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One of the most unusual rivalries in cycling continued this week when Great Britain took on and defeated Italy in the team pursuit final at the UCI Track World Championships.
Filippo Ganna (Italy) and Dan Bigham (Great Britain) lined up against each other as part of their respective four-man teams. It was the first time that the pair had competed against each other since Bigham had helped guide Ganna to beat his UCI Hour Record as Ineos Grenadiers’ performance engineer.
Following a close-run fight throughout, Bigham and the team of Ethan Hayter, Oliver Wood, and Ethan Vernon who took top honors and beat the Italians by just 0.204 seconds. There were no hard feelings between Bigham and Ganna as the pair embraced after the thrilling contest.
“It’s honestly unbelievable. We were just trying to execute good, clean rides and trying to get them drilled into us. It’s not about being here to win, it’s about doing everything we can to perform to the best of our ability and getting the maximum out,” Bigham said afterward. “I think, bit by bit, every single round we stepped forward and really improved and I think that one was the best we had, full stop. It was a really clean and solid ride and all of us are on cloud nine.”
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Italy went into the competition as the defending champions, reigning Olympic champions, and the big favorites. However, Great Britain had set an early benchmark and went fastest in qualifying.
Both teams eased through their first-round bouts to set up the face-off in the final. Italy got off to a marginally stronger start, but the advantage didn’t last, and Great Britain pulled out a lead of almost half a second by the halfway point.
Britain’s lead began to slip inside the final kilometer as the team went down to just three riders and Ganna began hammering it on the front of the Italian quartet. However, it wasn’t enough for the men in blue to haul back the deficit that had been built up early on.
— UCI Track Cycling (@UCI_Track) October 13, 2022
Great Britain’s time of 3:45.829 was the fastest time of the whole competition.
“We’ve had a lot of sessions on my home velodrome [in Derby]. The team has relocated there from Manchester and we’ve had some really good sessions,” Bigham said. “We only managed to get one with all four of us, we’ve been swapping riders in and out over the past couple of weeks, but it’s been really constructive, and we’ve tested a lot of different strategies coming into it, just to be confident of how we’re going to run it out. We came in here pretty confident in how we would execute it and it fell into place really cleanly. We really lean on each other and just worked as a team.”
Great Britain’s rise back to the top step of the podium is a big turnaround following a disastrous Olympic Games in 2021. The team finished bottom of the pack in the first round of races after the team lost its third rider on the final lap and was caught by Denmark.
A subsequent crash as the lead Danish rider hit the third British rider only added insult to injury. Taking gold in France on Thursday has helped the team to put that moment behind them.
“It means less pressure on all of us,” said Bigham, who was at the time the coach of the Danish team that caught Great Britain. “I think we’ve all got unfinished business with the Olympics and to be sat here, less than two years out from the Olympics in the very same velodrome, I think the pressure is off performance wise and we can now really just focus on the process and basically just nail it as a team.”