Grégory Baugé’s performances at the Track World Championships may seem disappointing on paper, but not to the man himself, who was unperturbed by his performances and shrugged off this week as “not important”.
The Frenchman, nine times a Worlds gold medalist across the individual and team sprint disciplines, was sent packing in the quarter finals of the individual in London on Saturday, which came after he missed out on a team medal on the opening day - a far cry from last year’s double gold at a home Worlds.
Many subscribe to the notion that in an Olympic year the Worlds take on added significance as the final major competitive outing before the Games – a chance to test yourself at the highest level and set the tone ahead of the summer.
“I don’t care, I don’t care,” said Baugé in riposte, speaking to Cyclingnews after exiting the individual sprint.
“I know this is a big competition before the Olympic Games but I don’t care. I know I’ll be better at the Olympics – no problem."
Baugé said he hasn't felt fast this week but then he feels no real pressure to be performing in London. After a duo of silver medals at London 2012, he is focusing with tunnel vision on finally getting his hands on gold and everything else is paling into insignificance.
“I’m not shocked. For me the most important thing this year is the Olympic Games. For sure I’ll be better at the Olympic Games,” he said.
“I feel good, but I’m not fast. You could see in the 200-metre time trial, I had only the 8th fastest time. I’m not fast here, but for Rio I hope so. In 2012, I won the team sprint title and then at the Olympic Games I was second.
"It's not important. For me the gold medal, a first gold medal, that’s what it’s all about.”
If this week’s showing isn’t worrying in itself, it may seem more so when viewed in the context of the season as a whole – one that hasn’t seen Baugé be competitive on the international stage at all.
He was absent from the European Championships in October, and from the opening round of the World Cup in November. At the New Zealand round in December he failed to get through qualifying in the individual sprint, while in at the Hong Kong leg in January he only rode the team event and again failed to qualify.
“I wasn’t good [in Hong Kong] because on Christmas Day I enjoyed some good food… and then I was fat - too fat,” said Baugé with a grin.
The French team in general haven’t performed to their usual high standards, with Francois Pervis exiting the individual sprint earlier than Baugé and looking sluggish in the opening round of the keirin.
“In France [at last year's Worlds] it was important for our riders,” said Baugé when discussing Jason Kenny and the Olympic champion’s reinvigorated form here on home turf.
“Our riders are really focused on Rio. A medal here is not important. We are the best in the sprints, you remember last year, we had five titles in the sprint, but really the most important thing is the Olympic Games. What was disappointing was the London Olympics, two silver medals - that's not good for me or for my team.”
Even before these world championships there were question marks over which sprint riders the French should take to Rio, with Pervis, Michael D’Almeida, and Kevin Sireau also in the frame.
The decision will be taken in early April and Baugé told Cyclingnews he had no doubt he’d be on that plane, echoing what he’d told L’Equipe on the eve of the worlds.
"I am unquestionable," he told the French newspaper. "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."