Jennifer Valente opens UCI Track World Championships with silver in the scratch race
Reconfirming her versatility, the 25-year-old earned USA Cycling’s first medal, with silver in the scratch race on Wednesday evening in the first day of competition. Earlier in the day she helped power the women’s team pursuit into pole position for a world title with the fastest qualifying time, ahead of Thursday’s finale.
Her opening flourish is part of Valente’s plan to perform at a high level throughout the track worlds in Berlin, Germany, and carry winning momentum into the Tokyo Olympic Games in August.
“I was trying to get out of a bit of a hole from 10 to five laps to go,” Valente said. “It was super-quick in the end, and I am just happy I could make it around to get a medal.”
At 25, Valente is one of the most experienced riders on a very young and talented U.S. women’s squad.
As one of two returning members of the silver-medal-winning team pursuit from the Rio de Janeiro Games, Valente and her teammates are using the Berlin worlds both as a dress rehearsal for Tokyo, and as a platform for practicing performance under pressure while delivering big results.
Valente held up her end of the bargain in dramatic fashion Wednesday in the first of five days of racing at the track worlds.
In the morning session, Valente helped push the women’s team pursuit to set a new U.S. record en route to the fastest qualifying time. That ride puts the U.S. team in pole position to race for the world title during Thursday’s finals.
“We’re putting a lot of emphasis on the women’s pursuit,” said Coach Gary Sutton. “We have Chloe Dygert back in the group. That’s a big goal for us all week, and this is kind of a bonus on top of that.”
As Valente’s teammates cooled down from the intense morning effort, Valente was back on the track during the evening session for the scratch race. At 40 laps, the scratch race can be highly tactical, with the first one across the line taking the flowers for top honors.
Valente played it cool, hanging back in the first half of the race until about 10 laps to go. The speed ramped up, and she surged toward the front in the closing laps, and carried enough speed out of the final corner to relegate Laura Kenny (Great Britain) into fourth, with Maria Martins (Portugal) in third. Kristin Wild (Netherlands) nipped her in a photo finish for the win.
The silver medal is just the start of a very busy week for Valente: she will finish out Women’s team pursuit Thursday, and then race the four-event omnium, Madison and points race before the week is out.
Her packed competition schedule reflects Valente’s ambitions both during this week in Berlin, and in six months’ time in Tokyo.
“It’s a enormous workload, but it’s her choice,” said U.S. head coach Gary Sutton. “She loves the challenge.”
In Tokyo, Valente will target Olympic hardware in the team pursuit, the Madison and omnium, giving her three chances to add more medals to her growing collection.
Her motivation to race so many events is two-fold. First off, Valente wants to prove to coaches and staff she can handle it, especially ahead of the equally ambitious Tokyo plan. And most importantly, she has a very good chance of winning in every event she starts.
“We are not forcing her. It’s what she wants to do,” Sutton said. “She is quite the achiever.”
The achieving began in winning fashion Wednesday. The U.S. women’s team pursuit competes for the world title Thursday. Valente will be in the hunt for victory, and could leave Berlin with more medals than anyone.