New nations rising up, Team GB missing a gear, and Team USA posting a solid run — those are some of the takeaways from a telling week of racing at the track worlds.
In what’s considered a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo, there were some new faces challenging the established hierarchy during the 2020 Track Cycling World Championships that concluded Sunday.
U.S. women leading revival
Five podiums and third on the medal chart was a solid harvest for USA Cycling on the boards in Berlin.
The women’s team led the way, with Jennifer Valente winning two silvers in endurance races in the scratch and points races, and gold in the team pursuit. Valente, who raced an ambitious schedule of five events across the week, also shared gold with Chloe Dygert, Emma White and Lily Williams in the team pursuit. Dygert added another gold with her world-record-setting individual pursuit while Ashton Lambie brought home silver in the men’s individual pursuit.
The solid week confirms the investment USA Cycling has made in track cycling, and bodes well for Tokyo, where the women’s team will be carrying nearly all of the expectations. The men also secured places in Tokyo in the Madison and omnium, so there was a lot of buzz coming out of Berlin over the weekend.
“This team has come a long way in the past two years,” said USA track head coach Gary Sutton. “We still have a lot of work before Tokyo. We leave here knowing what we have to do.”
USA Cycling leaves Berlin satisfied, yet hungry for more. The women’s team is intent on beating longtime nemesis Great Britain in Tokyo. There is still a question mark of what the final rotation will be for the pursuit lineup, but with Dygert and Valente as the team anchors, the team has very good chances for gold in August.
It’s unfortunate that the IP is no longer an Olympic discipline since 2008, otherwise Dygert and Lambie would both be top medal contenders in Tokyo.
Valente will carry her ambitious schedule in Tokyo, racing the team pursuit, the omnium — she was fifth in Berlin and missed out on another likely medal after getting boxed out in the elimination race — and the Madison. Valente and new partner, Megan Jastrab, crashed in Berlin after another rider got in the middle of one of their exchanges. Despite this, the duo remain optimistic for Tokyo.
The men’s side, Galvin Hoover qualified for a spot in the omnium, and Daniel Holloway and Adrian Hegrvary will be racing in the Madison.
UK under pressure
The once-mighty Team GB seemed off-balance all week long. It left Berlin with only one gold medal.
The squad that’ owned the Olympic boards since 2008 limped out of Berlin wondering what lies in store for them in Tokyo. On the men’s side, Dutch looked unstoppable in the sprint events, and Denmark dominated the blue-ribbon event of the team pursuit. USA Cycling bested the women in the team pursuit, and the UK women struggled in the sprint events as well.
“It’s obvious other teams have really stepped up,” said Team GG legend Chris Hoy. “It’s not the end of an era yet, but the team has a lot of work to do before Tokyo. In previous Olympic years, they were sharper at this point of the game.”
Dygert could be breakout star in Tokyo
There was a huge buzz around Dygert all week long. She impressed both on and off the bike. She lit up the boards with gold medals in both the IP and TP, and dazzled journalists in the mix zone.
That’s just the type of combination that can elevate an athlete during an Olympic year.
“She’s impressive, no doubt about it,” Hoy said. “She is going to be a big factor in the women’s pursuit and the other teams know it. She only looks to be getting better. It’s exciting for American track cycling.”
And in Tokyo, there’s the prospect of double-gold, with Dygert slated to take on the tough challenge of racing the elite women’s road race and time trial, and then just four days later, line up in the women’s pursuit.
It’s rare to see an athlete cross disciplines in the same games, but Dygert is not flinching at the challenge.
“Some people say I should just focus on one event,” Dygert said. “But I think I can medal in both. We are working on a good training program and approach to the Games with my coaches, so I will be in top condition for both races.”
Denmark leads new powers
As traditional powerhouses Team GB and Australia left Berlin scratching their heads, it’s clear other nations are stepping up. A slew of teams look toward Tokyo with renewed ambitions.
In the Madison, Denmark reconfirmed, with Lasse Norman Hansen, who helped set the new world record in team pursuit, and veteran Michael Morkov, its high expectations for Tokyo.
“It’s no longer just the UK and Australia,” Hoy said. “You’ve got nations that have invested in one part of the track and it’s paying off. Holland is focusing on sprint, and they’re the team to beat. And what Denmark did in the team pursuit was incredible. Before if you hit 3:50, you’d be in with a chance. Now there are three or four teams running under 3:50. It’s going to be a big fight.”
New powers in sprints
Theo Bos was back on the track, racing in the men’s 1km to serve as a reminder of the Netherlands’ mighty past, but it was a new fleet of sprinters who look to be dominating the sprint events.
The Netherlands men’s team put Harrie Lavreysen and Jeffrey Hoogland into the sprint final, setting up a repeat of the 2019 final. Lavreysen defended his title as the Dutch carry momentum into Tokyo.
“I think all the countries are going to step up their game before the Olympics,” he said. “I hope that we do the same.”
On the women’s side, Emma Hinze won gold in keirin, sprint and team sprint, sweeping the sprint medals and sending a warning shot to everyone.