British Cycling are under pressure to surpass the exploits of previous Olympic Games

Credit: AFP

With seven gold medals won in Beijing, another seven in London, and six in Rio, it is fair to say Britain has dominated the track at the last three Olympics. A generation of riders that included Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton, Jason and Laura Kenny, Ed Clancy and Geraint Thomas became household names off the back of their successes.

All of them had the boffins in the R&D department at British Cycling – the Secret Squirrel Club, as it used to be known, then Room X – to thank for giving them a (large) helping hand. Armed with Lottery funding, GB threw more resources and time into tech than any other nation – and reaped the rewards. 

But will that be the case in Tokyo? There has been much talk about the new Lotus x Hope HB.T — a collaboration between the two British engineering and manufacturing firms, which was released late in 2019 but had barely been seen in public until a few weeks ago. Riders including Jason Kenny have given it rave reviews, saying it “hits the nail on the head”. But what is the truth? 

Will it be worth a few tenths, a few hundredths, or nothing at all once the action gets under way?

Here’s what the manufacturers claim:

Meet the Lotus x Hope HB.T

Separately, it has emerged that GB riders will be sporting a scaled-down drivetrain compared to others, using chains, chainrings and sprockets with a smaller distance between teeth, or pitch – just 10mm as opposed to standard 12.7mm – in order to reduce the size of the front chainring and gain in aero, weight and rigidity.

Does Britain still have the best tech? 

Sources within the GB camp appear confident that the package as a whole – the bike plus the skinsuit/helmet etc – will be the class of the field. “It’s the best bike,” one told The Telegraph when asked about the Lotus. “But it’s not just the bike, it’s the whole package. If you tested the bike on its own, it wouldn’t test better. But the bike and the suit and everything – the package together – gives you an advantage. 

“Having said that, the others have made very good bikes, too. And have got brilliant suits as well.”

So will GB have an advantage?

If there is going to be one, it is likely to be less pronounced than it was five years ago, and way less than it was in 2008 and 2012. “The marginal gains are getting ever more marginal,” admitted the same source. “Whereas in London and Rio we had significant gains, now all our big rivals have invested in it.”

That may help to explain why GB opted to diversify its strategy this year, placing more resources into the mountain bike and BMX programmes. Having eaten all the low-hanging fruit in track cycling, perhaps they felt there were greater gains to be made in less developed disciplines?

Can Britain still expect a glut of medals?

Hoy for one thinks Britain should still be the team to beat in Japan. “I think if the Games had happened this time last year we might not have been in such a strong position,” the six-time Olympic champion told BBC Radio 5Live on Monday.

“But now we’re back to seeing riders like Laura Kenny back at her best. I think she has a great chance of winning three gold medals and becoming the most successful female Olympian of all time. 

“On the whole I think we could be looking at a possible three to four gold medals, plus an extra couple of silver or bronzes on top. 

“I think we still have the chance to be the top nation by the end of the week but at the same time I wouldn’t necessarily expect the extreme dominance that we’ve seen over the last three or four Games.”