GB women hoping to work out a new winning formula when they head to Bulgaria
Great Britain will head to next weekend’s European Track Cycling Championships hoping a change of format in the women’s team sprint can help their own reset in a discipline which has proven a weakness.
Britain failed to qualify for the event at both the Rio and Tokyo Olympics, but a major project to address that could begin to bear fruit in Plovdiv, Bulgaria next weekend.
While the bulk of the British squad making the trip is focused on next year’s postponed Games, the women team sprinters will be looking to Paris 2024 as a new three-rider format makes its debut.
A young group made up of Milly Tanner, Lusia Steele, Lauren Bate and Blaine Ridge-Davis has been selected for the team sprint while senior riders Katy Marchant and Sophie Capewell keep their focus on the individual events and Tokyo.
“This is really the start of our Paris cycle,” women’s sprint coach Jan van Eijden told the PA News agency. “We’ll see where we’re at and give young riders the opportunity to get on the startline for a major championships.”
The current two-rider format will be used in Tokyo, but with these Championships effectively signalling the start of the Paris cycle as reshuffled calendars overlap during the pandemic, the women’s team sprint will expand to use the same three-rider format as the men’s competition.
It could prove fortuitous timing for British Cycling given the arrival of a new crop of riders, recruited since Jess Varnish and Marchant fell short of qualification in the event in 2016.
And given Britain also missed out on qualification for Tokyo, they can go all-in on the new format while other nations juggle their ambitions.
“The problem for a lot of nations is that they need to focus on the first two laps and what will be competitive at the (Tokyo) Games,” Van Eijden added. “What do you do if you haven’t got a third rider? Do you compromise riders that are going to the Games to get a good time here?
“We don’t have to do that. We just crack on with the best composite team and get the fastest time. It means we’ve got an extra year so we can really work with three riders looking ahead to Paris.”
Bate is the only one of the four to have previous experience at a major competition, having ridden at World Cups and World Championships during the unsuccessful attempt to qualify for Tokyo.
Bate and former BMX rider Ridge-Davis are expected to take turns in the decisive Woman 3 role, with Steele Woman 2 and former swimmer Tanner in the crucial Woman 1 role.
Clear targets are in front of the riders, but Tanner said the mood was one of excitement rather than pressure as they embrace something new.
“It’s brought more enjoyment rather than a challenge,” she said. “It brings another person into the team so rather than a pairing we feel like a proper team.
“It’s really exciting to be able to get the ball rolling in the Paris cycle.”
Laura Kenny, Elinor Barker, Katie Archibald, Neah Evans and Josie Knight will be out to defend their team pursuit title at the Championships, which will take place from November 11-15. Ethan Vernon, Matt Walls and Ollie Wood will race the men’s endurance events.
Meanwhile, British Cycling has announced the postponement of the national track and cyclo-cross championships, both scheduled for January, amid the ongoing pandemic. It is hoped both events can be rescheduled.