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Richard Moore looks at the cycling structure in Wales that helped Becky James become a double world champion

Richard Moore Posted 26th February 2013 view comments

Becky James, the 21-year-old from Abergavenney who is now a double world champion after the world track championships in Minsk, has been hailed as the new Victoria Pendleton, but perhaps she bears more of a resemblance to Chris Hoy.

It was Pendleton herself who suggested that James might be psychologically better suited to competition: more robust, less plagued by doubts. Pendleton's main opponent was always herself, whereas Hoy, and James on the evidence of her performances in Minsk, ride with a sense of confidence that suggests self-doubt has been overcome.

James: Two world titles and two bronze medals in Minsk

James: Two world titles and two bronze medals in Minsk

James is symbolic of something else that is stirring in British cycling: the coming of the Welsh. She was joined in the British team by fellow young guns Sam Harrison, Owain Doull and Elinor Barker, a gold medallist in the women's team pursuit. Had they been competing as Wales, they would have finished fourth in the medals table, ahead of France.

There are more where they came from, which will stir Welsh hearts, and strike fear into others, ahead of next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome could be 'owned' by Wales.

Richard Moore
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And there are more where they came from, which will stir Welsh hearts, and strike fear into others, ahead of next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome could be 'owned' by Wales.

It is no accident. They have had an indoor velodrome at Newport since 2003, and a new coaching structure in place for the last 18 months.

These dates are interesting, because they seem to fit into a pattern. The Manchester Velodrome opened in 1994 and the first effects, on the international stage, were really seen at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when British riders won a gold, a silver and two bronze medals.

Four years later, in Athens, the Manchester effect was more apparent, but it wasn't until Beijing, and seven gold medals on the track, that the Manchester-based programme came to full fruition. That was twelve years after the opening of the track, and perhaps more crucially, ten after the lottery-funded World Class Performance Programme (WCPP) began.

For as Hoy said when visiting the Glasgow velodrome named after him in November, the building is only half the equation. "The coaching is as important as the facility," said Hoy. "We have to make sure we have top class coaches here to help the riders."

More coaches needed

The biggest strides made by British riders were made not when the Manchester Velodrome first opened, but when lottery funding led to the establishment of the WCPP and provision of professional coaching. Similarly, the rapid development of Welsh track cyclists has coincided with a new coaching structure at Newport, headed by Darren Tudor.

The new velodrome in Glasgow probably opened six years too late for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. If Hoy doesn't compete - he is yet to decide - there could be a dearth of home medals. But that shouldn't preclude a long-term view.

The Glasgow track, which opened in October, is used from 9am to 10pm. It is full to capacity and there are requests for it to open earlier. Unlike in Manchester in 1994, or even Newport in 2003, track cycling is not a hard sell. There is a huge appetite for it from all ages, girls and boys, men and women. In Glasgow, they are turning people away.

But there is only one full-time coach. There are other Becky Jameses out there - in London, too, not forgetting that the Olympic velodrome will be open to the public later this year - but such champions do not emerge simply by letting kids loose on the wooden boards. They need the opportunity offered by the facility, and then they need good coaching.
Twitter.com/richardmoore73

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