Team GB cyclists target winning ‘in the right way’ at Tokyo Olympics

Sport

The British Cycling performance director, Stephen Park, has promised his riders will win “in the right way” at the Tokyo Olympics in the wake of the devastating guilty verdict against the former team doctor Richard Freeman this year.

Park also vowed that British Cycling had moved on from the old regime, under which Freeman was found to have purchased banned testosterone knowing it was to dope an unnamed rider, as he named a 26-strong squad for Tokyo.

“Personally, I think it is really important to prove we have moved on,” said Park, who took over British Cycling in 2017. “I am wholly committed to us winning in the right way. We have a responsibility to lead the sport, we have a responsibility to do that with integrity.

“We are going into battle for the British public. We want them to be proud of what we do and about how we do that.”

Team GB can count on six previous gold medallists in Tokyo, including Geraint Thomas, Ed Clancy, Jason Kenny, Laura Kenny, Elinor Barker and Katie Archibald. Park warned, however, that fewer medals were on the cards because its tech advantage over its rivals had shrunk.

Starting with the 2008 Games in Beijing, British track cyclists have benefitted from special skin suits with drag-resistance ridges that create a “turbulence effect” which reduces the amount of wind resistance acting on the body. Sources have previously told the Guardian they give a 5%-10% performance advantage over rival countries.

Such tech played a vital part in helping Britain top the medal table in Beijing, London and Rio. However Park admitted that eight medals in Tokyo – compared to 12 in Rio – was now more realistic. “The tech margins we have had in the past will be somewhat eroded,” he said. “As the years go on, there are a number of people that have worked with our team who are now working elsewhere, and some of that information leaks out.

“That said, I am absolutely confident that the kit package will be as good if not better than any other nations. We have still spent a huge amount of time, effort and money ensuring we are competitive.”

The team will be headed by Laura Kenny, who confirmed she will compete in three events, the omnium, team pursuit and madison, as she seeks to become Team GB’s most successful Olympian.

Kenny, who already has four gold medals to her name, said the year’s delay due to the pandemic had given her more time to prepare after injuring her shoulder. “I would never have wished this whole pandemic on the world,” he said. “But, for me, as an athlete, definitely, having this extra year has helped me do all three events.”

Her husband Jason, who could also surpass Chris Hoy’s Team GB record of six Olympic golds, said he was putting such thoughts at the back of his mind. “I don’t really think about records or anything, I just focus on the task and try and put in a performance worthy of being at the sharp end,” he said.

Twin brothers Adam and Simon Yates have been selected for the men’s road race, as have Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart, both of whom will also contest the men’s time trial event. In the women’s road race, the London 2012 silver medallist Lizzie Deignan will be joined by Anna Shackley, with Shackley also competing in the women’s time trial.

Park, who joined British Cycling in 2017 after Freeman had left, also stressed there had been wholesale change in the organisation which had previously faced accusations of having a “culture of fear”.

“We have done a huge amount of work in recent years around wider wellbeing,” he said. ‘“We have overhauled a lot of our medical practices. A big shift in how we approach mental health. We believe happy riders are fast riders.”