Team USA took a huge step closer to taking their first ever women’s gold medal on the track Thursday when they set the fastest time in the qualifying round of the team pursuit at the UCI Track World Championships. Riding on the second day of competition, the US went a full four seconds faster than Canada, their closest rivals.
Their time of 4.16.180 was a new national record and just three seconds shy of the world record set by the Australians at last year’s World Championships. The time sent a warning shot to their rivals and moved them closer to that gold medal, but they’re trying to keep their feet on the ground with another round to come before they can ride for a medal.
“We’re all working towards an unprecedented goal, which is the first gold medal in US women’s track cycling. Everyone is switched on and focused and today was a really good first step towards that goal,” Team USA’s Track Technical Director Andy Sparks told Cyclingnews. “Obviously, we wanted to do our best possible time today but it is still a three-series race where we have to rise up. Of course, it’s about putting in a time and building the confidence for tomorrow, but they know we haven’t passed the finish line until we get to the final tomorrow.”
Four years ago, the US claimed silver in the team pursuit at the Olympic Games on the same track when the event took place over three kilometres. It was the last time over that distance and the team put in a new national record of 3:16.853, over half a second slower than their time over four kilometres.
Team USA have struggled over the four-kilometre distance and it’s a vast improvement on what they put in two years ago when they missed out on the medal rounds. Sparks says that the team have hunkered down and they have really tried to bring the riders together as a team.
“We’ve worked really hard over the past 16 to 24 months. We worked all through the summer and all the riders who were on the road dropped those commitments,” he said. “We had a lot of real estate to cover, I mean a lot. In the 2014 World Championships in Colombia, we rode a 4:39 and today we rode a 16 and we had this culture of working hard and raising standards, everyone pushing each other. In the US, even though we only have six riders here about 30 girls went into that performance.”
Following their ride, Team USA watched all three of last year’s medallists go slower than they had. Beating squads with such pedigree is a big boost to the team, but they’re well aware that those nations can turn things around in the five months that separate the World Championships and the Olympic Games in Rio.
“There are a ton of good teams out there and that makes it a more meaningful journey and a good challenging quest for us to work for us,” Sparks told Cyclingnews.
“It’s a been a journey of everyone committing to a programme. We’ve got five great teams in the world at the moment so anything can happen between now and Rio. We’ll just keep plugging away and doing our best and just focus on what we can control. In the end, we can’t control what other teams do or the times they ride. We just want to do our best and today we were lucky to have a smooth ride and we had no bad luck through sickness or travel. Luck plays a big part of it. It’s about managing the variables and the bad luck.”
There will, of course, be other chances for the US to nail that gold medal, with Sarah Hammer also among the favourites for the Omnium later in the week.