Britain’s all-conquering cycling team have been “caught”, says one of Denmark’s world record breakers Rasmus Pedersen, as Tokyo 2020’s track events get set to start on Monday. Pedersen was one of the quartet that smashed the team pursuit world record three times in two days at the World Championships last year and Denmark will be among the favorites at Japan’s Izu Velodrome next week.
As well as the prestigious team pursuit, there will be the individual and team sprints, keirin, omnium and madison, all for men and women, taking the total medals available to 12. Led by star couple Jason and Laura Kenny, Britain timed their run perfectly in Rio to capture 12 medals but their dominance has waned since. They managed only one track gold at the last World Championships and came seventh in the medal table.
“They had a big leap for a while with their equipment but everyone has caught up with that now,” said Pedersen in an interview with AFP.
“That makes the physical side more prominent and I think GB has lacked a bit of that in their training, maybe they’ve slipped a bit because they’ve always been the best.
“But they still have a strong team. If you look back to Rio, the World Championships before was won by Australia and when it came to the Olympics, GB smashed everyone.”
After a year with almost no international competition, it promises to be one of the most unpredictable Olympics ever on the track as Denmark look to power past the likes of Britain, Italy, Australia and New Zealand.
The Danes trained for the first time on Friday at the velodrome in Shizuoka, where Covid protocol means teams have their own strictly divided zones, adding to an atmosphere of secrecy and suspicion.
“It feels like everyone is eavesdropping on each other, looking at each other and wondering how fast everyone is going,” said Pedersen.
“There’s a lot of talk in dark corners and behind people’s backs about who is the fastest right now. I mean Australia looked really fast today.
“After our world records we feel the pressure but I think it’s wrong to put it on us, it’s been like 18 months without competition. A lot can happen in 18 months.
“Our team before the World Championships wasn’t that good and then we broke the world record. The same can happen at this Olympics.”
British secret weapon
Denmark’s track riders have won medals at the last three Olympics while their third world record in Berlin clocked 3min 44.672sec, almost six seconds quicker than Britain’s best.
“Over the last few years we’ve found our formula,” Pedersen said. One of their secret weapons has been Dan Bigham, the brainy British aerodynamicist who switched to Denmark in 2019 after Britain said he had to choose between engineering and riding.
“He’s done a lot with our aerodynamics,” said Pedersen.
“He’s super clever. I’m surprised they let him go, especially because we trained with him and he’s a really fast rider. We don’t know why, we just appreciate he’s with us.”
Pedersen quit cycling for two and a half years after Rio in 2016, when he says he “learned to be a normal person”. The 23-year-old played American football for Danish side Odense Badgers.
“I wasn’t bad, I was very fast!” he said. “But the body has to cope with the hits you get so I had to toughen up.
“It made me realize you have to love what you’re doing and I returned to cycling with a different approach. You train for your goals and train for your head, a free space sometimes, somewhere you can enjoy your time on this earth.”
Pedersen is glad he came back.
“I went to school in Denmark, went to bars, met girls, I was a normal student. But cycling called me. I missed it. When you’re a cyclist you’re a bit of a psychopath sometimes.
“I remember being out in a bar with my friends one night and I just said,
‘I’m going back’. Now I’m standing here two years later at the Olympics. It’s been a wild ride.”
RBA/AFP Photo: Bettini