HEAD coach Shane Sutton heaped praise on Becky James following the Track Cycling World Championships in Minsk, but insisted it is impossible to compare Great Britain’s new sprint queen with Victoria Pendleton.
The 21-year-old from Abergavenny won sprint and Keirin gold, team sprint bronze and 500 metres time-trial bronze at the Minsk Arena to become the first Briton to take four medals at a World Championships.
Three times the now-retired Pendleton won three medals, most recently in 2009 and Sutton believes James’ ability compares favourably with Pendleton, eight-times world champion Natalia Tsylinskaya of Belarus and Olympic champion Anna Meares of Australia, three of the all-time greats.
“Compared to all of them, she’s probably got a little bit more tactical nous,” said Sutton, who led the British squad in Minsk with Sir Dave Brailsford concentrating on his role as British Cycling performance director and Team Sky principal.
“She’s probably got a steeliness more than them. She probably hasn’t got the raw speed yet that Vicky had.Vicky was born with it. She had a gift, she could pedal at a great cadence. You can’t compare the two. Maybe in six years’ time.”
Pendleton’s first of six world sprint titles came in 2005, aged 24, and she won nine rainbow jerseys in all. James is now realising her potential after appendicitis and an Achilles injury delayed her progress after Commonwealth Games silver behind Meares, aged 18.
After the Beijing Olympics, when Britain won seven of 10 events – a haul replicated in London – just two titles followed for GB at the 2009 World Championships in Pruszkow, Poland.
In Minsk, Britain finished with gold medals for the women’s team pursuit squad of Laura Trott, Dani King and Elinor Barker, Jason Kenny in the men’s Keirin and Simon Yates in the men’s points race, to go with James’ double.
Sutton believes his young squad can improve for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
He said: “There won’t be massive gains but you win Olympic medals on hundreds and thousands [of seconds]. I am sure there will be something we can find to move us on to Rio and being very successful there.”
The squad in Belarus are just the start, with the likes of James and Jess Varnish, who was out with a back injury and was replaced by Vicky Williamson, pushed by Dannielle Khan and Rosie Blount.
“No one in this environment is safe because the talent pool is so big at the moment,” Sutton added.