Sophie Capewell, Blaine Ridge-Davis and Milly Tanner will don Team England jerseys at the Commonwealth Games next weekend but they will be taking the next steps in an overhaul of Great Britain’s women’s team sprint.
This has been the weak spot of Britain’s otherwise all-conquering track cycling programme for several years – failing to even qualify for either of the last two Olympics – but a long-term project to change that is bearing fruit.
Capewell, Ridge-Davis and Tanner, all 23, were joined by the 22-year-old Lauren Bate to win bronze at last year’s World Championships. That meeting in Roubaix in October was missing some of the star names who had shone at the Olympics earlier in the summer, but the medal was still a significant marker.
The Commonwealth Games will mean a change of uniform and the loss of Bate – absent due to a long-term back injury – but it is seen as another step on the road to Paris as the start of the qualifying process looms.
“It’s not going to be all that different to when we were on the worlds together representing Great Britain,” Ridge-Davis told the PA news agency. “It doesn’t feel like too much of a change, but we’re excited to be on Team England.”
Though all the same age, the trio have followed different paths to reach this point. Former swimmer Tanner got on a bike five years ago, while Ridge-Davis made the more straightforward switch from BMX.
Capewell has been around the longest, joining the senior academy in 2016 following the Rio Games, and has seen how much the program has changed after years of underachievement.
“I think we’ve got massive strength in depth now,” she said.
“We needed to make a step forward to be competitive with the top nations and we’re on our way to getting there, and the fact we’ve got strength in depth helps because it gives us internal competition.
“It’s been an ongoing project. I’m pretty sure we’ve got the most women on the squad now that we’ve ever had. That’s only a positive thing.”
Much of that strength in depth will be on show in different colours in London, with the Scotland and Wales teams packed with riders who would love to dislodge the English trio from British selection.
The failure to qualify in the team event left Katy Marchant – now taking time out after the birth of her first child – to fly the flag alone for the women’s sprint in Tokyo. It means the Commonwealth Games will be the first taste of a multi-sport event for the rest of the squad.
“Heading into Olympic qualifying it’s great the whole squad gets to experience something like this, especially at home where the atmosphere should be amazing,” Capewell said.
“It can be really beneficial knowing we’ve done something like that before Paris comes around.”
After the Commonwealth Games there will be less than two weeks before the European Championships in Munich, with the World Championships to follow in mid-October.
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Last year’s bronze at the worlds – behind Germany and the Russian Cycling Federation – came against a weakened field to some degree, but for a young team finding its way it was confirmation of progress.
“It gave us so much as a team,” Tanner said.
“It gave us confidence to move forward. It allowed us to be seen with a bit more credibility and a bit more potential towards Paris…
“As horrible as (Tokyo) qualifying was, we’ve definitely learned from it and hopefully this time it will be different.”
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