The Great Britain team return to the scene of their greatest triumphs seeking to benefit from the inspirational presence of Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish at the Track Cycling World Championships in London this week.
Nobody thought Britain’s seven gold medals from ten track events, achieved at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, could be repeated. But on home boards, at the London Velodrome which will host this week’s final Track World Championships before the Olympics in Rio, Britain did just that in 2012.
There has been a lean period since and Britain floundered 12 months ago in Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines, near Paris, failing to win a gold medal for the first time since 2001 and finishing with their smallest haul in 12 years.
Wiggins is back for a first World Championships since 2008, when the hosts’ dominance in Manchester was a prelude for what was to follow in China, while Cavendish is competing for the first time since Pruszkow a year later.
Both have focused on the road to great effect in the intervening period and their mere presence may be enough to boost performances of a team which shows few signs that lightning can strike thrice. At present the odds of seven more gold medals in Rio may be as long as Victoria Pendleton winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup later this month.
Pendleton, now an amateur jockey with designs on a place at the Cheltenham Festival, won golds in Beijing and London, but now the British women’s team sprint squad is struggling to even qualify for Rio.
The return of Becky James, who won individual sprint and Keirin golds in Minsk in 2013 before a serious knee injury and cancer scare, is a major boost for a squad which must finish two places clear of France to claim an Olympic place. That is by no means a formality and, for James and Jess Varnish, today is crunch time.
Success in the men’s sprint disciplines depends on three-time Olympic gold medallist Jason Kenny ending his fallow period between Games. Kenny has more Olympic titles than gold medals from the annual World Championships.
Kenny and Phil Hindes are Olympic champions in the team sprint, they just need to put it together with Matt Crampton or Callum Skinner in the three-man, three-lap event tonight. Britain are without a world title in the event since 2005.
Three minutes 50 seconds is the target for the four-man, four-kilometres team pursuit in Rio. Qualifying for the team pursuit is the first event in London today, with Australia the main rivals.
Ed Clancy is returning following a back injury, meaning Britain are unlikely to be at full strength.
Cavendish needs to be able to slot into the team pursuit squad if he is to be selected for Rio, where he will target a so far elusive Olympic medal in the six-discipline omnium.
The non-Olympic Madison, where Wiggins will ride with Cavendish, is sure to be one of the highlights of the week. The pair won the event in Manchester eight years ago.
For just the second time in eight years, Britain are not the defending champions in the women’s team pursuit, where Scotland’s Katie Archibald is absent following a motorbike accident. Laura Trott, Joanna Rowsell Shand, Elinor Barker, Ciara Horne and Katy Nelson will bid to reclaim the world champions’ rainbow jerseys.
Britain were in fine fettle at the final Track World Championships prior to the last two Olympics – seven gold medals in Manchester and five in Melbourne in 2012 – but this time are playing catch-up.
Anything close to those hauls in London would be remarkable, but with Wiggins, Cavendish and a 6,000-strong partisan crowd every night, it is possible.