Rio 2016: Can Great Britain's cyclists repeat their London 2012 success on the track?

With an unprecedented medal haul at the last two Olympic Games, the Great Britain cycling team have set their personal bar so high it is almost unthinkable that they could sustain the same level of success.

Rio 2016: Can Great Britain's cyclists repeat their London 2012 success on the track?
Rio 2016: Can Great Britain's cyclists repeat their London 2012 success on the track? (Image: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com)

With an unprecedented medal haul at the last two Olympic Games, the Great Britain cycling team have set their personal bar so high it is almost unthinkable that they could sustain the same level of success.

Team GB dominated on the track in London four years ago, winning eight of the 10 events and winning a silver and bronze medal in the two events they did not win. Can they repeat the success in Rio?

Changes on and off the track

The British cycling team has a different look both on and off the track than the team that competed on the boards at the London Velodrome four years ago and it has certainly not been an easy road to Rio. 

Following London 2012, Sir Dave Brailsford left his position as performance director at British Cycling, bringing to an end one of the most successful reigns at the head of any British Olympic squad. Brailsford's 10-year spell at the helm of the British Olympic cycling squad culminated in the team's triumphs at the Beijing and London Games, including 16 gold medals.

Brailsford was replaced by Shane Sutton, and in terms of results, Sutton didn't do too much wrong as technical director. Britain did slump to a 14-year low of only three silver medals at the 2015 World Championships, but they bounced back to top the medals table at the 2016 World Championships. However, British Cycling was plunged into a "crisis" earlier this year after it emerged that all has not been well behind the scenes.

Sutton worked with Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins during time with British Cycling. | Photo: Getty Images
Sutton worked with Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins during time with British Cycling. | Photo: Getty Images

Sutton resigned as technical director amid allegations of sexism, discrimination and bullying; claims he strongly denies. This was certainly not ideal with less than 100 days to go until the Olympics began, but in terms of racing, all of the plans for the final months leading up to Rio were already in place, therefore continuity was ensured by the coaches still employed at British Cycling and the cyclists were able to focus on Rio.

On the track, there will be no six-time gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy or double gold medallist Victoria Pendleton in Rio, but the last four years has seen Team GB's next generation of cyclists breaking onto the international stage, including Owain DoullCallum SkinnerKatie Archibald and Katy Merchant. The 2016 Olympics also sees the return of a few familiar names to the track, with seven-time Olympic medallist and 2012 Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins hoping to win his eighth Olympic medal in the team pursuit, while 30-time Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish bids to win an elusive Olympic medal in the omnium.

Can Laura Trott become the first British woman to win three Olympic gold medals?

Can Laura Trott become the first British woman to win three Olympic gold medals? | Photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com
Can Laura Trott become the first British woman to win three Olympic gold medals? | Photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

Although Team GB will struggle to match, let alone surpass, the eight cycling gold medals they won in both Beijing and London, Laura Trott is expected to top the podium in the omnium, the women's team pursuit, or both in Rio as she looks to add to her two gold medals from London and become the first British woman to win three Olympic gold medals.

Her first shot at gold in Rio will be in the women's team pursuit, alongside Katie ArchibaldElinor Barker and Joanna Rowsell, and this will be the first Olympic Games where the women will race with four riders over 4km. The Brits took to the new format with ease following London 2012, but after a four-year unbeaten run of world titles, Great Britain's women team pursuiters were finally toppled by Australia in 2015 and at this year's World Championships a disastrous qualifying round meant they failed to reach the gold medal final for the first time since the women's team pursuit was added to the world's programme in 2008.

No doubt lessons have been learned from the World Championships and the standards have been set so high that anything less than gold in Rio would be a disappointment. World record holders Australia are likely to be Team GB's main rivals, but USA and Canada are also ones to watch too.

Trott propelled herself into the national limelight after winning her second gold in London in the omnium and she will certainly be the one to beat in Rio four years later. America's Sarah Hammer and Australia's Anette Edmondson are likely to be her main rivals, but a gold medal at this year's World Championships has only heightened the optimism as she bids for a historic third Olympic gold medal.

Will it be a successful return to the track for Wiggins and Cavendish?

Mark Cavendish will bid to win his first ever Olympic medal in the omnium. | Photo: Michael Poole
Mark Cavendish will bid to win his first ever Olympic medal in the omnium. | Photo: Michael Poole

Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish will return to the track in Rio and, while Cavendish will be hoping to win an elusive Olympic medal, Wiggins will be hoping to claim an unprecedented eighth Olympic medal. Wiggins has focussed on the track this year and will compete in the men's team pursuit alongside Ed ClancySteven Burke and Owain Doull. The quartet were silver medallists at this year's World Championships and they have reportedly taken it up several notches in training since then and, if the reports are to believed, then their four-year-old world record is in danger.

The British quartet's main rivals are most likely to be Australia; they took silver behind the Brits in London four years ago and claimed gold at this year's World Championships. New Zealand and Denmark have also claimed World Championship medals since 2012 and will be hoping to claim a medal in Rio.

Mark Cavendish will be returning to the track to try and secure the elusive Olympic medal; the one major accolade that has eluded him. He made a late switch back to the track in his bid to win his first ever Olympic medal and will represent Great Britain in the omnium. The Manxman finished sixth in the omnium at the World Championships but he did win Madison gold. He arrives in Rio on the back of four Tour de France stage wins and a day in the yellow jersey.

As he has shown in the past he can achieve anything when he puts his mind to something, but he faces some fierce competition in Rio. Cavendish's former Ettix-Quicksetp team-mate Fernando Gaviria of Colombia won gold for the second time at this year's World Championships, finishing level on points with Germany's Roger Kluge and Australia's Glenn O'SheaElia Viviani of Italy is another rider to watch having transitioned from the road to the track.

Who will fill the places left by Hoy and Pendleton?

The men’s team sprint team squad has struggled to replace Sir Chris Hoy. | Photo: Luke Webber/Revolution Series
The men’s team sprint team squad has struggled to replace Sir Chris Hoy. | Photo: Luke Webber/Revolution Series

Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton will not be competing in Rio after both retiring following London 2012 having won eight gold medals between them at Olympic Games. They most certainly leave a gap in British sprinting and there is no surprise that British Cycling have struggled to replace Hoy and Pendleton.

Britain have won gold medals in the last two Olympic Games in the men's team sprint, however after struggling to replace Sir Chris Hoy and without consistent success at recent World Championships, it is not expected that they will win a third successive title in Rio.

In the individual men's sprint, the 2012 Olympic champion Jason Kenny always turns it on in Olympic years and once again he arrives at this year's Olympics having  found form at the perfect time, winning a gold medal in the event at this year's World Championships. Fellow Brit Callum Skinner finished eighth at the World Championships, while Australia's Matthew Glaetzer, Russia's Denis Dmitriev and the French pair of Gregory Bauge and Francois Pervis are all likely to be strong in this event.

Like the men, the women have struggled to replace Victoria Pendleton and have failed to qualify for the women's team sprint. In the individual event, which Pendleton won silver in at London 2012, Becky Jones has returned from injury and a cancer scare to lead Britain's hopes for a women's sprint medal. However, with China's Zhong Tianshi and Germany's Kristina Vogel favourites for this event, James' best medal hopes appear to be in the keirin.