On top of the world one moment and facing a public tongue-lashing the next – in a sport of fine margins, cycling is never less than unpredictable.
Just ask Olympic team pursuit champion Steven Burke – the Burnley-born rider was the unused member of the British Cycling men’s endurance squad at the UCI Track World Championships in Cali, Colombia.
Burke fell ill in the build-up to the event but it has not spared him from the disappointment suffered in the wake of the men’s team pursuit quartet suffering their worst result since the turn of the century.
It’s a far cry from two years ago, when Burke – alongside Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas and Pete Kennaugh – was the toast of the nation after sealing Olympic gold in world record time at London 2012.
Two years out from the next Olympic Games in Rio di Janeiro, Brazil, and Burke insists the squad will bounce back, using the hurt of this year’s world championship result to lift them back into contention.
Speaking to RCUK, Burke said: “Obviously I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed for my team-mates with the result, and for myself having not made the final selection.
“I’ve had a bit of bad luck this winter, coming towards the end of the track season, with illness and a virus and it offered me too little time to get the most out of training in the build-up to the World Championships.
“But, with all those things, I’m not going to dwell on it too much. I think the team will sit down, have a debrief and then we’ll decide how we’re going to move on in terms of the next races.
“It just wasn’t to be coming into the World Championships. But the important thing is we’ll learn from this and move on. The team as a whole is capable of much more than that. We’re all gutted, really, and disappointed with the outcome.
“I don’t think the fact we’ve got some stick is necessarily the big motivating factor – the actual result is more so. It’s a wake-up call because none of us like losing. We all like winning and it is something now that will push us on in the next bit of racing.”
Burke’s winter was far from a complete disaster, however, with European Championship gold and victory in the Manchester round of the UCI Track World Cup.
Indeed, on the latter occasion it was the sterling job performed by Burke in producing a series of huge shifts on the front of the quartet which won the Burnley-born rider the plaudits from team-mate Clancy.
Any suggestion the team had peaked too early is swiftly rejected by Burke, however, insisting the blame lies squarely on the riders – a theme echoed by head coach Shane Sutton in a damning interview given after the championships.
“I think we took a slightly different approach in training this time,” he explained. “But I don’t think you can just blame it on that. Everyone’s accountable for how we fared. The blame is more so on the riders really. I know that we’re capable.
“The team that went out to Colombia is certainly capable of more than that and we demonstrated it earlier on in the track season at the European Championships and the World Cup.”
But with the cloud of Colombia hanging over them, Burke’s immediate priorities will be riding with his new road team, Haribo-Beacon, with whom he will now head for a training camp after some time out of the saddle.
And the 26-year-old says he is relishing the prospect of clocking some miles on the road and improving his form on the tarmac – before the small matter of the Commonwealth Games in August.
“I’m looking forward to just being out on the road for a bit,” he said. “We’ve got the National Series events, the criteriums and the team’s down for the An Post RAS so I’m looking forward to that.
“It’s a good challenge for me because the level of my road racing is nowhere near what I have on the track. It will give me good endurance really coming into the Commonwealth Games.”
Switching from track to road is not always a smooth transition and Burke admits it will take time for him to adjust to the different demands places on his legs.
But with the lure of the reformed British Cycling domestic calendar, and a desire to represent his new team in some of the most prestigious races on the UK circuit, Burke has plenty to motivate him for the next phase of his season.
“It takes a bit of time for me to switch from the track to the road,” he admitted. “As soon as I get off the track, I have a few days off but then it’s all about getting my endurance going.
“It’s your base for track cycling as well really, so over the next few weeks I’ll be getting plenty of kilometres done and be playing a bit of catch up.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It will make a nice change and be some good preparation. I am excited by the way the domestic calendar is shaped up – it’s not just your standard Premier Calendar anymore, the season is broken up.
“It will be interesting and I think it will make the races more exciting. I’m looking forward to races such as the Lincoln GP – they are the sort of races I really enjoy, and I’ll just try and go the best I can for the team. It will be good to ride with my new team-mates.”
A new team setup will be on the cards for the Commonwealth Games too, with the Welsh representatives of Great Britain’s team pursuit squad set to be among Englishman Burke’s rivals.
Burke, Clancy, Jonathan Dibben and Andy Tennant are all among the possible contenders for England’s endurance squad while Sam Harrison and Owain Doull could form part of a talented Welsh line-up.
But Burke is determined to prove his ability across the disciplines, with his name also down for the individual pursuit and the scratch race.
And two years on from his Olympic success, he is relishing the opportunity to prove himself at another major championships.
“I’d like to medal in the Commonwealth Games,” he said. “I’m going to target the team pursuit, the individual pursuit and hopefully the scratch race as well but that depends on who’s up for it in the England team.
“I’ve put my name forward for those events and I’m looking forward to doing more than one discipline in a championships.
“I think the expectation on us will be high. It will be interesting riding for England instead of Great Britain. It’s going to be a bit different in terms of the team – when you look at this year’s worlds team, you have Sam and Owain being Welsh. It will be strange competing against them but I’m looking forward to it.”
After the disappointment of Cali, Burke is unlikely to be the only member of Great Britain’s men’s endurance squad keen to prove their worth in Glasgow.
Olympic team pursuit gold medalist Steven Burke will be supporting athletics legend Jonathan Edwards as he prepares for his first ever cycling event. Jonathan will ride alongside more than 2,000 cyclists at the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Pennines, an incredibly beautiful and challenging-60 mile closed road cycling sportive on July 20 2014 in County Durham.
Places are still available, visit www.etapepennines.co.uk for more information.