Welcome to the latest column, exclusive to TheTour.co.uk websites from Brendan Gallagher, including an interview with Great Britain coach Shane Sutton.

JUST as time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted, shooting the breeze with Shane Sutton always yields a few nuggets and the Team Sprint, Mountain Biking and the legends that are Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish were the subjects most exercising his eclectic mind when I caught up with him just before Great Britain’s departure for Aguascalientes in Mexico for this week’s Samsung World Cup track meeting.

With the World Track Championships in Cali this year and the complicated Olympic qualifying procedure underway GB are taking a full strength squad. Mexico shares the same time zone as Cali and much the same ambience so it’s an invaluable hit our in that respect and at 7,000 feet some of the sprint times could be pretty special if the track is running fast.

The Team Sprint. Exciting but unpredictable. Twice in succession now GB pulled a rabbit out of the hat and claimed ‘shock’ Olympic Gold medals and world records after failing to win a World Championship gold medal, or anything much else for that matter, in the four year Olympic cycle. In 2008 Jason Kenny emerged at the death, winning a last minute race off with Ross Edgar, to make the man two slot his own and improve the team’s performance out of all recognition, while last year Philip Hindes morphed from a boy to a man and from a 17.7sec to 17.2sec start man in the final couple of months before London 2012

“Both were incredible success stories but my gut instinct tells me we might not get away with leaving it so late again,” says Shane Sutton, Head coach at British Cycling. “If I’m honest – and for the good of my blood pressure – I would like to see our starting trio settled and racing to a very high standard and wining big medals a bit earlier this time around.

“In 2008, to find our man two, we actually had to experiment with various combinations at number two and three while ahead of London, before Philip emerged, we tried Jason Kenny out at man one for a good while, which meant running a different order at two and three. This time we have man one and two from the world record breaking team from the London Velodrome – Philip and Jason – and the task would appear to be finding a straight swap for Sir Chris Hoy. No easy task I will grant you but a very definite objective.

“Matt Crampton and young Kian Emadi are the two athletes with the engines to perform that role and their personal battle for that man three spot should bring out the very best in them and believe me they both have tons of talent although we might never see another Sir Chris again. Comparisons with Chris are not really helpful, how many Olympians from any discipline with six gold medals? We need to disregard that and just concentrate on them being superb man three riders.

“Lewis Oliva and Callum Skinner will come into the equation for the other places and you never rule anything out – they are hungry young kids – but both Philip and Jason are still young men and will be hard to dislodge as long as they retain fitness and form.”

Sutton is equally as animated and excited about the prospects of the Women’s Team Sprint in which GB – Jess Varnish and Vicky Pendleton – cruelly missed out at London, being disqualified for a faulty changeover when winning their semi-final. A certain Silver and a possible Gold was snatched from their grasp, and ultimately that was the only event GB failed to win a medal in at the London Velodrome.

“That was the one that got away, the girls were going superfast but the regulations are there for everybody and although it was close it was a faulty change and nothing can ever alter that. The thing now is to hit back in Rio and we have definitely have the squad to do that. Barring big injuries and the like this is a group we have big hopes for in the futures.

“Becky James is a phenomenal athlete with world individual Sprint and Keirin titles already to her name and still on a steep upward curve. From a Team Sprint point of view she can ride one or two which is an interesting variable while it’s been great to see Jess getting back to full fitness after her back problems. Katy Marchant, who competed in the world junior heptathlon last summer, is an interesting one. She’s very powerful and has already made one of the best transitions I have seen from another sport. We are working on her pedalling style but she could go places and then Vicky Williams is just a cracking bike rider. That’s a quartet that will drive each other onto great things.”

 

Above – Tour of Britain Champion Wiggins will be facing his final Olympics in Brazil in 2016

Sutton meanwhile still appears relaxed as to the availability – or not – of reigning Tour of Britain champion Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish for Rio 2016. Wiggins has expressed interest in re-joining the Team Pursuit squad but nothing definitive while Cavendish has hinted vaguely at a return to track racing although he got told in no uncertain manner recently by his Omega Pharma Quick-Step team boss Patrick Lefevere that he paid him to win road races and that he could not race indoors this winter.

“Listen we are talking legends of the sport, once in a lifetime athletes and as far I am concerned you never close the door on such talent,” says Sutton. “They both know that there will be a timescale that kicks in nearer the time when they will have to commit but that’s a little way down the line yet. Brad is looking at his last Olympic cycle so Rio will be the end of an incredible Olympic career for him and he has big decision to make. In my mind there is still the potential for somebody of his abilities to do a job at man four in the Team Pursuit but he knows the event is moving on apace, it’s almost becoming an event for Kilo riders these days and we will need to go below 3.50 for sure to win gold in Rio.

“Cav is younger and hopefully still has a couple of Olympics and other factors come into play like the exact nature of the next two Olympic road courses and also his heavy commitment as a team leader expected to win sprint stages in the world’s biggest races. But like I say if ever he is serious about making a track return the door will be wide open from him to give it a try.”

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A big shout out for Jody Cundy, whose verbal explosion after being disqualified for a faulty start from the gates in the Kilo provided one of the unexpected highlights of the 2012 Paralympics. With a very limited Para programme this year Cundy has waited patiently to rectify what he, and many observers, believe was a faulty call by officialdom but at the Newport International Cup over the weekend he worked out his frustration by recording an unofficial world record of 1mins 04..996 secs in winning the Kilo – unofficial in the sense that there was no anti-doping control at the meeting and therefore times cannot be ratified. Afterwards Cundy commented that his training had been badly disrupted in the last six weeks or so by a recent move of house but somehow I fancy he has been preparing for that ride for over 14-months. It won’t make up for “lost” gold medal but I fancy he feels a whole load better this week.

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Bikes, balls and batons. The bow-wave of success generated by British Cycling in recent years is certainly beginning to break on distant shores. Last year Steve Peters was hired as a part-time consultant by UK Athletics and tasked with somehow inspiring British relay teams to get the baton around the track safely while Matt Parker, a considerable backroom figure during the Great Haul of China in 2008 became when he worked with the Men’s Endurance squad, was appointed as “Head of Marginal Gains” at the RFU. England coach Stuart Lancaster – a frequent visitor to the Manchester Velodrome over the years – is striving for that extra 1% that could make all the difference at the 2015 World Cup. And now Dan Hunt, who guided the Men’s Team Pursuit squad to a world record and gold medal at London 2012 last year, has accepted the role of Director of Elite Performance at the Premier League. Imitation being the highest form of flattery British cycling should take such moves as a compliment and not a threat

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If you missed Brendan’s last Mixed Terrain column, talking about the new UCI President and the Women’s Team Pursuit, you can find it here.