An enjoyable, if low-key, track world championships draw to a close in Hong Kong on Sunday night with Elinor Barker hoping to make it third time lucky and finish things off in style for a British team who have had a mixed bag of a week.
Four medals so far – one gold, two silver and one bronze – is a respectable return for a young squad at the start of a new Olympic cycle. But there is no doubt that a few of the more established names would have hoped for more. Olympic sprint medallists Callum Skinner and Katy Marchant, by their own admission, did not quite rise to the occasion. Marchant has another chance in the keirin but the safer money is on Barker to add to her haul this week. She certainly seems motivated.
After claiming her second silver medal of these championships alongside Emily Nelson in an entertaining, crash-strewn Madison on Saturday night, the Welsh rider said she was getting “a little bored” of listening to other people’s national anthems. “I kind of want to hear my own now,” Barker smiled.
The good news for Barker fans is that she looks in excellent nick. Along with her great friend and fellow team pursuit gold medallist Katie Archibald, the 22-year-old has really set the standard for this young squad this week. Barker has looked strong and increasingly authoritative, berating herself for letting slip the chance of scratch gold on the opening night but swiftly resetting her sights on the points race, which she reckoned pre-championships was her best chance of gold anyway.
It remains to be seen how Barker’s legs will recover from last night’s Madison – she said she did not anticipate it being a major problem – but she must surely take heart from the way she and Nelson rode.
Barker and Nelson wasted little time finding their rhythm, getting amongst the points straight away in one of track cycling’s most enjoyable, and most chaotic disciplines.
The International Olympic Committee has been out in Hong Kong this weekend trying to decide whether or not to include the Madison race in the track programme at Tokyo 2020. On the evidence here, it is a wonder they ever took it out. With teams of two riders hand-slinging each other around the track, and spills galore, it is a perennial crowd pleaser.
The British duo, who had only ridden one Madison each before, were engaged in a fierce battle with Belgium and Australia at the head of the field.
Ultimately they were unable to catch Belgian pair of Lotte Kopecky and Jolien D’Hoore – for whom the historic Madison race is a rite of passage – but they did stave off the Australians, for whom Alexandra Manly twice fell.
Barker was almost knocked off her bike by Kopecky at one point, but just managed to stay up. And she conceded afterwards that the right team won and that Britain needed to learn to ‘play rough’.
“I think we whacked shoes a little bit,” she said of the contact with Kopecky who was relegated in that sprint. “We definitely made contact. It seemed a little bit unnecessary, but they [the Belgians] race really hard and they won and they’re so smart. They spent a lot of the back half of the race trying to box us in and make us afraid. Maybe it’s something we can learn off them – how to not only race hard and try to beat people, but to put people off as well, which I guess is maybe not something that we did.”
Elsewhere, there was disappointment for 21-year-old Ryan Owens in the men’s sprint, as he lost out on a bronze medal, losing 2-0 to New Zealand’s Ethan Mitchell. But he said reaching the semi-finals was “more than he could have imagined” at his first worlds. He is rising fast.
Earlier, Archibald was absolutely distraught at missing out on a medal in the individual pursuit, fighting back tears as she felt “a bit stupid”.
The 23-year-old was being a touch harsh on herself. Having delivered Great Britain’s first, and so far only, gold medal of these championships on Friday night, hanging on for dear life in the final points race which she described as the hardest she had ever done, she then struggled to sleep with all the euphoria and congratulatory messages pinging away on her phone.
She still managed fifth in the IP with a 3min 31.331sec, missing out on a medal ride by less than three tenths of a second. “I guess I am just kind of embarrassed as I have put a lot of work into getting my PB at [3min] 28 and I’ve done it twice under circumstances that I thought could have been a lot better,” she said, adding she was not sure when she would next be able to focus on the IP with it not being an Olympic event.