While much of the pre-Olympic build-up for the men's team pursuit has been on the battle between Great Britain and Australia, RusVelo has been doing the hard yards at the Tour of Qinghai Lake and General Manager Heiko Salzwedel is confident his team is on track for medal contention.
Qualifying for the event gets underway on the afternoon of August 2 with the medals decided just over 24 hours later. Following their month-long stint in China, RusVelo's final preparation for London Games is taking place in Buettgen, Germany where Salzwedel revealed the team will be provided with a constant reminder of the competition.
"The many pictures of the Australian team in the Russian team's hotel are pretty stimulating," he told Cyclingnews.
RusVelo ranked second behind Australia in the UCI's Olympic rankings at the end of the 2011-2012 track season. The team won two World Cup rounds (Astana and Beijing) and on both occasions, was the only team in the finals to go under the four-minute mark. When it came to the World Championships in April in Melbourne, RusVelo came unstuck when Ivan Kovalev was a victim of a hit-and-run in Sydney while in a training camp pre-event. RusVelo, with Artur Ershov in for the injured Ivan Kovalev, Evgeny Kovalev, Alexey Markov and Alexander Serov, would race against New Zealand in the bronze medal round, fading in the final 750 metres and falling short of the podium.
"They faded away, due to lack of endurance, caused by some serious interruption in the lead up," says Salzwedel. "Nonetheless, we knew about the reasons and tried to make the best of the situation. The loss of Ivan Kovalev, due to the hit-and-run in the preceding training camp in Sydney was the gain for Artur Ershov, the new kid on the block. Although he needed more time to adapt to the new system I introduced in Russia, we both learned a lot and draw the right conclusions for the preparations for the Olympics."
Risk versus reward
The two assumed contenders for the bronze medal in London have one thing in common. Unlike Great Britain and Australia, RusVelo and New Zealand have both continued with their road programs in preparation for their Olympic track campaign.
RusVelo's performance at Qinghai Lake earlier this month was impressive. Ershov won the 200km Stage 8 in a bunch sprint and the team finished second overall in the team classification behind Tabriz Petrochemical Team. Two riders, Ershov and Sergey Firsanov finished in the top 10 overall, safety in the sprints was a priority but regardless, the team had no other choice but to produce results.
"The most satisfying thing is that the lead out train comprising of Markov, Serov, Ershov, Ivan and Evgeny Kovalev have been blitzing the field every day at the end of the stages," explained RusVelo directeur sportif Henk Vogels to Cyclingnews. "So much so that Andrea Gaurdini has been preferring to tag onto the fast finishing guys from Rusvelo."
Wind back the clock 12 months and the team was "destroyed" following the Chinese 2.HC event yet still managed to post consistent 3:56 – 3:58's in competition. This time around, management says that the team has adapted much better having come off their sixth altitude camp so when the team hits the velodrome at Olympic Park, it's hoped that the chosen quartet will be flying.
Salzwedel admits that while the rigours of cycling on the Asian Tour was a risk, it was a necessary one as the program builds towards dominating the sport by the next Olympic Games in 2016.
"Yes, there is always an element of risk, but if you aim high you have to [attempt] the unusual," he mused. "It worked in 2008 with the Danish Team..."
Unlike in April, riders like Ershov are better for the extra racing experience. Salzwedel now has five riders in genuine contention to ride.
"It's a luxury problem every coach is dreaming for... I do not get any nightmares from that."