Cycling: Katie Archibald philosophical as Team GB settle for silver

When the British women’s team pursuit team concluded their animalistic chase of both gold and a world record at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Neah Evans was watching from far with a unique journey still very much idling in first gear.  “I remember it was on but I was at work, and I was doing a night shift,” she recounted.

A vet then. Subsequently, with surgical precision, building a track cycling career that took her yesterday to an Olympic podium at the Izu Velodrome on a day when the UK’s position as the dominant force on two wheels was called into question with two titles ceded, and convincingly so.

Silver in the men’s team sprint in which a monopoly had lasted since Beijing 2008. A match for their female colleagues who briefly engaged in a bit of back and forth with their German rivals in the business of breaking world records. However even their supposed super-bikes could not spin rapidly enough as another quickest time in history – of four minutes, 4.2442 seconds – saw the GB line-up of Katie Archibald, Josie Knight, Laura Kenny and Evans relegated to second by an extraordinary six seconds.

“We knew they were going to go fast but maybe not that fast,” said Kenny, whose unbroken run of four gold medals was halted with this silver. “Second-best in the world, three years to try again,” shrugged Archibald, who will go again with Kenny in the madison later this week.

This is all a novelty for Evans and Knight, who was preferred to Elinor Barker for the final. The former, talent spotted by Scottish Cycling at the Emirates Arena and fast tracked through the system, had to take a punt on herself when pausing one career for another in 2017. Amid disappointment – plus the brief indignity of a post-race collision with her fellow Scot that spun both to the deck – came quite the return on investment.

“To be sitting here with a silver medal, it’s a little bit surreal,” Evans said. “It’s going to take some time to sink in. And I’ve been very fortunate to be part of such a strong team. And yeah, it’s been pretty crazy. I guess I was really fortunate when I started cycling, that my boss was very accommodating in allowing me to go off and train.

“And when I went full-time, it was such a revelation of ‘I can just ride my bike and I don’t have to try and juggle it with shifts and work and being on call at night.’ So yes, it’s been fantastic.”

Jason Kenny is accustomed to unbridled success. A stalwart of a glorious era, he only sullied himself with silver once previously, a whole 13 years ago. Second place to the Netherlands, who set an Olympic best of 41.369 secs to dethrone the Brits as team sprint champions, made the 33-year-old from Bolton the country’s most decorated Olympian with his eighth medal, his sextet of golds serving as a tie-breaker with Bradley Wiggins.

History, but not written with a gilded script. “We rolled the dice and just went for it, we knew we had a bit of ground to make up. I had nothing left in the final. I’m really happy with where we are, we’ll give it everything in the next few days and see if we can get something out of that.”

In his stead, Ryan Owens and Scotsman Jack Carlin picked up their first Olympic medals. They know the standards set. Higher than this. Carlin will now vie with Kenny in the sprint and see if either can be golden. 

“We came for more but I think we can be proud of ourselves,” the 24-year-old from Paisley declared. “We broke the Olympic record at one point, the Dutch again took it off us. We are happy, we just want more.”

Additional signs that an era may be closing came when Ed Clancy withdrew from the remainder of the team pursuit competition due to back pain, ending a two-decade career that brought four Olympic medals, three of them gold. “It’s a tough call, because I’m enjoying it more now than I ever have done,” the 36-year-old said. “But the difficult choice is usually the right one and right now is the time to go.”

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