The 2012 Melbourne Track World Championships saw host nation Australian and Great Britain go head-to-head on the Hisense velodrome, sharing the gold medals six a piece. Australia would finish just ahead of Great Britain on the medal tally with 15 although it was the old enemy who got excelled in the Olympic track events.
Four years on, it is London hosting the Track World Championships before the Rio Olympic Games in August. Great Britain’s performance in the 2012 London Games was one of absolute dominance and while there are several new faces in the team for 2016, they remain the benchmark in track racing.
While there are 19 rainbow jerseys on offer at the World Championships, the track programme in Rio is a reduced affair with just ten gold medals. The men and women will contest the team pursuit, Omnium, Keirin, sprint and team sprint in Rio's Barra velodrome from August 11-16. The 5800 seat capacity velodrome previously hosted the 2007 Pan American Games.
With the three Track Cups of the 2015-16 season raced and won, the Track Worlds is one final opportunity for high-quality international racing before the Rio Games. Ahead of the London Worlds, Cyclingnews spoke to Australia's endurance and sprint coaches about their plans and objectives.
Endurance – men and women
For men’s endurance coach Tim Decker, the Worlds are an opportunity for the team pursuit squad to iron out the last of the creases and for some of the younger riders to press their claim for a place in Rio
“It’s all about the refining process now. The number one aim is of course Rio. Regardless of the end result in London, the big focus doesn’t change from what we’re trying to achieve in August,” Decker told Cyclingnews.
Australia will be missing Jack Bobridge and Alex Edmondson for the team pursuit in London, but with a healthy depth to the endurance squad, Decker explained that he welcomes the competition for selection with no rider guaranteed a place in Rio.
“The worse thing that could happen now is that people get complacent and think they have a ticket to Rio already,” he said. “A few athletes have been to the Olympics before and it’s not just about going to the Olympics. I think we have a capable group of actually winning a gold medal, so I am not going to make any decision on the team ‘as soon as possible’. The guys need to be, as well as myself, used to feeling a little bit uncomfortable until it's the time to get comfortable.”
Australia set a new national record in the team pursuit final of the New Zealand Track World Cup with Bobridge, Edmondson, Michael Hepburn and Luke Davison. However, it’s not a ride that Decker would like to replicate or use a template as he explained.
“It’s not the kind of ride we want because in all three rounds we had three finishers so we’ve been working hard on getting that fourth rider to the finish so it’s important to have four riders, especially in qualifying and in that first round because you never know what can happen throughout the ride,” explained Decker who saw his team pursuit squad suffer a mechanical in qualifying at last year’s Worlds.
The emphasis may be on refinement, but with the quality of Australia's team pursuit squad and the pressure on to impress the coach in order to gain selection, Australia's run of missing the medals on just one occasion since 2002 looks likely to continue.
It isn't all about the team pursuit though with Glenn O'Shea aiming for his second rainbow jersey in the omnium to go with his 2012 success. Making his first return to the Track Worlds since a scintillating points victory in Melbourne, Cameron Meyer will race the Madison which is one non-Olympic event that Decker is eyeing off a strong performance in.
“I guess being Australian we love to race and we certainly don’t want to take any shine of other events and we are certainly trying to respect what a Worlds is due,” Decker said. “Having said that, the Olympic events are a priority focus and they are certainly the ones we are gunning for. For example, the Madison is the last event on the programme so it's quite obvious that all nations will want to finish off on a good note. It’s important that we show respect to all events but the Olympic events are a bit more prioritised."
Men’s Track Endurance squad for London: Luke Davison (SA/NSW), Michael Hepburn (QLD), Cameron Meyer (WA), Glenn O’Shea (SA/VIC), Alexander Porter (SA), Callum Scotson (SA), Miles Scotson (SA) and Samuel Welsford (WA).
While it’s all about refining for Decker in London, women’s endurance coach Gary Sutton will use the Worlds as a final opportunity for experimentation.
“We’ve been trying something different for the last two months and we’ll try something different. We’ve tried different things here in Adelaide and I am really pleased with how some of these girls have stepped up,” Sutton told Cyclingnews of the aim to bring back the gold medal.
Australia broke Great Britain’s run of four world championships wins in the team pursuit last year with consecutive victories well within possibility. Since its introduction to the Worlds in 2008, Australia has missed a medal on just one occasion, losing the bronze medal ride to New Zealand in 2011.
“The most important thing between now and then is to continue with what we are doing here and we get them there and keep them nice and healthy. We believe they’ll perform very well,” Sutton said.
The team will be missing Mel Hoskins in London as she continues her recovery from pneumonia, but Sutton is confident she will slot straight into the team for Rio with the 24-year-old given time to ensure she is at full health before doing so.
“I have no doubt whatsoever. There was a possibility she may have been ready for the Worlds but at the end of the day, it's important we do it right and I feel with the processes put in place, it will certainly help the team for Rio. More importantly, it will help Mel because we want her 100% healthy,” he said.
While Australia’s chances across the championships for medals are favourable with the likes of 2014 Points Race World champion Amy Cure and 2015 individual pursuit world champion Rebecca Wiasak in the squad, Sutton explained that due to the London schedule, there will be greater priority placed on performing in the Olympics events.
“The programme probably isn’t the best for the women’s endurance riders because you have the individual pursuit the day before, then we have the team pursuit the next two days so we certainly won't start anyone in the scratch race. We will start somebody in the points race, obviously the Omnium, and Rebecca Wiasak will start the individual pursuit,” Sutton added.
Reigning omnium world champion Annette Edmondson will be up against five-time world champion Laura Trott, whom she beat to the title last year, and Sutton believes the 24-year-old is well placed for repeat success.
“At the national championships she was in great form and she’s training well. This is a different Nettie, she’s so self-motivated,” he said of the Wiggle-High5 rider
Women’s Track Endurance squad for London: Ashlee Ankudinoff (NSW), Amy Cure (TAS), Annette Edmondson (SA). Georgia Baker (TAS) and Rebecca Wiasak (ACT).
Sprint chances - Women and Men
It's not all about the endurance events in London though with Australia's sprint team also fancied for rainbow jersey success after three successful World Cups in the 2015-16 season.
National sprint coach Gary West explained to Cyclingnews that his focus for London is to ensure his riders arrive ready to fight in every race they enter. But doing so with the understanding it is August, not March, when they want to be in peak condition.
“Across the board in the sprint programme, we are looking to be competitive in every event we line up in,” West said. “We understand it’s not the end game, we understand that the big dance is in August in Rio. It’s an opportunity for us to test out what we’ve done in preparation, to refine some of the work we’ve done in the World Cup season and match it against the best in the world and see where we are at. Our intent is to be competitive in as many events as we can.”
Similar to Decker, West is looking to iron out the creases in London and will use the Worlds “like we’ve used the World Cups to gather more information in that process of refinement and rehearing," he said.
“It’s an opportunity for them in a very hotly contested field to go out and trial, rehearse, refine, strategy, plays, routine, etc. all in preparation for Rio in August.”
The jewel in the crown for West is 11-time World Champion Anna Meares, who just won her 36th Australian national title last month. Meares remains the top Australian female sprinter and West believes she has a big season ahead despite injury momentarily slowing her progress last-December.
“I think it's fair to say all our indices were indicating at the end of November, leading to World Cup two in New Zealand, she was in career best form,” West said of the five-time Olympic medallist. “Unfortunately, she sustained a back injury, she’s had previous back injuries dating back many, many years and it's an on-going management issue with Anna, but her form leading into that late-November, early-December period was career best form.
"We’ve managed to get on top of those niggles and injuries, which is an on-going process, so for her to come out at nationals and ride as she did, there were some flashes of the old Anna Meares there in terms of her mindset, attitude and application, so that was very pleasing.”
With the in-form duo of Stephanie Morton and Kaarle McCulloch joining Meares in the sprint team, the Australians will be formidable opposition in London. The German duo of Kristina Vogel and Miriam Welte will pose challenges in the sprints but Meares will likely cause headaches for her competitors in the keirin and time trial. Morton made the Keirin final at last year's Worlds, won by Meares, and coming off a strong World Cup the 25-year-old could well claim her first track world title to go with her two Commonwealth Games gold medals and Paralympic Games gold medal, and rainbow jerseys.
For the men, Matt Glaetzer announced himself as the sprint team leader at the Australian nationals while Patrick Constable proved his Hong Kong gold medal in the sprint is a sign of things to come, rather than a one-off performance.
"His development, progression and growth in the last six months has been amazing. If he can continue that trajectory to Rio in the next six-months, he’s got enormous potential in my mind," West said of Constable.
Glaetzer is likely to be the only member of the 2012 London sprint team in Rio with Scott Sunderland shifting focus to the road and Shane Perkins in an uphill battle to qualify.
“He’s no different to any other athlete in the programme. There’s an expectation Matt will go into every contest with his best foot forward. He won’t be at 100% due to what we expect from him at Rio,” West explained of Glaetzer. “We want to see Matt and we want to see the other athletes be competitive.”
Australia's Matt Glaetzer in the world cup leader's jersey during the men's sprint (Guy Swarbrick)
Acknowledging the difficulty of forecasting Australia's results in London, West explained he and his team are simply focused on performing at their best at every opportunity.
"It’s a little bit difficult to crystal ball and predict what is going to happen in Rio, but we head towards Rio, we head towards London wanting to do our very, very best. We are working very hard individually and collectively for Rio," West added. "That is our ultimate goal at this point in time and everything we do, both in the training and competition environment between now and then, is aimed at Rio. I’d expect come Rio, everything being equal, we’ll be competitive once again."
With competition also fierce in the bid for a position in the Olympic sprint squad, a gold medal ride in Rio would go a long way to securing selection. The squad for London is capable of contesting for medals across the sprint programme, with the majority having tasted success at international level, although they face strong competition from the likes of Great Britain, New Zealand, France and Germany.
Sprint squad: Patrick Constable (SA), Matthew Glaetzer (SA), Nathan Hart (ACT), Jacob Schmid (VIC), Kaarle McCulloch (NSW), Anna Meares (SA/QLD) and Stephanie Morton (SA).