A mouthwatering Men’s Team Pursuit final is in prospect this evening at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow, as New Zealand take on an outstanding Australian quartet. Great Britain will take on the European champions, Russia, in the play off for the bronze medal.
This morning’s dramatic qualifying session saw the fourth team of the nineteen starters, Great Britain, set the early best time. Germain Burton, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Jacob Ragan and Oliver Wood posted 4:13.824, comfortably inside earlier marks set by Ireland, the USA and Denmark, with 15 teams yet to ride.
The next team to start, Germany, shot out of the trap even more quickly than the British quartet, but faded over kilometres three and four and slotted, temporarily, into second place. And so the standings remained, until the final three teams – Russia, New Zealand, and the outstanding favourites, Australia – took to the boards in the heats 17, 18 and 19.
In the meantime, France, starting ninth, rode valiantly and stayed in contact with Germany’s split times until their rider Jordan Levasseur was dropped after little more than two kilometres. His team-mates Clement Barbeau, Valentin Madouas – whose father Laurent Madouas, finished twelfth in the 1995 Tour de France – and Corentin Ermenault – son of Philippe Ermenault, 1996 Olympic champion in in this discipline and twice individual pursuit world champion - rode magnificently to finish in a time of 4:18.255.
Pan-American champions Colombia had an incident-packed beginning to their Championships. After an aborted first start, they got away slowly, then rode the second fastest final kilometre of any team to recoup lost time. They were disappointed to finish in 4:17.815, which translated, at the end of the session, into seventh place.
India, Canada, Malaysia and Switzerland all rode excellently. All four teams set national records, although none threatened Team GB’s time: the best of them, Switzerland, stood sixth when all the results were in. South Africa’s quartet came within a hair’s breadth of their national record, only to miss it, agonisingly, by half a second.
The Belarus team started their four kilometres knowing that one of their riders, poor Yauheni Akhramenka, was ill and would make little contribution. He was dropped early, and his three team-mates Mikalai Barei, Yauheni Karaliok and Hardzei Tsishchanka, fought hard for a respectable time of 4:23.010.
Then, the big guns.
The quartet representing Russia – the same riders who rode an electric 4:10.681 to win the European Championships three weeks ago – started last but two. They rode with beautiful elegance and control. They completed the first two kilometres 1.2 seconds quicker than Great Britain, then held their blistering pace and finished in 4:13.065, the new best time by 0.759 seconds.
Last but one to start were New Zealand. They darted out of the trap and were immediately quicker than the Russians, setting a new best time for the first 125 metres. They relaxed for a moment, completed the first kilometre just outside the Russians’ time, and then rode the fastest second kilometre of the morning. They then sustained their power, gained time progressively on the Russians and finished at the top of the leader board with a time of 4:12.056, faster than Russia by a stunning 1.009 of a second.
Then it was Australia’s turn. Their much-fancied quartet of Jack Edwards, Joshua Harrison, Callum Scotson and Sam Welsford rode with real venom, while achieving something close to technical perfection. At every split, their times were faster than those of their Kiwi rivals. They rode kilometres one, three and four faster than anyone else, and they were the only team of the top five to ride a negative split over the final two kilometres: in other words, their final kilometre was faster than kilometre three.
They completed the course in 4:09.364, nearly 2.7 seconds faster than that of the second-placed team, New Zealand. After the heat, asked if they could ride even faster in tonight’s final, their coach, Rik Fulcher, said, curtly, ‘Yes.’
A brilliant start, then, to these championships: national records galore, some world-class performances, and two explosive Men’s Team Pursuit medal races - Australia vs New Zealand, for gold, and Russia vs Great Britain, for bronze - set up for this evening’s session.