Britain’s track cycling stars have revealed the extraordinary lengths to which envious rivals went in order to try to stifle their supremacy at the Rio Olympics.
Team GB exceeded all expectations in the velodrome by winning six golds, with every rider on the team coming home with a medal of some colour, but that success prompted murmurings of suspicion from other riders.
German Kristina Vogel called the results “very questionable” and Australian Anna Meares wondered aloud how British Cycling upped its game by such margins every four years – yet some went even further, using mobile phone cameras to spy on Team GB.
“A lot of coaches would walk past our pen knowing that we are the best at what we do,” Owain Doull, who won gold alongside Bradley Wiggins in the team pursuit, told City A.M.
“And you see them walking past trying to take sly photos of a new bike or the warming-up pants that we have on. But there’s nothing special going on here, it’s just hard work.”
Doull’s team-pursuit colleague Ed Clancy, who won his third gold medal, said he had been aware of whispering about the British team but struck a sympathetic note.
"You do hear gossip,” he said. “I think a lot of those comments are said in the heat of the moment and perhaps they regret saying them afterwards.”
Doull believes the winning tone set right from the start in Rio was pivotal to Britain’s third Games of track cycling dominance.
“I remember the first night when we qualified fastest by quite a margin, the girls broke the world record in their qualifying for team pursuit and the lads won the team sprint,” he says.
“And I remember watching the team sprint and looking at all the other nations and their heads just dropped. They just knew at that point it was back on. Same as London, same as Beijing. I think people had already given up by that point.”
Clancy paid tribute to the “big part” played by Shane Sutton, British Cycling’s former technical director, who resigned in March following allegations of sexism and discrimination. An investigation is ongoing and neither Clancy nor Doull know if he will come back if his name was cleared.
“I wouldn’t be disappointed if he came back,” Clancy added.
Doull agrees: “I live in Wilmslow in Manchester, not far from where Shane lives so I have bumped into him a couple of times in a coffee shop. He put everything in place for these Olympics. He brought in our coach that has made the difference for us.
He was the architect of the Games.
“[If his name is cleared] I think it would be good. He is good at what he does and British Cycling owes a lot to him.”
The situation with Sutton was just one of several hurdles for Barnsley-born Clancy.
“There have been a lot of distracting stories this year,” he says. “It hasn’t been a year without distraction which made it all the better when we pulled off the wins. We stopped all the negativity and had something positive to shout about.”
British Cycling’s approach to prioritise Olympic success differs to other nations, but is a product of how the organisation is funded – based solely on medal performance at the Games and not on other events during the intervening period.
“It can be difficult,” says Clancy, recalling other championships when they have struggled.
“But would I rather be mediocre over four years, or would I rather go big on the one day that really matters for track cycling?”
The track World Championships in London earlier this year were seen as a comparative triumph when they yielded three medals in Olympic disciplines.
One of the few disappointments was the failure of Clancy and Doull to win gold alongside Wiggins. For Doull this was motivation for the summer.
“I remember after we lost the Worlds in London, everyone was just so gutted that I was distraught,” he said.
“I said to myself ‘Remember that feeling. I never want it to happen again.’ I think looking back it was a good thing we lost the worlds. It probably didn’t do us any harm.”
Track cycling was one of many success stories at the Olympic for Team GB, who finished second in the medal table – ahead of China for the first time in the modern era – and won 67 medals, of which 27 were gold.
It may be only a matter of days since both Clancy and Doull got home but both are already looking to the future.
“I want to do one more Olympics,” said Clancy. “I’ll be 35 in Tokyo and that seems like a decent age, so I think I have one more Olympics in me. And I’d like to have a crack at the omnium again.”
As for Doull, the 23-year-old has signed for Team Sky after a successful stint with Team Wiggins. But he has no intentions of following in Wiggins or Chris Froome’s footsteps and bidding to win the Tour de France.
His passion lies elsewhere, on the less well-known cobbled classic races in northern France, Belgium and Holland. He is specific in targeting one of these five races or “monuments”: the Tour of Flanders.
“It’s just something about that race,” he added. “The passion of it and the history. It’s something that I have always wanted to ride let alone win. You’ve got to keep setting yourself goals, no matter how big they are or how outrageous they are.”
Ed Clancy and Owain Doull are racing back on the track in the UK at Revolution in Manchester on 17 September. Tickets are available now:www.cyclingrevolution.com