On the face of it, Great Britain’s below-par World Championships showing was a disappointment all round, returning with no gold medals for the first time since 2001.
Among the disappointment, however, were a few rays of hope and causes for optimism – not least for the men’s team pursuit squad, who improved significantly on their Cali horror show of 12 months earlier.
Ed Clancy, Andy Tennant, Steven Burke and Owain Doull – the latter two only just recovered from injuries – won silver behind New Zealand in Paris.
And with Sir Bradley Wiggins set to turn his focus to being part of the squad for the Rio 2016 Olympics when he leaves Team Sky in April, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful for the men’s endurance squad.
Clancy, a team pursuit gold medallist at the last two Olympic Games, is the experienced head in the team at present but the Yorkshireman is happy Wiggins will be returning to the boards.
Team-mates in Beijing, Clancy and Wiggins claimed Commonwealth Games silver for England in the summer alongside Burke and Tennant.
And the 29-year-old Barnsley-born rider believes Wiggins’ presence will be a huge boost to all involved in the squad when he returns again.
Everyone’s attitude is given a boost when Brad’s in town
“He’s a massively strong rider and he’s a good guy to have around as well,” Clancy told RCUK. “He does lift riders, he’s got a bit of sparkle as everyone knows. The attitude of the team, the staff and everyone is given a boost when Brad’s in town so I’m looking forward to it.
“We’re always going flat out and it’s hard to make the team anyway, without Brad. But obviously it throws another strong pair of legs into the mix and, in terms of the team’s performance, it can only be a good thing.”
Clancy is keen to pick out the positives of the quartet’s performance in Paris, particularly given Burke’s ill-timed crash, breaking his collarbone in January, and their failure to qualify for the medal finals in 2014.
As Clancy prepares to join his team-mates for a training camp in Tenerife – the first time he will have been on the bike since Paris apart from a successful showing at Revolution in London at the weekend – he believes the team is in a good place.
“I’m glad you [can see improvement],” he said. “Because for us, the male team pursuit, while it’s always horrible to lose by a few tenths of a second we made some real good progress and we all came out of that pretty happy with where we’ve come from and where we’re going as well.
“We know we can make improvements here and there. We weren’t all firing on all cylinders and therefore I think we can look forward to the future and to Rio now.
“The Kiwis have always had good riders. I’ve seen them in omnium races and on the road and I’ve always been surprised they haven’t gone faster but they’ve obviously got it together now for whatever reason.
While it’s always horrible to lose by a few tenths of a second, we made some real good progress
“I think they’ve got a couple of young lads in the team, including the junior world champion, and it seems to have clicked together for them.
“The key is not to look at the other guys, though, and just look at ourselves. We’ve got to keep being quicker and hope that it will be good enough.”
How quick remains the million-dollar question, with the male team pursuit record – set by Clancy, Burke, Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh at London 2012 – offering a tantalising target.
That time of 3:51.659 minutes has rarely been threatened since London, but as the Olympic cycle wears on and preparations for Rio roll on, the heat is being turned up once again.
Conditions, track temperature and air pressure will all come into play but Clancy predicts a time of 3:50 minutes will be sufficient to win gold in Brazil.
“It’s a tough question,” he admitted. “It’s hard to put times on track races because it’s so dependent on conditions, air pressure and track temperature.
“Sub-3:50 is the ultimate goal, as ever, but I think a 3:50 will be good enough to win. That’s just a wild prediction though, based on nothing but guest work.”
Clancy also praised the influence of East German coach Heiko Salzwedel, who returned for a third spell with British Cycling in October, when he was appointed men’s team pursuit squad.
Heiko Salzwedel has an old-school attitude towards volume and road racing, which so far has worked really well
Clancy will race at the Good Friday Meeting, for which he is an ambassador, at the Lee Valley VeloPark on April 3, but then it is all about the road miles.
“Heiko, our coach, has an old-school attitude towards volume and road racing which so far has worked really well,” Clancy explained.
“So we’re going to be doing a lot of stage racing, a lot of road racing and then a mini-Olympic test event in August. It will mean this year will mirror 2016 in terms of the build-up.
“We’ll see how it goes in August and then change things accordingly for next year. Obviously we have to qualify more points at the World Cups and the European Championships but as you get closer to the Games, the other track meets become less and less important in the grand scheme of it all.”
He added: “It’s been really good working with Heiko. I know he’s been with British Cycling twice before but I’ve never really worked with him before now. Now he’s properly our coach and he’s really good.
“He’s a well-respected sports scientist within cycling and if you look at the teams he has worked with in the past he has always done really well.
“His best thing, though, is just the way he gets things done. I guess it’s an East German attitude. If he wants say 12 pairs of SRM cranks then it gets done and it doesn’t take two months, it takes two days.
“If he wants a training camp in Tenerife, he’s just like a bulldozer – he bulldozes all the problems and issues out of the way and gets exactly what he wants, when he wants.
Heiko gets things done. I guess it’s an East German attitude – he gets exactly what he wants ,when he wants
“It’s more and more important now than ever in British Cycling because it’s a big system and a lot of people are involved, yet he’s just brilliant at getting things done.”
Clancy’s programme will therefore include the Tour of Normandy, Tour de Loir et Cher E Provost and, potentially, the inaugural Tour of Yorkshire before heading back to the track.
And come August 2016 in Rio, with the impetus provided by a certain former Tour de France winner and the grit of their East German coach, perhaps there will be reason to be cheerful at British Cycling after all.
Ed Clancy is the ambassador for the Good Friday Meeting, being held on April 3 at the Lee Valley VeloPark. For more information or tickets visit www.thegoodfridaymeeting.co.uk