The French sprint squad experienced a bitter setback at the 2010 Track World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, when they were beaten by Germany in the men's team sprint on Wednesday. The experienced squad, used to scoring the gold medal in the discipline every year since 2006, missed out on the top step of the podium by two hundredths to the German combination.
After having clocked the best time of the qualification heats, the French trio of Grégory Baugé, Kévin Sireau and Michael d'Almeida was "disappointed" by their performance in the final. Especially Baugé, whose performance as first rider did not live up to expectations.
"I'm very, very disappointed," he told French press agency AFP. "The German démarreur [starter - the first rider of the team sprint, in this case Robert Förstemann - ed.] went off very fast. He already showed some really good performances in the World Cup. I didn't achieve the best time and this hurt the team, even if Kévin (Sireau) accelerated again and Michael (d'Almeida) anchored it really well."
Indeed, Baugé passed on the relay to Sireau 19 hundredths of a second adrift of the German team, a deficit that would eventually cost them the gold medal. Sireau made up three hundredths of a second on his direct rival, Maximilian Levy, and D'Almeida again produced a stellar performance against Kilo World Champ Stefan Nimke, but it was not enough.
Baugé's trainer, Florian Rousseau, explained that the Frenchman from the Caribbean island of Guadedoupe wasn't able to prepare himself for the Worlds as he'd wanted because of a shoulder injury in late January. "For several weeks, he couldn't work his starts properly," Rousseau said. "In the qualifying, he showed off a good performance, but 17.440 in the final is of course not Greg's best because his record is 17.200."
"The Germans were very strong, you have to accept it," added Sireau. D'Almeida's disappointment was tempered with satisfaction at his own performance. "It's a big disappointment, we wanted this title and we missed it. I achieved the best time of the tournament in third position, so now I'll fight to become the World Champs' fastest rider."
Germany tunes sprint team to perfection
Meanwhile, no one was more surprised that the Germans won the team sprint than the gold meddalists themselves. Robert Förstemann, Maximilian Levy and Stefan Nimke upset the favourites to take Germany's third World gold medal in this discipline, having previously won in 1995 and 2003. "Sure, we wanted a medal, but we really didn't reckon on it happening," Nimke, the team's last man told the German cycling federation.
"That is unbelievable," said Levy, who knew where to give credit. "But it is the product of hard work in the last week and months. In that time, all of us, whether rider, trainer or soigneur, have grown together into a real team."
Lead rider Förstemann was happy enough to beat Great Britain in the semi-finals. "That we could top Britain and actually get into the finals was fantastic. And then to win the finals is even better."
Germany and France were joined on the podium by bronze medallists, Great Britain.
"Technically, we weren't as good as we would have had to be," said Great British rider Sir Chris Hoy. "But on the positive side we found someone that is on the same level than Jamie [Staff] at the start. The French and German teams were impressive; they'll give us something to think about for the next two years. Every medal is hard to obtain, so we have to be proud that we got one."