This time last year, Geraint Thomas was about to finish in the top 10 of the Tour of Flanders. Twelve months on, his focus is on the track as part of Team GB's pursuit squad which takes on the UCI Track World Championships in Melbourne, Australia next week, but it hasn't all been plain sailing for the Welshman.
Team GB touched down in Melbourne earlier this week ahead of the championships and the team pursuit squad got off to a flying start. Any remnants of jet lag were blasted away when the team set a time of 0:02:42.1 over 2,750 metres at the Darebin International Sports Centre, which is on world record pace. Team GB set the current benchmark of 0:03:53.314, during the gold-medal winning ride at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
When Cyclingnews suggested that the session was an ominous sign for any rivals, Thomas laughed quietly before providing a somewhat reserved response.
"We just did a couple of standing efforts and we were travelling around nicely so it all looks good for a week today really," he said. "We've definitely moved on since London so that's what we've wanted to do and the plan up to the Games is on track."
Thomas was a member of that world record-setting team in Beijing, along with Ed Clancy, Paul Manning and Bradley Wiggins. Since, there's been little time for the track with only the odd World Cup appearance and so Thomas revealed that he's found this current re-focussing of his efforts "pretty tough to be honest."
There was a 'boot camp' last November and then preparation for the London World Cup in February, where Team GB (0:03:56.300) was beaten to the gold medal by defending world champions, Australia (0:03:54.600), by almost two seconds in the third-best time ever recorded. Then it was on to Paris-Nice before returning to the track in preparation for the worlds where he is now in a fight to earn a spot in the final four with Steven Burke, Pete Kennaugh, Ben Swift, Andy Tennant, and Clancy.
"When I came back after Paris-Nice, I wasn't quite so confident with a bit of fatigue in the legs and it's quite hard to switch back on to the track after a long, hard race like that but I'm definitely starting to find my legs now so hopefully I'll be there," Thomas told Cyclingnews. "Whatever four go, we're definitely in with a shout of winning."
Four years ago, Team GB took out the world title en route to Olympic gold. Delving back through the record books it was a trend carried from the Sydney Games in 2000 with Germany and then in 2004 with Australia taking the double. Asked if it was almost necessary to win next Wednesday afternoon as a stepping stone, and no doubt a confidence boost, to London, Thomas was adamant:
"You don't need to," he brushed off. "It would be great if we did but at the same time if we got second in the world cup, second in the worlds and then won the Olympics I'd take that any day of the week. At the same time we've come here to race hard and to try and win."
Thomas, like many pundits believes that Team GB and Australia are favourites for this year's world title, but he is also quick to note that both the Russians and New Zealand are on the ride and could easily provide an upset.
The 25-year-old said that with Heiko Salzwedel at the helm of the Russian program, the RusVelo squad is most likely to give Team GB and Australia reason to worry.
"Russia is definitely going to produce a fast time," Thomas said. "They produced a 56 [0:03:56.127] in Astana and they've got Heiko who's an old hand who knows what they need to do so they're an outside bet."
Surprisingly, Thomas is not as certain of the world record succumbing to the intense competition that's expected next week. The track at Hisense Arena is especially suited to the team pursuit with the banking allowing competitors to float on even the bad changes - therefore the teams who aren't as technically astute will be punished less for any mistakes. Combine that with sell-out crowds, together with a hard surface and the times should be fast.
"I think there's a bigger chance in London of actually seeing it," he admitted. "It will go at some point this year though."
The first medals for the UCI Track World Championships will be awarded for the men's team pursuit with qualifying the sole focus of Wednesday's opening session, with the finals taking place that evening.
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