Track Worlds: French look forward to renewing British rivalry

There is a certain level of spice to the rivalry between the French and the English, whether played out through sport or otherwise.

"Going up against them, it has a unique flavor. There is always a France-England rivalry, as in other sports," Grégory Baugé told L'Equipe, as it examined that rivalry ahead of the UCI Track World Championships in London.

The British have been a thorn in the side of the French in the past – a thorn, indeed, in the side of most other nations – and, having hosted last year’s Worlds at St-Quentin en Yvelines, the French now arrive on Britain’s home turf. They return to the Lee Valley Velodrome, the scene of the London 2012 Olympic Games where Great Britain claimed a haul of seven gold medals that no one could come close to.

The French had to settle for three silver medals, one of which came in the team sprint, and while that trio of Baugé, Michaël D'Almeida, and Kévin Sireau may now be reigning world champions, they still feel they have unfinished business.

"It's heart-warming to come back here because we won an Olympic medal here, but in hindsight, London 2012 remains simply a defeat," said Sireau. "We don't want to denigrate a silver medal but we got on the track for the gold. We were sad, knocked down. A victory here, beating the English in the final, it wouldn't erase it, but it would go a long way to making up for it."

For his part, D'Almeida notes that the sprint set-ups of both nations haven't clashed since London 2012, with Britain falling away somewhat following the retirement of Chris Hoy. 

"They are our rivals, our bête noire at the Olympics, but not on a day-to-day basis."

Francois Pervis, a six-time world champion, played down the sense of animosity between the two nations, describing the friendship that exists between the two sets of riders.

"The rivalry, it’s something you read about, but pfff... Between the riders, I don't see it," he told L'Equipe. "It's the picture that gets painted but for me, I get on well with all the English. I met them in Japan for the Keirin competition, and there was no bother. I became friends with all the foreigners out there because we stuck together. We have a personal chat on social channels, we speak, we send each other photos of our holidays, we tell each other what we're up to, we send jokes. We're really mates. It'll be great to see each other again.

Pervis has taken the decision not to defend his world title in the kilo, in which he holds the world record and has competed at the last 12 Worlds. That's because he wants to stay in best possible shape for the individual sprint and for the keirin on the final day, both of which are Olympic disciplines and therefore more important with Rio looming this summer.

As for Rio, Pervis touched on GB's propensity to peak when it matters, notably at the key moments in the Olympic cycle.

"They know how to get things out at the last minute. They know how to approach a competition. They are not stronger than us. At least not for the time being…" 

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