On the night Bradley Wiggins perhaps gave the most accurate assessment of Great Britain's defeat to Australia in the team pursuit at the UCI Track World Championships by pointing out that although the best team had won on the night the British team still have room for improvement.
It took a new Australian record of 3:52.727 to consign the home nation to the silver medal but the British team may well rue elements of their performance having pegged the Australian's back from 0.7 of a second to lead by 0.4 before finally slipping to defeat in the last lap after Ed Clancy faded with the line in sight. The margin on defeat at the finish was just over a second with the British team finishing in a time of 3:53.856.
"It's mixed emotions really. Initially we are gutted, well I am especially," Wiggins said. "We try and put a brave face on it, be sportsmanlike and tell them congratulations, because at the end of the day I said that you might need a world record or to go close to it to win here. That's what we thought and hats off to them because they're missing two strong riders from that team and to still do a world class ride like that."
It looked as though the British had done enough at one stage. Clancy took one mammoth turn in the middle sector and Wiggins looked set to lead the team towards a gold medal. He swung off with Clancy expected to power home but the Yorkshire-born rider had nothing in the tank.
"It's disappointing but at the same time so where we've come from with Ed, especially, we were close. I could sense that it was close and we were there with them. We knew that we'd have a race on and we’ll have a race on in Rio. I think we'll get first over the line in Rio."
"I could hear the crowd's reaction," Wiggins replied when asked whether he knew the team were reversing Australia's early advantage.
"I thought that something had happened. The last time that I heard noise like that was when I went pass Brad McGee in Athens. I knew that we'd probably gone ahead but it’s 4K and they had it for 4K."
The four-man team of Wiggins, Clancy Jon Dibben and Andy Tennant were selected for the final before the team's semi-final win over Italy earlier in the day. Clancy's inclusion in the final with Steven Burke swapped out was understandable given that the latter had under performed in these championships, but Wiggins admitted that Clancy's inclusion had come with some risk. Twelve weeks ago Clancy was undergoing back surgery and his entire career lay in jeopardy. Wiggins, though, paid tribute to his teammate, who led the team from the start despite all the medical advice to do so.
"Everyone now dissects their rides. Perhaps I shouldn't have changed [ed in the final lap]. Perhaps I should have just taken it to line, but you're always thinking in the back of your mind that perhaps the guy behind me has a little more in that last lap. I swung up and Ed just didn't have it. You could see that. It's one of those things," Wiggins said.
"Where he has come from, he's the strongest man. I said a couple of weeks ago that he was the one man that was probably irreplaceable. We just have to take it on the chin and keep working."
"We did gamble a bit with the semi-final putting Tennant in and Burke wasn't quite on it and that was to save Jon and Ed for the final. In hindsight we could have put Ed in earlier rounds, but in two weeks he's gone from not making any efforts – with the medical team saying that he can only race from man-four – to starting this race in the gate, against all the medical advice from the team back in Manchester.
"At Christmas, Ed was being driven in to the track in a van lying down because he couldn't even sit in a chair and he was walking up hills for fitness. It's phenomenal really."
Back to the drawing board
Despite the final loss, Wiggins stressed that the team still had more to give, and with several months until the Rio Olympics the endurance team will take stock and analyse their world championships. This was certainly a step in the right direction and New Zealand, Denmark and a number of other nations have far more ground to make up.
"Individually, and I just had a quick chat with Shane afterwards, we all look at our performances but this is the strongest set of team pursuiting that I've done. When we won in Beijing I was just a passenger in that quartet, dropping the pace. In 17 years of team pursuiting that's the best I've been, and there's a bit of life left in me yet," said Wiggins.
"We've got five months now to try and get a little bit better. This shows that the commitment I've made in coming away from the road, going into the gym and stuff, has worked.
"It takes four really and that's what it's all about. We lost Jon, and then Ed was the weakest link in that trio. You need four guys on the line that are of equal standard like when the guys won in London. There's only so many laps and you can't carry the team to win these titles. We need four guys on song."
Before he left the press pit and departed the velodrome with his teammates, Wiggins offered something of a rallying cry to his teammates and, one suspects, the majority of the home press that had gathered.
"Rio is what it's about. We would have taken the World title tonight but we have to take it in the chin. We were here to win. We knew that it would take a time like that to win it. We didn't produce it and they did. Back to the drawing board."
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