Inside the revamped British Cycling talent factory

Katie Archibald, Megan Barker, Josie Knight and Jessica Roberts of Great Britain

There are high hopes for a strong home performance in Glasgow – Shutterstock/Alex Whitehead

For the next 10 days, the best riders in the world from across cycling’s four disciplines – road, track, BMX, and mountain bike – will descend on Scotland and do battle for the coveted rainbow stripes awarded to the sport’s world champions.

‌Cycling’s first ever ‘combined’ cycling world championships, which begin in Glasgow on Thursday, will provide an opportunity for British fans to cheer on some familiar faces, and get to know new ones, from reigning Olympic gold medalist Tom Pidcock in the men’s cross country mountain bike, to up-and-coming sprinter Emma Finucane in the women’s track sprint.

‌Back at cycling’s national headquarters in Manchester, however, they are thinking further ahead.

‌“It’s the usual thing,” admits performance director Stephen Park when asked what he wants to see over the next 10 days. “The riders all want to win in Glasgow of course. And personally speaking, I’m hugely honoured to be leading a team to Glasgow, my home city. I measured it the other day and it’s actually 1.1 miles from the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome to where my dad went to school.

‌“But we’re trying to progress towards Paris 2024. Our medal target next year is 10 medals, which is going to be tough.”

Thomas Pidcock of Great Britain during the cycling Mountain Bike competition on day 9 of the European Championships Munich 2022 at the Olympiapark on August 19, 2022 in Munchen, Germany

Can Tom Pidcock deliver gold in the World Championships, as he did at Tokyo 2020? – Getty Images/Pim Waslander

‌Park says he is pleased with how things are tracking. Looking around it is not hard to see why.

We are speaking in the Great Britain Cycling Team’s smart new offices at the National Cycling Centre, which has undergone a £26 million facelift over the last two years, supported by Manchester City Council.

‌The old velodrome, which opened in 1994, was shut for a large chunk of that time, with the track riders forced to train at the Derby Arena for eight months while essential works took place to upgrade the facility’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and improve spectator areas.

‌There are now solar panels in the car park and a massive heat pump system out the back – part of Manchester’s Net Zero drive – while the velodrome itself has new track centre, new track, new seating (with room for another 200 spectators). The old cafe, on the right as you entered the building, has been demolished and is in the process of being converted into a new gym.

‘Back in the old days you’d have to go to Silverstone or Southampton’

‌There is also a new wind tunnel at the nearby Manchester Institute of Health and Performance (MIHP), gifted to British Cycling from Halfords.

‌Park says it has already made a big difference for the riders. “Back in the old days they’d have to go to Southampton or Silverstone,” he explains. “You’d always need to go the night before, get a hotel. Then you’d use the tunnel for an hour or so, but something might happen and you’d have to stay on. You’d end up taking two or thee days out of training. Now they can nip over for an hour and be back training the same day.”

‌It is also useful for the ‘Secret Squirrel Club’ – the famous boffins at British Cycling who develop and test the skinsuits, helmets, and so on. The riders do not even need to be there. When we visit a mannequin called ‘Jack’ – modelled on the sprinter Jack Carlin – is testing some new bars.

‌Anything British Cycling wants to use in Paris will have to be given an airing in Glasgow over the next 10 days as these worlds represent the final opportunity to ‘homologate’ (approve) Paris 2024 equipment. Park says the race to identify what other countries are testing will be almost as intense as the action itself.

Great Britain's hopes for 2023 World Cycling Championships

Great Britain’s hopes for 2023 World Cycling Championships

‌In terms of what to expect from these worlds medals-wise, Park admits he is not entirely sure. He just wants to see progress and tracking towards Paris, and for cycling to grab the headlines and inspire a new generation. “I think there’s probably a bigger requirement than ever for elite sport to link into its community participants,” he notes. “A home worlds will be massive for that.”

Portrait of Evie Richards (GBR) in action during XCO Elite Women race, at UCI MTB World Series 2023, Val di Sole stage on July 02, 2023 in Val di Sole, Trento, Italy

Evie Richards is another victory hope for Great Britain – Getty Images/Roberto Tommasini

‌He namechecks Pidcock and Evie Richards in the mountain biking, Tokyo gold medallist Beth Shriever in the women’s BMX racing, and of course double Olympic champion Katie Archibald, who has had such a traumatic 18 months, as athletes who could inspire.

‌“Katie epitomises the resilience that some of us have to find if we’re going to kind of get through through the next day,” Park says of Archibald’s year since the tragic death of her partner. “I have no doubt she still has the potential to go to Paris and be the absolute superstar of those Games.”

‌“Whatever happens in Glasgow, there’s no doubt every time she goes on track, everybody in the velodrome is going to be shouting, everybody in the city is going to be shouting and supporting her and showing what a fantastic host city Glasgow can be.”

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