By Martyn Herman
BERLIN (Reuters) – Elinor Barker rode to the rescue of British track cycling once again, landing gold with a sensational ride in the points race on the final day of the world championships on Sunday.
Track powerhouse Britain had endured a worrying championships, seen as a dress rehearsal for this year’s Tokyo Olympics, with only three medals, none gold, over the first four days, leaving them 10th in the medals table.
However, Welsh rider Barker produced a superb late solo attack in the 25km event to gain a lap on her rivals, securing a crucial 20 points that fired her to the top of the leaderboard.
American Jennifer Valente had looked on course for another title but did not have enough laps left to launch a counter-attack and had to settle for the silver.
Norway’s Anita Yvonne Stenberg was third.
Dutch veteran Kirstin Wild, bidding for a third gold of the week, was well placed in third spot but a crash scuppered her chances of adding to her haul.
Last year in Poland, Barker was the saving grace for the British team, securing the only gold in the scratch race.
Again the gritty 25-year-old delivered, bouncing back after being part of the quartet crushed by the United States in the team pursuit final and finishing a disappointing sixth in the madison on Saturday when team mate Neah Evans was involved in a crash.
“I wanted to have some more energy to at least get involved in another sprint after I got a lap, but I had absolutely nothing left. I was seeing stars by the end,” she said.
The points race is not an Olympic discipline in Tokyo and while Barker’s gold was a welcome, it has been a sobering week for the British track team that ended with four medals, the same as last year. They finished seventh in the medals table.
They were outpaced in the team pursuits, in which they are defending Olympic champions, by Denmark’s world-record breaking men and the American women. In the men’s sprints they managed a silver in the team event, although they were dominated by a powerful Dutch unit which also lowered the world record.
Britain won six gold medals on the track in Rio de Janeiro four years ago, and seven four years earlier in London.
In Tokyo, however they will not have a reigning world champion in their midst in any of the Olympic disciplines.
The last time that happened was in 2000.
British Cycling’s performance director Stephen Park, speaking to reporters before Barker’s gold, said the new kit and bikes which were not revealed in Berlin will help the team close the gap in the next five months.
But he warned the gold rush that has become almost a given for Britain’s track cyclists might be coming to an end.
“The reality is the standard of track cycling is increasing all the time, the difference in terms of equipment and technology is decreasing all the time,” he said.
“I think the days of any nation winning 10-plus medals have probably gone. I don’t think that is a result of GB’s performances decreasing, I think that is a result of the worldwide competition increasing.”
That said, he admitted there will be some furrowed brows back at base camp in Manchester.
“When we get back from this event the coaches will have a few days off,” he said. “Some as a result of the things that have happened here have a little bit less time off than they thought. But the sports science team will be working away. We will be ruthless in our assessment.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon and Pritha Sarkar)