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London 2012: Pursuit of excellence pays off in style

Great Britain's Victoria Pendleton celebrates with her gold medal after winning the women's Keirin at the Velodrome Great Britain's Victoria Pendleton celebrates with her gold medal after winning the women's Keirin at the Velodrome

Lee Power, Olympic Reporter, At the Velodrome
Friday, August 3, 2012
9:06 PM

Cyclists produce golds and world records

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Great Britain's Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Peter Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas celebrate gold in the men's Team Pursuit at the VelodromeGreat Britain's Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Peter Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas celebrate gold in the men's Team Pursuit at the Velodrome

London’s Joanna Rowsell was part of a blistering world record at the Velodrome today – but that was soon forgotten on another golden evening for Great Britain.

Sutton-born Rowsell combined with Dani King and Laura Trott to clock 3mins 15.669secs in the women’s team pursuit, eclipsing the mark they set when winning World Championship gold in Australia earlier this year.

They will be favourites for the Olympic title tomorrow evening – facing Canada in the next round as Australia and the United States meet in the other eliminator.

And they will surely take inspiration from the men’s team pursuit squad and Victoria Pendleton, who produced a golden double to delight the home fans.

Great Britain's Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell acknowledge the crowd after setting a new world record in the women's Team Pursuit at the VelodromeGreat Britain's Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell acknowledge the crowd after setting a new world record in the women's Team Pursuit at the Velodrome

It was a fascinating few hours at the Velodrome, which ticket-holders entered in a strict climate-controlled fashion.

Exterior doors and interior doors could not be left open at the same time in order to try and protect the temperature inside the building, which at a balmy 28 degrees was said to be optimum for some ‘very fast racing’.

A heartbeat monitor graphic appeared on the big screen as time ticked down to the start of racing, raising the tension, while competitors pedalled furiously in their warm-up areas in the middle of the track.

Tour de France and men’s time trial gold medallist Bradley Wiggins was introduced to the crowd as well, before the heats of the women’s keirin began.

It’s a rather curious event, where the cyclists wait on the start line for a pacemaking bike to appear over their shoulders, before falling into line behind it.

It put one in mind of greyhound racing, where the six dogs wait for the hare before springing out after it, but the cyclists remained in a neat formation for the best part of five laps before the pacemaker pulled off the track to let them fight it out.

Pendleton produced a great dash to take victory in her heat ahead of Australian rival Anna Meares and safely qualify for the next phase before the first round of the men’s team pursuit.

GB’s Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh clocked a dazzling 3mins 52.743 to finish the 16-lap, 4,000m race almost five seconds clear of opponents Denmark.

And it proved the fastest time of the round by almost two seconds to set them up for a showdown with Australia.

Attention then turned to the qualifying heats of the women’s team pursuit and it was strange watching the 10 teams race 12 laps against the clock to lay down a marker in their quest for a top-eight ranking.

The action appeared to pass most of the crowd by until the British trio came out last to try and eclipse the 3:19.406 registered by the USA.

Encouraged to start a Mexican wave as Rowsell, King and Trott swept onto the back straight of their first lap and maintain it for the duration of their race, the crowd duly obliged.

After the first 1,000m the British girls were almost a second quicker than the Americans and at the 2,000m mark they were 1.467secs quicker.

With two laps to go the noise levels really picked up and as the bell sounded the Velodrome crowd were roaring.

And, having averaged 55.195kmh, the GB team brought the house down as they crossed the line in a new world record time.

Pendleton came back to seal her place in the final of the keirin, climbing out of her seat with 125m to go to produce a stunning burst and go clear of her rivals, before the men’s team pursuit ranking races began.

After Holland beat Colombia for seventh and Denmark edged out Spain for fifth place, the New Zealand quartet claimed bronze after beating Russia.

Then came the GB men for their ‘Ashes’ showdown with Australia.

Excitement was rising throughout the building for what has been called by some as “the most beautiful event on the track”.

And to see Clancy, Thomas, Burke and Kennaugh gliding around the track like a well-oiled machine was indeed a thing of beauty.

Australia stayed within half a second of the British men for around half the race, but then the gap began to grow and grow, along with the noise levels.

The lead went out to a second, then almost two and when the Brits finally crossed the line the clocked showed an astounding 3:51.659 – nearly a second inside their previous best set in qualifying yesterday.

The Australians were almost three seconds slower, smashed beyond belief and the roof almost came off the Velodrome such was the unbelievable roar.

One quick medal ceremony and a burst of God Save The Queen later and the crowd settled back into their seats for the women’s keirin final.

Pendleton and partner Jess Varnish had been disqualified from the women’s team sprint yesterday after an illegal change-over in their semi-final win over Ukraine and relegated to eighth place.

But Pendleton, gold medallist in the women’s sprint at the Beijing Games, made sure of another Olympic title in fine fashion.

Lining up in the outside lane, closest to the crowd at the top of the track, Pendleton manoeuvred herself into third place behind the pacemaker, as fierce rival Meares sat back in fifth for the first half of the race.

Pendleton kept glancing over her right shoulder to keep an eye on the danger before the cyclists were left to fight it out over the closing stages.

Meares went hard to the front of the pack, but Pendleton produced a charge on the back straight of the penultimate lap and maintained her speed over the closing 200m to hold off China’s Shuang Guo and claim GB’s eighth gold of these Games.

It looked to have taken it out of Pendleton as, after saluting the crowd with a bow, she had to be helped back onto her bike to pedal back to the team zone.

“I can barely believe it,” she said. “It was really hard with the excitement of the girls (Trott, King, Rowsell) doing such a great job qualifying with a world record.

“And then the guys smashing the world record and winning gold. I was just trying to keep my focus.

“My legs were good from last night and I still really wanted to show what I’ve got and it went ok I guess!”

It certainly was an ok afternoon in the Velodrome, Vicky.

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