By David Williams
Geraint Thomas, Elinor Barker and Ethan Vernon will be part of a Great Britain cycling team who have vowed to bring home more gold at Tokyo this summer – but without cutting any corners.
The Welsh trio are part of a 26-strong squad for the Games which includes a mix of huge experience and youthful ambition.
That blend is summed up in the Welsh threesome – with Thomas and Barker being two of six previous gold medal winners, while 20-year-old Vernon – who rode for Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games – will be going to his first Olympics.
Thomas will be going to his fourth Olympics but his fellow Welsh teammate in Team Ineos, Luke Rowe, misses out.
Team GB has captured 32 gold medals and 87 overall at the Summer Games, trailing only France for the most of any nation.
But much of that success has come during the past two Olympic cycles, when the track cycling team dominated the London Games in 2012 before raucous home crowds and then followed up its performance with 12 medals in Rio.
Much has changed in the intervening years, though.
There have been allegations of bullying, sexism and discrimination within the GB program, including allegations of sexism lodged by former track cyclist Jess Varnish — and backed by others — against former performance director Shane Sutton.
More recently, former chief doctor Richard Freeman was found guilty of ordering testosterone “knowing or believing” the banned hormone was for an unnamed rider to improve his or her performance. Freeman is appealing the verdict.
“I am wholly committed to us winning in the right way,” insisted Stephen Park, who replaced Sutton in December 2016.
“We have a responsibility to lead the sport and to do that with integrity. We want to be inspiring the nation when we go to the Olympic Games. We want the whole country to be proud to be British.”
The GB squad brings back plenty of experience with husband-wife track standouts Jason and Laura Kenny trying to add to their massive medal haul and youngsters such as Vernon and Tao Geoghegan Hart representing a new wave of talent.
“Team GB has a proud track cycling record at the Olympic Games and it’s exciting to see BMX and mountain bike disciplines alongside some very experienced road cyclists selected to the team,” said Mark England, the chef de mission of the British Olympic Association.
“The Olympic experience in this team is hugely impressive and I’ve no doubt it will be a valuable asset for those set to make their Olympic debuts in Tokyo.”
Jason Kenny has come out of retirement to lead the way. The track sprinter already has six gold medals and a silver on his resume, and another gold would break a tie with Chris Hoy for most among British cyclists.
Another medal of any stripe would put him in a tie with Bradley Wiggins for the most overall.
Kenny’s wife, Laura, has won four gold medals of her own. She will be joined by fellow Olympic champions Katie Archibald and Barker and newcomers Neah Evans and Josie Knight at the velodrome on the Izu peninsula in Japan.
— Welsh Cycling 🚲 (@WelshCycling) June 21, 2021
The rest of the track team includes Ed Clancy, who will be trying to win his fourth consecutive team pursuit gold, and fellow endurance riders Vernon, Ethan Hayter, Matt Walls and Ollie Wood.
Jack Carlin and Ryan Owens will compete in sprint events while Katy Marchant is back to contest the sprint and keirin after claiming a bronze medal in Rio.
“We are renowned for our domination in the track events,” Park said, “and while we have a realistic expectation that the rest of the world will be more competitive than ever this year, I am still extremely excited to see every single member of the track squad in the hunt for a medal in Tokyo.”
The difference between this Olympic cycle and those of the past is that Britain has plenty of medal hopes in other disciplines.
Geoghegan Hart will be joined on the road by former Tour de France winner Thomas and twins Adam and Simon Yates, and Geoghegan Hart and Thomas also will contest the time trial.
The women’s road team consists of 2012 silver medalist Lizzie Diegnan and Anna Shackley, who also will be riding the time trial.
The selection leaves out four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who has struggled the past few years to regain his form, along with Hugh Carthy, Alex Dowsett and Luke Rowe.
Tom Pidcock was another option for the road, but he turned his attention to mountain bike and Olympic rules prevent him from racing both disciplines. The under-23 world champion was selected despite recently breaking his collarbone — he’s expected to be close to full health — along with Evie Richards for the women’s race.
Kye Whyte and Beth Shriever will make their Olympic debuts in the BMX races, while Declan Brooks and world bronze medalist Charlotte Worthington will compete in the new BMX freestyle discipline.
“I’m proud of the focus the support team have made in attempting to diversify our medals, with a real investment going into the BMX and mountain bike disciplines,” Park said.
“I’m certain we will see this investment pay off with great performances in Tokyo which will then stand us in good stead leading into Paris 2024.”