• Tim Decker (L) celebrates gold in the Men's Team Pursuit final during the 2016 Track Cycling World Championships (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Recent history suggests there is a reason for a nation to get excited if it wins a team pursuit world title in an Olympic year.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
8 Mar 2016 - 12:02 PM  UPDATED 8 Mar 2016 - 12:03 PM

Since the 2000 summer Olympics in Manchester the country that has won the rainbow bands in the months immediately preceding a Games has gone onto win gold.

So when Australia beat arch rival Great Britain in a nail-biter at the UCI Track World Championships in London last week parochial inferences could be drawn.

Team GB has been the benchmark in the premiere event, winning the last two Olympic titles in world record pace. It had the advantage of an electrified home crowd last week at ‘The Pringle’, the same velodrome it overcame Australia for gold at London 2012.

“The odds were against us is what I’d say,” Cycling Australia head track endurance coach Tim Decker told Cycling Central from London.

“You’re in the London velodrome with 6000 screaming English fans and maybe 10 screaming Australian fans. GB hits the front with two laps to go, the roof pretty much lifts off the velodrome and we fight back and win. That was what was so special about it is that they found a way to actually pull it back and get across the line first.”

Decker acknowledged the “moment” but even in the hours immediately following the 4000m gold medal final, which Michael Hepburn, Sam Welsford and brothers Miles and Callum Scotson won in a scintillating time of three minutes and 52.727 seconds, was business minded.

He is acutely aware that history can be rewritten and in his first Olympic cycle since succeeding now technical director Ian McKenzie as head coach has an obvious bottom line, which Great Britain counterpart Heiko Salzwedel shares.

“Heiko came and shook my hand and he said, ‘you can have the world championship, but we will have Rio,’” Decker recalled.

“The important side of it is probably psychological. That’s probably the most beneficial thing but just because you’ve won the Worlds it doesn’t guarantee you that you’re going to win the Olympics. Whether we won or we lost, everything remains the same on how we are moving forward.

“You can’t hide away from the work that still needs to be done between now and Rio and the improvements that still need to be made,” he continued. “Although that was the second fastest time in history that we rode, we’re still 2.7 seconds away from the magical three minute and 50 second barrier. People always talk about it getting broken and how it’s going to have to happen at Rio, and it may have to happen. That’s what the targets are.”

Tabotta looking for more medals in Rio
Australia are on track for a bumper Rio Olympics if they can turn top-five finishes into medals, according to performance director Kevin Tabotta.

Behind the scenes Australia and Great Britain have observed major changes in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics.

Shane Sutton replaced David Brailsford as top brass at British Cycling and long-time endurance coach Salzwedel was one of the experienced men he brought in as he made the role his own. British media alluded to dissension in the ranks between rider groups and top GB management during the world titles but that was later overshadowed with a surge that put the home nation at the top of the medal board by the end of the meet (Australia was third behind Germany).

Decker, formerly a junior program head coach, won’t elaborate too much on the impression he has and continues to make on his elite squad. However, his influence at least publicly seems to have been well received by all including Cycling Australia performance director, Kevin Tabotta.

“I can’t fault the backing I’ve had from the team around me,” he said. “Kevin Tabotta has always backed me 100 per cent regardless of the way I’m thinking or what I’m doing. I don’t think there’s been too many issues. There’s been some major changes implemented but that’s why I was put in the position as there needed to be some changes.

“The AIS do this coaching scholarship and they took me to London [2012] across many events. It gave me a real insight to being a head coach at the Olympics. That in itself has been a real bonus for me, learning and seeing not just cycling but other sports and how they operate,” he continued.

“I don’t feel nervous in the fact that this is my first Olympics as head coach. I know there is a process we’ve got to go through to get there but I I’m ready to take the team and perform as best we can.

“I think we will certainly be around the mark to push for gold medals and that’s been the aim all along. I’m not going to hide away from the aim. I’ve always stated that the Olympic gold medals are the major targets.”

The World Championships comprised one part of an Australia endurance team selection process that will be further refined at a camp in April.

Senior endurance squad member Jack Bobridge as well as Alex Edmondson both missed the titles due to trade team commitments but Decker was impressed with how contemporary Hepburn stepped up as a leader and led a comparatively inexperienced trio to exceed an initial 3:53-3:54 target.

The performance has left the coach with somewhat of a pleasant headache in terms of deciding the final squad that will fight for his bottom line in five months.

“To be honest we still don’t know what our best team is for Australia yet and that’s an exciting thing,” Decker said. “Whereas I do know what GB’s best team is.”

Australia’s performance in London did not seem to perturb the home nation with Bradley Wiggins declaring to the BBC that he’d bet his house on a victory at Rio. A fully fit Ed Clancy, who is on the comeback from a serious back injury, wouldn’t hurt the task.

“I think Ed certainly has impact,” Decker said. “We know how good he has been in the Olympic cycles but that’s one person in a team. It’s going to take more than one person to go under 3:50.

“They can say we’ve got six guys going for four spots but it’s pretty simple to see who their best four guys are providing Ed Clancy gets back to 100 per cent. Wiggins, they can walk around and say he’s not selected yet but he showed his hand. They’ve got a reasonably simple team to read I think.”

The Australia endurance squad is also set to pay a visit to the AIS in Canberra for a week as Decker crosses off the days to the “big one” and tries to emulate Simon Cowell in producing a world best boy band.

“There’s a few different things we’re looking for. Yes, the ultimate goal is you have to be able to ride your bike fast for 3:50,” he said. “But to do that it is a team event and the team needs to be able to come together and back each other and believe in each other to make that happen.”