Dame Laura Kenny defies doubts to claim Commonwealth gold in scratch race

Dame Laura Kenny delivered Commonwealth gold for England in Monday’s scratch race and then revealed she had gone to bed on Sunday wondering if it would be her last competitive ride.

The five-time Olympic champion has endured a traumatic period since the Tokyo Games last summer, suffering a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy.

She has spoken of cycling being her safety blanket, but the pressures of competition have been a burden in recent months and she was disappointed with her form over the weekend.

“Yesterday I thought it was going to be my last bike race,” Kenny said. “Everything about it I just didn’t enjoy. Even before the start, I didn’t know if I could do it.

“(But) I came in this morning in a completely different mindset, thinking: ‘Of course you can do it.’ I told myself in the toilet: ‘You need to race as Laura Trott,’ that old bike rider who didn’t think about anything else other than crossing that finish line first.

“When I changed my mindset, I just felt completely different.”

Roared on by a London crowd that achieved decibel levels reminiscent of the 2012 Olympics, Kenny certainly raced like Trott of old, saving a burst of speed for the final laps to take victory ahead of New Zealand’s Michaela Drummond and Canada’s Maggie Coles-Lyster. The emotions then poured out.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games – Day Four
Laura Kenny saved a late burst of speed to take victory (John Walton/PA)

“I watched Adam Peaty and the way he reflected on his build-up, he said he hasn’t really felt the spark in training and competition for the past two years, and that feels very much like me,” said Kenny, who also pointed to the exit of coach Monica Greenwood and an injury to Madison partner Katie Archibald.

“You know when you get so much bad news that you feel a bit lost. I would say since everything that’s happened to me personally, and then Monica’s stepped away, I’ve felt lost.

“Obviously everything that’s happened to Katie, when Katie said to me she doesn’t think she can do the Commies and then do the Euros, I felt like somebody had ripped my right arm off…I just felt like I had nothing.”

Kenny has already spoken to British Cycling about potentially skipping next week’s European Championships and may still take time away before October’s World Championships.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games – Day Four
Laura Kenny celebrated her win on the same London track where she enjoyed her Olympic breakthrough in 2012 (John Walton/PA)

A return to the London velodrome brought happy memories of 2012 but also a level of expectation and pressure which Kenny felt when she called herself the weak link in Friday’s bronze medal-winning team pursuit squad, or when she finished 13th in Sunday’s points race.

“Everyone here wanted to see me cross the line first,” she said. “It is a lot of pressure to be put back under after that…

“It took every single last bit of energy to get me on that start line today. Last night, I honestly had to just be like: ‘This could be it. This literally could be your last bike race. You need to fight for it and you need to make sure that if this is, you need to go out with a bang.’

“And I can’t do that day in, day out. I can’t physically gee myself up like that every day.”

In that context, she said her Commonwealth gold was one of her best moments yet.

“To have to come through all of that and then to try and step up in front of a home crowd, in a way, I’m more proud of that than many of the other Olympic medals that I’ve won,” she said.

Kenny’s victory was England’s only gold in the velodrome, though they added to the medal haul on Monday’s final day with Sophie Capewell taking silver in the women’s keirin and Ollie Wood winning bronze in the men’s points race.