Great Britain’s women are chasing a fifth consecutive team pursuit title at the Track World Championships in Paris this week, but Katie Archibald knows victory is anything but a formality.
It is more than four years since Britain’s women last lost a team pursuit – at the Track World Cup in Cali, Colombia in December 2010 – and their dominance shows no sign of abating after the addition last year of an extra rider and kilometre. Britain won five of the six world titles available with three riders over three kilometres - silver in 2010 the anomaly – and in Colombia last February won the first title with four riders over 4km. Archibald, who came into the line-up last year and became Scotland’s first female track cycling world champion, said: “It makes it seems like it’s easy and it’s definitely going to happen.
“I’ve had a few people saying ‘are you looking forward to going out and winning worlds?’ as though it’s a given, which it’s very, very far from. That’s a bit scary. It’s pretty daunting, the expectation that comes with it.”
The 20-year-old from Milngavie, near Glasgow, is in a five-rider squad which includes Joanna Rowsell and her fellow Olympic champion Laura Trott, Elinor Barker and Ciara Horne. Horne is the only member of the group yet to win a world title.
The unbeaten run inevitably leads to a question of when the first defeat will come. Archibald admits that prospect has come up among the team, but not to the extent that they want it to happen. “It’s a tricky thought and one that’s run through our conversations, more jokingly than serious,” she added. “You’d have to be a bit unstable to want to lose, but if we had to lose, you want to get it done soon, before Rio. We just hope we will go unbeaten forever and ever and ever.”
Team pursuit qualifying takes place on tomorrow’s opening day of the championships, when Callum Skinner will be hoping to do something which proved elusive for Sir Chris Hoy on more than one occasion.
Comparisons are made between Skinner and Hoy, as both are Scots, riding for the City of Edinburgh, and they occupy the same position in the three-man, three-lap team sprint – the anchor man.
Hoy won two Olympic titles in the team sprint, but only two of his 11 world titles came in the annual world event which Britain has not won since 2005.
Jason Kenny, Skinner’s team-mate, has won two Olympic titles but is yet to win a world crown in the event, much to his frustration.
Victory in the Track World Cup in Guadalajara last November, against rivals at full-strength, has given Skinner confidence.
For Britain to end their barren streak in the event, Skinner must first keep up with Olympic champions Philip Hindes and Kenny – two of the fastest men in their team sprint positions - before accelerating away on the final lap. “If we have a good day, we can be pretty formidable,” said Skinner, whose place could yet be taken by Kian Emadi. “The team’s definitely moving forward, but we don’t tend to have much luck with the team sprint at World Championships.
“But we’re starting to come into a new place. There’s a big element of the team clicking together. That’s what happened in Mexico. The win was a great boost to us going to France, we know it is possible.”
Skinner finds the Hoy comparisons “flattering” and has found the six-time Olympic champion’s input helpful.
Hoy was part of the British staff for last year’s Track World Championships and for last December’s Track World Cup in London, providing motivation and using his experience to benefit the team. The 38-year-old is not expected in Paris. “It’s good to have someone with as much weight behind him as Chris, from an athlete’s point of view,” Skinner added. “He was a great help in London.”