|WORLD Team Pursuit Championship|
If there is one event in which tradition should have guaranteed a good British performance, this was it. Instead we had a shambles with senseless team selection followed by wildly disorganised riding.
Ignoring the fact that the British team was seven seconds slower than Manchester Wheelers had been a few weeks earlier, it wasn't even the right team, and this is not a case of being wise after the event. Gary Sadler was disillusioned by his kilometre ride (which wasn't all that bad) and his general lack of form; Shaun Wallace was completely out of touch. The need was to get Hugh Cameron into the team, but I didn't even see Hugh as a spectator. He's been the steady man for some years, a brilliant wheel follower and, if not as fast individually as one or two, as good a team member as you would find. He's also familiar with the Curran technique, which would have helped, since, on more than one occasion in the qualifying ride, there was a gap behind when Curran was powering away at the front, looking like the one member of the team good enough to carry the team into the last eight.
But there it was. "I've got no form," said a sad Sadler after being dropped at half-way as other teams raised their standards. The record dated to 1970 and West Germany, but it was repeatedly lowered. Holland, West Germany again and finally Russia lowered the time, bringing it to 429.80". West Germany should have been faster still but were badly baulked by the Finnish team which they had caught.
It quickly became apparent that the teams from East and West Germany and Russia were the likely medallists. East Germany had the streamlined machines and the carefully matched riders; West Germany had the silky appearance and the iron discipline; and Russia had the marvellous technique, especially at starting where their riders dropped into an unusual formation but were always the first team to settle. It was noticeable, too, that where all other teams carried out their changes by having the leader go up the banking in a graceful arc, Russian riders went up in a fairly straight line, turned sharply and rocketed back down.
In the quarter-finals West Germany clocked 425.88" in beating Denmark, East Germany and the Soviet Union caught, respectively, Canada and Italy, and Czechoslovakia narrowly put out Holland. Only a short time before their qualifying ride the Canadian squad were debating their starting order so they did quite well off little preparation.
The first semi-final nearly produced a sensation when the Soviet quartet lost Krasnov early, held on to a narrow lead then began to sprint for the line far too early. East Germany, with Hernig and Macha coming into the team for the first time, came close to catching them and both teams of three broke the record again, Russia this time doing an incredible 423.72" with three riders for five and ahalf laps. The other semi-final was all too easy, West Germany being seven seconds up at the bell, dropping a rider and easing to finish only a second outside the new Soviet time.
East Germany had a surprisingly difficult ride for the bronze medal, losing Buder during lap six and then challenged by Penc who twice did a full lap at the front. The lead was around a second and a half in the second part of the race, but East Germany had a moment's panic when Winkler went off the back. By now, however, Penc had tired and could not drag his team along, so East Germany took the expected bronze medals.
The final was a classic, probably the finest team pursuit match ever seen at Saffron Lane and probably the fastest of the eighties, as far ahead as one dare look. For eight laps the Soviet team led, never by more than a second and a half. The record was being beaten at every checkpoint, with the German smoothness looking likely to bring them gold, despite the deficit. Then, suddenly, Bokeloh was adrift and still the team didn't alter its style or its smoothness. Khravtsov went off the Russian team a lap later but the gap now widened and we knew that it would be a Russian victory, as the gap widened mercilessly. Once more, three-up, the Soviet riders lowered the record, this time to 423.42" and I dare risk a wager that it will be a long time before that record goes.
1. Soviet Union 4.23.42
2. West Germany 4.27.10
3. East Germany 4.26.51
4. Czechoslovakia 4.27.92