2012: GB Team Pursuit – Part 1 (Boot Camp!)

GB’s Team Pursuiters finding their track legs in a month long boot camp in Manchester

While the Kiwi’s and Russians knock out super fast times in major events, the Great Britain team are busy preparing for the first step in their London 2012 challenge with their Olympic line up, the London World Cup.

As anyone in GB will tell you, you can see what the rest of the world are doing but what matters is that you prepare in your own way and do your own ride when it matters and what will be, will be in the Olympics.

Pointing to the spot – GB coach Dan Hunt is the man with a plan to help the GB riders go faster in London and with a little luck, take the Gold medal in this ‘blue ribbon’ event.

There will be no excuses for not winning the Team Pursuit at the London Olympics because as one of the riders says, it’s only the Olympics that matters and you can sense that with the amount of work going on behind closed doors at the Manchester velodrome right now as the start of an intensive nine month programme kicks in.

The start of all this preparation is a four week boot camp that I’d love to have brought you pictures of but alas that wasn’t to be as I’ve been denied access and BC don’t share their own images. But, having seen so many training camps it’s easy to imagine to just how much work the riders are being given by their coach Dan Hunt.

The first goal is the London World Cup in February, which having sold out to the public, will be quite a spectacular event. For the riders in the GB team, it will also be the ‘proper’ starting point of the race to London for the team’s riders. At the moment, there are seven riders going for five spots in London. They are: Ed Clancy, Andy Tennant, Steven Burke, Peter Kennaugh, Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift and Sam Harrison.

Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Andy Tennant and Ben Swift, four of the seven looking to make the team for London.

From now until then, the team will be spending a lot of time on the track with the analysts crunching the numbers and coaches absorbing video and rider feedback day after day. The goal for the team is to whittle that seven down to six, perhaps five, for the London World Cup. They will then continue to work with them all the way to the Olympics, doing their best to make sure next August the riders are going faster than they have ever been.

In order to give the riders the best possible chance of making that five, their coach has had them on the track in two training blocks already and more are planned for January. This is a critical phase of the preparation for the team, the foundation stones if you like, for what they hope will be a successful outcome in London.

“London World Cup represents the whole pinch point in the Olympic programme” says Dan Hunt who knows what it’s like to be successful at the Olympics. Last time round he took on a Women’s programme in the doldrums and came out with Gold and Silver for Rebecca Romero and Wendy Houvenaghel respectively.

“If you make the five for London, the chances are you’ll make the five for the Worlds (Melbourne) and then have a good chance for the Olympics. Everyone is talking about the London Olympics but it’s the London World Cup that is a massive hurdle for some of the guys. At that point, we’ll go from seven to six minimum”.

At this point, no-one has mentioned a certain eighth rider, Bradley Wiggins who will be in many people’s thoughts having won Gold at the last two Olympics on the track. Bradley is said to be aiming for the Time Trial which follows the road race held a few days earlier and is a few days before the start of the track competition.

2008: The run in to the Beijing Olympics saw GB win the Worlds and the Olympics. From the four, Paul Manning (Left) is now a coach, Bradley Wiggins (2nd from right) is expected to target the Tour de France while Ed Clancy and Geraint Thomas (right) are expected to be the key riders for the five to ride in London.

The rider who does the time trial, has to ride the road race as well so the quandary for the team there is, does Bradley or whoever the rider in the TT is, put himself in a box for Mark Cavendish in the road race only to suffer for it in the Time Trial and rule themselves out of the track. With the amount of work the team are making their riders go through on the track pretty it much rules out a road rider dropping into the team at the last moment.

It seems if you want to ride the Team Pursuit in London, you have to commit now and the seven named above have done just that and are one week from the end of the longest boot camp I’ve known them to have and it’s all been done there in Manchester.

Why Manchester? Because, as Ed Clancy explains, not everyone wants to be travelling right now and be away from home.

“We thought we could do this in Oz (Australia) or in Majorca but then we thought, we have the best facilities here and the best track in the world, so we might as well do it properly here” Ed explains. “We have had the physios, nutritionists, and everyone running around after us and it’s been really good. The road boys are enjoying staying in England just because they spend the whole summer living out of a suitcase. Like Geraint wanted to stay at home as much as he could and I don’t particularly like travelling so it’s working out pretty well.”

Ben Swift & Geraint Thomas who have both come straight off the road season and into track training in order to try and make the Olympic team for London.

The team are housed in a hotel four nights of the week and spend the rest at home if they want. During the boot camp, they have three track days where they do split sessions, one early morning and the other in the afternoon. The aim, says Dan Hunt, is to give the team plenty of track volume and track conditioning and to try and lay the foundations for what they hope will help them win the Olympics.”

It is a different build up to Beijing but then as Dan explains, the riders are different and the goal (the time to win the event) is different. “There are similarities but it’s not a carbon copy of the Beijing run in by a long way.”

The pressure on GB to go quicker is getting ever more intense and the type of rider suited to it is also changing. It used to be an event a roadman could walk into but not now. The seven riders out on the road training today are all quick says Hunt. And they will need to be if they are to win Gold.

The team is a mix of sprint/endurance riders and roadman who are being given a lot of track time to get their speed back in their legs. Ed Clancy, Sam Harrison and Steven Burke are the sprint/endurance riders who are able to do times not far off what ‘proper’ sprinters can do for say the kilo but also race endurance events.

The roadman like Geraint Thomas, Andy Tennant, Ben Swift and Peter Kennaugh are being given plenty of time to adjust from the road to the track and fulfil any potential they may have of making the ‘fab five’. Dan came under a lot of pressure to give the road riders a break after the road season but he knows they will need a lot of track time to be ready for the challenges they face to make the team for the London World Cup.

“I came under a lot of pressure to give the lads a break before the Euros but I wanted to get that first track block into them whilst they still had good condition” he explains. “We used that block to turn their track legs around a bit before they went on their break and now we’re into another track block. They will be touching the track now pretty frequently all the way into London.”

During an Olympic cycle, the road guys like Thomas etc tend to go off and race the road leaving the coach, Dan Hunt, looking for riders and trying new things. One of those was to bring in Jason Queally who has now gone back to try for a spot in the Team Sprint.

But why so much track work for guys who are already so well drilled on the track? “The pace that they will be required to win the Olympic Games you’re not going to get off the back of pure road condition” says Dan. “It’s just going to be too quick and will require a whole level of specificity that we haven’t gone for previously. We know what it takes to ride 3.53/3.54 but that won’t win us the Games so we have had to go away and have a real good think about how we can go faster than that. How we are going to do that?”

How is the big question? GB’s way is to always break an event down and train its riders for each of those ‘bits’ and then put it all together in the one, hopefully winning, package. Sounds simple but as Dan said, “it’s a programme you can easily get wrong”.

The drills on the track vary more now than they ever did. It isn’t just about riding round in Team Pursuit formation. They’ll do standing starts individually and together to get that bit right and quicker. They’ll do over paced work, over geared and under gear work, endurance drills over distance and even the odd Madison which last week ended in disaster for a few riders.

They may have been doing this a long while but GB are not afraid to try new things to go that little bit quicker. The GB team’s Sprint squad have been having race days to work on tactics which is new this year and the Endurance riders training now differs as well to try and lift them to a new level. It’s a challenge for Dan but one he is enjoying.

“There is so much new in this Olympic Cycle” Dan explains. “We have had a pretty big staff turn around since 2008 with me, Iain (Dyer) and Jan (Van Eijden) the only coaches going into London the same as Beijing.”

“I took the Women’s programme from where it was which was in the doldrums and delivered it to Paul (Manning) as a pretty good programme. He’s now taken it to a new level, to a place I don’t think I had the energy left to do it. So when I took the lads on, it was a like a new lease of life for me.”

“It has taken me a little while to get to know the lads and for them to know me. We have had some success but we’ve also had some hard times when we haven’t always had the key players at all the races so it’s been a tough one to manage from that point of view.”

“Whether this is politically correct or not, the Men’s Team Pursuit is the flagship event of this whole team. So it’s not just a privilege but it’s exciting as well. So of course I want to a do bloody good job because it’s a programme you could easily get wrong….”

In part two coming shortly to VeloUK, we talk exclusively to Olympic Champion Ed Clancy about the boot camp…

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