A clash of the titans is coming at the Olympic Games.
Rio runners-up, Team USA, and the defending Olympic champions, Great Britain will face off Tuesday in the first round of the women’s Team Pursuit competition after going third and second respectively in qualifying.
The two squads did battle for victory in a thrilling final in Rio 2016 — with GB bettering the USA for top honors — and came into the Tokyo games as the hot favorites after years of domination.
Neither team was able to pull out the ride they had been hoping for in qualifying, but it was the first competitive effort for well over a year for the US and nearly nine months for GB. It was still a strong start for the pursuit supremos, and the riders will only get quicker as two teams compete on the track at the same time.
— USA Cycling (@usacycling) August 2, 2021
There is a serious aerodynamic benefit of having another team out on track at the same time, especially when it is two of the quickest around. In 2016, GB went three seconds quicker between qualifying and the finals, while the USA went two, and both squads definitely have more to give in Tokyo.
Only one will be able to progress into the gold medal bout this time while the loser will fight for bronze. It should be a battle of epic proportions as the two powerhouse squads duke it out for that coveted final spot.
The winner will face the victor of another equally tantalizing match-up between Germany and Italy, though Germany looks set to romp into the final after it destroyed the existing world record by close to three seconds.
Team USA’s women’s track endurance coach Gary Sutton confirmed that the team had gone out in qualifying with the ambition of taking on Germany’s time of 4:07.307.
“We knew there would be world records broken this week. That’s the first thing. The track’s quick, and our schedule was for 4:07. We went out for 15-second laps. That’s what the plan was,” Sutton said. “That’s where we’re at, at the moment. But, you know, one thing you do here, you take one round at a time and tomorrow is a different day.
“We’ll go back. We’ll look at the data; we’ll look at the pool structure and try to rearrange things. That’s a big gap. But tomorrow’s a different day.”
Team USA rode with Chloë Dygert, Jennifer Valente, Lily Williams, and Emma White for the qualifying run, but the team also has Megan Jastrab in reserve. Rearranging things for Sutton could mean changing up the order of the riders in the line, but it could also include slotting Jastrab in for one of the other riders.
In 2016, the USA opted not to use their reserve pick Ruth Winder in Rio as the main four were riding well together. Introducing a reserve rider can be risky business in a well-oiled team but it can also breathe some new life into one that is off the boil.
Sutton will have to think carefully over the coming 12 hours as to what changes he makes as the team cannot afford another ride like the one in qualifying.
Both the USA and Great Britain have work to do and something to prove after their qualifying efforts.
While the two teams broke the world record of 4:10.236 set by GB in that Rio final — GB stopped the clock at 4:09.022 and the USA at 4:10.118 — they could not match the huge speed of Germany who went nearly two seconds quicker than anyone else in Izu.
In their efforts to match that blistering Germany pace, the USA and Great Britain became ragged in the later stages of their qualifying runs.
Reigning world champions the USA got off to a quick start thanks to Valente and went nearly a third of a second faster than Germany in the opening 750 meters but started losing ground from the kilometer mark.
By the 3,000-meter mark, the quartet had given away about 1.6 seconds to the Germans. In a desperate effort to try and bring back some of that time lost, Dygert took to the front with three laps to go and began riding clear of her teammates.
The power it took to chase Dygert blew one of the USA riders out of the line, leaving it to the remaining three to drive it to the finish. The frenetic final kilometer saw the team ship another 1.5 seconds on the fastest time.
Defending Olympic champions Great Britain also came out of the traps quickly, due to a huge turn by Archibald as rider one. Shortly after the halfway point, the team was over a second up on the new world record, but GB gave away over two seconds in the final 500 meters, after already losing Knight with three laps remaining.
In echoes of the USA’s run, Archibald slipped off the front in an effort to stem the flow of lost time, putting her struggling teammates into the disrupted airflow behind her and forcing them into a desperate chase.
Times in the Team Pursuit are only taken on the third rider to cross the line, so one rider disappearing up the track only serves to sew chaos into a squad.
They were both uncharacteristic rides from the usually slick squads and we can expect much more from their second efforts Tuesday morning. They will need to take a serious step forward if either team has any hope of beating the Germans.
You can watch the “clash of the titans” in heat 3, which takes place at 2 am EST or midnight MST. The finals will take place from 5 am EST and 3am MST.