BERLIN (Reuters) - Riders have come and gone, technology advanced and tactics evolved in the 12 years since Britain’s domination of track cycling’s team pursuit began at the Beijing Olympics.
The irreplaceable and ever-present cog that has kept the machine churning out medals, however, is Ed Clancy.
When he retires later this year it could be with a fourth successive Olympic gold medal. Usually that guarantees celebrity status — but the gritty 34-year-old Clancy’s feats have come in a spectacular era for British cycling and his contribution does not always get the recognition it deserves.
Two of the men with whom Clancy has won team pursuit Olympic gold — Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas — achieved fame and fortune on the road by winning the Tour de France.
Clancy, though, has just kept churning around the world’s wooden ovals on which he has won three Olympic, six world and five European titles. It is getting harder though and he admits he will be the grandad of the British endurance squad trying to put down a marker at this week’s world championships in Berlin.
A seventh rainbow jersey would be nice, but Clancy has his eyes fixed firmly on a golden farewell in Tokyo — where victory, he says, would top everything he has done on a bike.
“It wouldn’t only be my biggest achievement, it would be the toughest as well,” Clancy told reporters ahead of the Berlin championships where he must show no sign of slowing down if he is to cement his place in the Olympic squad.
“I ain’t getting any younger, I wouldn’t say I’m past it yet, but you have to bear in mind I’ll be 35 next month and I’m riding around with superkids like Ethan (Hayter), who can literally do twice my workload and still soak it up better.”
A student of his sport, Clancy says team pursuit has changed since he won his first world gold medal in 2005 — evolving into a hybrid endurance/speed event full of ‘85 kilo machines’.
“Big muscle mass, they spend a bit of time in the gym. Just look at the times,” Clancy said.
Five nations (and Britain isn’t one of them) have gone under three minutes 50 seconds this year — Britain’s winning time in Rio — and Australia are looking like the team to beat.
But Clancy has seen it all before and is not panicking, especially with Britain keeping its new bike and suits under wraps until Tokyo — a tried and tested formula.
“I think it’s fair to say we have a small aerodynamic handicap,” Clancy said. “But we’ll have just as good kit in Tokyo. At the worlds we will be not quite as impressive as what we do in another five months time.”
What Britain also have is Clancy’s memory bank of experience and his ability to handle the Olympic pressure cooker.
Modestly he says he “puts his two cents” in but the rest of the endurance squad — Hayter, Kian Emadi, Ollie Wood and Charlie Tanfield, know they are lucky to have him.
“He is still at the top of his game, he’s the cornerstone of the team,” former sprinter Emadi says. “You appreciate the experience he has and when he speaks.
“He’s got the wealth of three (Olympic winning) teams’ knowledge in him. As well as the physical things he brings, it’s like having a coach slash rider in the four.”
Clancy says Britain’s team pursuit future is in safe hands with the new crop, but before vacating his saddle, wants one more ride to the top of the Olympic podium.
“A fourth time, it’s the dream which keeps me motivated, keeps me going,” he said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis