France had to settle for fourth place in the team sprint on the opening night of the UCI Track World Championships in London on Wednesday, marking only the fourth time that the country has missed out on a medal in the discipline since it was introduced to the Worlds programme in 1995.
The trio of Grégory Baugé, Michaël D'Almeida and Kévin Sireau, world champions in Paris a year ago, could only manage fourth in London. They clocked a time of 43.487 seconds in the qualifying round and then 43.577 in the bronze-medal match, where they were beaten by Germany. New Zealand beat the Netherlands in the final to claim the gold medal in a time of 43.096.
"We didn't make the final, we missed the medals, and when you lose it's not pleasant," Baugé told reporters afterwards. "We're in good condition and this was our best time of the season so far, an improvement on what we did during the World Cup. We're among the best teams. It's not like we were eighth, we're right up there. And the season doesn't end with the World Championships."
Indeed, with the Rio 2016 Olympics the centrepiece of the season, there is a curious feel to these World Championships, with some riders and nations – at least, those who are safely qualified in their chosen events – seemingly unwilling to show their hand ahead of the main event in August. Baugé was coy on whether the French sprint team had struck the correct balance between performing at the Worlds in March and preparing for the Olympics in August.
"That's a question for the coaching staff. We're not on the podium here, and we didn't get on the podium in the World Cups, but we're a team with experience and we'll look to build for the Games," Baugé said. "The season is long. We're focused on ourselves and we're not looking at what our rivals do.
"I'd prefer to look at my own sensations. I've got a bit of experience and I know I feel good, and I can do a good week here. Obviously collectively, we've finished fourth and we've missed out on the bronze medal, so that's not satisfying, it's a bit of a regret."
Baugé will put his individual sprint world title on the line on Saturday, though in Thursday morning's edition of L’Équipe, the emphasis was squarely on a post-mortem of France's failure to take a medal in the team event.
The other years France missed out since 1995, incidentally, were 2002, 2005 and 2011, when Baugé, Sireau and D'Almeida were stripped of the world title after Baugé was handed a back-dated suspension for missing three out-of-competition doping tests.
Baugé led off the French team with only the seventh fastest first lap in qualifying, but he dismissed the idea that his position in the French trio for the team sprint for Rio might come under threat.
"Every rider has had his chance but there is no surprise – you have three best riders for the French sprint team before you," Baugé told L'Équipe. "I am unquestionable, I know what I'm worth. If someone told me tomorrow that I wasn't going to do the team sprint, I'd laugh in their face because I'm the best in my position."