After an opening day in which performances had been disappointing and discord had emerged in the Great Britain camp, things went from bad to worse on the second day of the Track World Championships when the women’s team pursuit quartet fell apart in qualifying and ruled themselves out of a gold medal.
Second fastest through the opening 3,000 metres, disaster struck when Laura Trott hit the front and Ciara Horne, who had done a shorter turn and looked to be struggling, lost contact with the wheel of Elinor Barker. Joanna Rowsell gave chase but the group had split and would not come back together, with Trott and Barker sitting up as they rounded the final bend.
In the end they posted the fifth best time, meaning the best they can hope for now is to make it to the third/fourth place ride to try and salvage the bronze medal.
“It’s a disappointing performance – there’s no way of dressing that any differently,” coach Ian Dyer told a group of journalists, with the riders not giving interviews until the conclusion of the event. “It‘s fair to say it wasn’t as cohesive as it could have been.”
The performance comes on the back of underwhelming displays from the sprint teams on Wednesday, when it appeared that any lingering trace of invincibility that Great Britain used to enjoy on the track had gone for good.
The women’s pursuit team was a big part of that invincibility, top of the world for so long. Australia had removed that aura by taking gold in a new world record time at last year’s Worlds but this is a fresh blow so close to the Olympic Games.
“When you look at the times, and when you look at the splits, we haven’t settled on a nice consistent pace. It was a bit of an up-and-down pace and when people are doing their turn and then getting pushed it’s difficult to stay cohesive and stay consistent,” said Dyer.
“That’s where it’s important to make decisions on the hoof – about do you stay in for a lap and a half or just do a quick lap and get out and try and recompose yourself on the back of the line-up.”
In the wake of such a display, the spotlight will inevitably be turned on the make-up of the team, and Dyer conceded that it was disappointing not to have Katie Archibald, who would have ridden instead of Horne were it not for a motorbike crash in December.
“Naturally we’d have liked Katie to have been at the races,” he said. “She’s a strong rider in the team and she’s nearly back to her best but we knew for a long time now that we wouldn’t have her here, so naturally we’ve tried to give it our best shot here, and it didn’t pan out unfortunately."
Dyer was also asked if, in hindsight, it was a wise decision to tell Dani King, who was part of the gold medal-winning team at the London 2012 Olympics, that she had no place in the squad last summer.
“Absolutely, unequivocally,” was his response. “Dani trained with us for a good spell, we were able to see her up close, back in the groove again, in team pursuit mode.
“Of course the event is very different from when Dani was Olympic champion, and being 33% longer does change the dynamic considerably,” he added, referring to the change from three kilometres and three riders to four kilometres and four riders. “I’m confident the right call was made.”
A bronze medal can still be won, and if the quartet can do so while putting in a decent time and a more cohesive display, it would prevent the confidence from being too severely dented ahead of Rio. They will now ride in the First Round, where, aside from the winners of the two semi-finals, the two fastest times will qualify for the bronze medal ride.
“Naturally they are very disappointed, but I think the important thing is that they’ve got to gather themselves now, because they can still claw themselves into the medals,” said Dyer.
“They are capable of a better performance, so it’s important with two rides still to come – hopefully – we get ourselves back into the medals and produce a better performance. We’ve got to look at the data today and work out the best way to go forward from here.”