Great Britain’s track cyclists will begin a much-needed two-week break reflecting on how much work lies ahead if they are to deliver another Olympic medal rush in Tokyo next year.
Riders have been encouraged to take a holiday in the wake of last week’s UCI Track Cycling World Championships, with coaches warning they will not get another chance like this for 18 months.
Though several members of the women’s endurance squad – Laura Kenny, Katie Archibald, Neah Evans and Elinor Barker – are signed up to ride in the Six Day Series in Manchester at the end of March, there are no other events until the grand prix season starts in May.
A breather will be most welcome after a gruelling 18 months which took its toll and perhaps showed in Pruszkow, where Britain finished a lowly sixth in the medal standings as the Dutch and Australians dominated.
Last winter was extended by the Commonwealth Games in Australia, while this winter’s season started early with the European Championships in Glasgow in August.
“It was a very tough 2018 with a late world championships followed by the Commonwealth Games and then a very early Euros,” sprint coach Justin Grace said.
“There was a lot of stuff that we would normally do in training that we just couldn’t do. We had to shorten all of the normal training phases.”
The Pruszkow championships delivered a stark warning of the challenges ahead.
The Dutch dominated the men’s sprints by putting up the sorts of times not seen from Britain’s six-time Olympic champion Jason Kenny, who only raced in the team sprint last week, since Rio.
Meanwhile the Australians, who last year broke the men’s team pursuit world record Britain had held for a decade, took almost two seconds off their best in a stunning display.
Britain’s Ed Clancy, Charlie Tanfield, Ethan Hayter and Kian Emadi were only a couple of tenths off the gold-medal winning time from Rio, but still lost last week’s final by almost three seconds.
“For sure the game continues to move on,” British Cycling’s performance director Stephen Park said.
“If you want to win the team pursuit at the world champs you need to break the world record, but equally our guys rode the fastest time by a British team pursuit team since the Olympics so we’re not a million miles off.”
Barker’s scratch race gold offered encouragement for the women’s pursuiters, who were much closer to their Australian counterparts in taking team pursuit silver, but the struggles continued on the sprint side.
With Britain needing to chase Olympic qualification points, Katy Marchant rode all six legs of the World Cup this winter before heading to Pruszkow, where she competed in every sprint event – a schedule no other rider took on.
Park denied burnout was a major concern, but clearly this is not the way Britain would prepare in an Olympic year.
“The riders have worked hard,” Park said. “Most aren’t burnt out, but if this was the Olympic Games they wouldn’t have wanted their competition and training schedule to look like it has over the past 12 months.”
Britain have perfected the art of peaking for the Olympics over the last three four-year cycles, usually at the expense of the world championships and other events along the way.
But Park said: “I don’t think there’s any risk of complacency. I think it’s quite the opposite.
“As we get to the back end of the Olympic cycle, everyone is raising their game. The key is to peak at the right time.”