanwhile, is said to be investigating fresh claims that Team Sky contravened cycling’s ‘no needles’ policy by injecting some of its riders with Fluimucil and other legal substances.
Former Team Sky rider Josh Edmondson claimed last month that he had injected himself with legal vitamins, which the UCI has asked UKAD to check out. Now another whistleblower has, according to the Press Association, sent information to the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport select committee and UKAD, claiming that some Team Sky doctors were using banned intravenous recovery methods towards the end of the team’s difficult first season in 2010.
Team Sky said: “It is right that any concerns are reported to and dealt with by the appropriate authorities, and we will continue to co-operate with them.”