IF THERE is one event with which Sir Chris Hoy has come to be associated above all others it is the keirin, and it was the most eagerly anticipated event on the second day of the track cycling World Cup in the velodrome in Glasgow that bears his name.
Shane Sutton, the head coach at British Cycling, had earlier compared Hoy to Ed Moses, whose domination of the 400 metres hurdles lasted a decade. Hoy’s in this event lasted from 2007 to this year’s Olympic Games in London, when he successfully defended his title, but his absence has left a vacancy, or an opportunity, and it was one that Jason Kenny seemed determined to seize.
Kenny was Hoy-esque in his domination of the qualifying rounds, with his electric turn of pace carrying him away from trouble. But his luck ran out in the final, as he tried to pass Stefan Boetticher but appeared to run out of steam, colliding with the German and crashing heavily as Boetticher remained upright to win. The search for a successor to Hoy continues.
Much British interest on day two centred on the two young female sprinters who are seeking to replace Victoria Pendleton as the country’s top rider.
Becky James, the 20-year-old from Wales, and Jess Varnish, the 21-year-old from the Midlands, both progressed to the semi-final of the women’s sprint, where they faced other. The previous evening they had been team-mates as they raced to gold in the team sprint; now they were rivals.
In heat one Varnish led it out, with James several lengths behind, waiting for the right moment to pounce. She chose to go with just over a lap to go, as they came out of the bend. Diving down the track from high on the banking she swooped underneath Varnish, who seemed to be caught by surprise and wobbled, colliding briefly with her teammate-turned-rival. But Varnish recovered, closed the gap and passed James before the line. Round one to Varnish.
James was most people’s favourite and she levelled it in round two, with Varnish again wobbling when they went shoulder-to-shoulder on the final lap. In the decider James appeared to make a mistake, hesitating as the bell sounded and Varnish accelerated on the inside of the track. She left herself too much to do, and Varnish held on for the win to meet Kristina Vogel of Germany in the final.
For the second day the velodrome was packed for both sessions, meaning that a total of 16,000 people have filed through the doors of a new arena that is already earning praise from riders and spectators.
The crowd includes many long-standing members of the Scottish cycling community, who have dreamed of such a facility for many years, but also a significant number of those for whom track cycling is new and relatively unknown. It is indicative of the interest in the sport, with London 2012 the likely catalyst, and encouraging for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Less encouraging, both for Glasgow 2014 and for the home crowd this weekend, is the absence of any Scottish riders. Wales, in contrast, have fielded four young riders, two of whom -- James and Elinor Barker -- won gold medals on the first day.
Then again, there could be a very good reason for the vast improvements made by Welsh cycling in recent years. They have had an indoor velodrome for almost a decade. The Newport facility -- more rudimentary than the Glasgow track, with capacity for only 500 spectators -- opened in 2003, and an impressive new coaching structure has been based there for the last year.
They are getting off their marks a little quicker in Glasgow, not least, perhaps, because the Commonwealth Games dictate that urgency is required. But the governing body, Scottish Cycling, is moving into the new velodrome on 3 December, including the coaching team, led by national coach, Graeme Herd.
The best programme to be on for any ambitious rider will still be the one based in Manchester, but a Glasgow-based Scottish coaching structure, and crucially the indoor track, should go a long way to plugging the enormous gap that exists beneath the British national team. It is good news for riders like Charline Joiner, a silver medallist at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, who has reinvented herself as an endurance rider, but cannot get on the British programme.
In Glasgow in 2014 it could mean that the support for home-based riders is rewarded not with hard luck stories, but with some success. Beyond that, it should see as many Scots as Welsh riders to support in World Cups such as this one.