Yorkshire’s most decorated track cyclist Ed Clancy believes Great Britain’s young team pursuiters need more time to prove their international worth, but has not ruled out sending an SOS to Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Clancy experienced the rare feeling of coming home from a major track meet empty-handed last month when he and a very raw team pursuit squad finished a surprisingly low eighth in the track world championships in Cali, Colombia.
The double Olympic and four-time world champion also missed out on the podium in the individual omnium when he finished fifth, as the British men failed to win even one medal.
It was the shortcomings of an experimental team pursuit squad that stole the headlines, though, with even head coach Shane Sutton questioning the talent pool.
Because London 2012 pursuiters Pete Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas are now concentrating on the road, and Steven Burke and Andy Tennant were out, Clancy was the senior man alongside 21-year-old Sam Harrison and two 20-year-olds, Jon Dibben and Owain Doull.
He put the performance in Colombia down to a poor taper into the race and the fact that they concentrated on speed in the build-up, rather than endurance.
With two years to go until the Rio Olympics, the performance in Cali has set alarm bells ringing, with 29-year-old Clancy conceding there are some concerns as to whether this four-man team would be able to continue Britain’s golden Olympic tradition.
“I think it’s a team that’s capable of winning the Europeans and getting a medal at the worlds. But can we go all the way to Olympic success? I don’t know, time will tell,” said Clancy.
“They are young – 19, 20 – and a lot has been asked and expected of them. You quite often see 19-, 20-year-olds of a good international standard who don’t really progress. I wasn’t world class until 21, 22, so by the time I was 23, 24, my progression was still growing.
“So we don’t know how they’ll work out.”
Clancy said previously in The Yorkshire Post that he would welcome the return of Wiggins – alongside whom he won his first gold in Beijing – to the team pursuit set-up.
Wiggins is considering a track return for his swansong in Rio in 2016, while Mark Cavendish, who is missing only an Olympic medal from his glittering résumé, has also mentioned a possible reunion with his old running mate Clancy.
Whether or not those two big names do come back to the squad, their interest highlights how long there is still to go in the Olympic cycle and that there is no need to panic.
“Brad Wiggins is making a lot of noises in the press about coming back,” said Huddersfield’s Clancy. “Whilst I’ve not spoken to him directly, he sounds super keen to come back, I’m not sure when.
“Same with Pete Kennaugh – we all know he’s a world-class team pursuiter and he’ll be a big asset to the team should he want to come back.
“Time will tell whether Brad and Pete come back.”
Clancy is now back on road racing duty for Rapha Condor, but the hurt of the disappointment felt at the track worlds has still to subside.
“We put a lot of work into it all winter. The most disappointing thing was we knew we could do better and have done better in the past,” he said of a first team pursuit failure since Lottery funding began flowing into British Cycling nearly two decades ago.
“We’d beaten the same Australian line-up that won the worlds, in Manchester, and although they’ve moved on a bit, you’d expect us to do the same and we haven’t.
“We went backwards quite considerably. We did try something we hadn’t before after Christmas. We’ve never worked so much on the track and so little on the road and we sort of did that this time.
“We weren’t going badly at the worlds. In the omnium, I did the best flying lap and best kilo I’ve done. But we just weren’t going fast enough over 4km.
“Over the full distance, we didn’t have the tolerance or the fitness needed over the back end of the race.
“People have been pointing the finger at the younger lads in the team, but the biggest reason for that performance was the new things we’d been trialling out just didn’t work out.
“You want to test these ideas out now, and not in Olympic years but, nonetheless, it still hurts.
“The riders will be hurting more than the staff. The senior management are concerned with one event only – the Olympics.
“To them, it’s disappointing but the riders want to win all the time, and it’s still a world championship opportunity we’ve missed out on.”
On the road, Clancy rides the Milk Race in Nottingham on May 25, looking to improve on the third place he achieved in 2013.
“Last year’s Milk Race was an amazing experience to be part of,” he said.
“It’s got such a legendary status in the world of cycling so there were high expectations, but it easily surpassed them. It was a great occasion and I’m sure 2014 will be even better.”