Track Cycling World Championships: Neah Evans and Great Britain hoping for ‘zen state’

Neah Evans and Katie Archibald will contest the team pursuit at the Track World Championships
Dates: 12-16 October Venue: Velodrome of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France
Coverage: Live on BBC Red Button, BBC Three, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and the BBC Sport app.

In any elite sport, a champion elect needs every element of preparation to come together at the right moment.

In track cycling, chasing that moment has to be one of the most difficult of all.

No-one knows that better than Olympic silver medalist Neah Evans, who is dreaming of that perfect moment at the Track Cycling World Championships, which begin on Wednesday in Versailles, France.

“There’s so many different layers,” says Evans, 32, of the championships – in which Olympic gold-medallist Laura Kenny makes a return following a post-Games break last year.

“It’s almost an a bit of an art form and when you get it right and it’s going well and you’re going fast – its almost this weird zen state, and you’re flowing, and it’s great. It’s really fun.

“It’s hard – your legs are screaming at you, but your head’s relaxed, because you’re just following this wheel. It doesn’t happen very often and it’s just calm. You can’t really hear much from the crowd.

“You’re aware there’s a lot of noise, but you’re so focused – you know what the person in front is doing, you know what you’re doing, you know what the person behind is doing and it’s just quite relaxed, which sounds bizarre because you’re literally making maximum effort, trying as hard as you physically can, but you’re just chilled.

“It’s brilliant, but sadly it doesn’t happen as much as you’d like.”

Preparation ‘not ideal’

Preparation for Great Britain has not been perfect for these World Championships, as British Cycling’s ‘home’ base – the National Cycling Center velodrome in Manchester – continues its £26m overhaul.

It means the team decamped to the architectural wonder of Derby Velodrome, where, as rain lashes the city, a derny flies around drafting a rider and continuous digital beeps for practice starts break the still air inside.

“It’s the world champs, so I want to do well,” adds Evans. “There’s a chance of coming away with a rainbow jersey, and I very much want to win one of them.

“It’s tricky – we have a new coach and we’re based in Derby rather than Manchester so we haven’t actually trained together a huge amount. Everyone’s had their own personal challenges going on, so it’s probably not the ideal preparation.”

There’s also the added challenge of new coaches being brought into the British Cycling set-up – Australians Cameron Meyer in endurance and Kaarle McCulloch as a sprint coach.

“We’re fairly philosophical with expectations,” said Evans, “and it means it’s almost a really good starting point with Cameron to move forward. This is where we’re at, and next time what can we build on?

“It’s a huge upheaval changing coach because it’s a weird dynamic – it’s a work colleague but you spend huge amounts of time with the coach and support staff. Sometimes it feels like a second family. You do see them more than your family, you spend a lot of time with them, you see them when you’re tired and stressed and vulnerable, so when they say they’re leaving it’s a bit like a break-up.”

Ethan Hayter
Ethan Hayter won the omnium world title at last year’s Track World Championships

Don’t laugh tired

But it’s not just a question of coping with change for the riders. Fatigue is another big factor – especially for 24-year-old endurance rider Ethan Hayter, last year’s omnium world champion.

“It’s been a great season,” said the Ineos Grenadiers rider. “A couple of things could have gone differently, like the Worlds last week in Australia. But it’s been great progression on the year before and I had fun doing it.”

Hayter has just about recovered from the jetlag acquired after so nearly missing out on the World Road Time Trial title in Australia following a mechanical problem in the closing stages.

“I did have jet lag and I was still feeling it a bit,” he said. “But the last couple of days I’ve started to feel a bit more normal. In general it’s been a long season as always and I’m kind of due a rest.

“I think with pro-cycling there are so many setbacks and injuries, and sometimes you’ll get injuries and all of a sudden you have the opportunity to go to races you weren’t meant to do. I had to leave the [three-week] Return [a Espana], which was a massive shame at the time, but after a week of recovering from Covid I kind of focused on the time trial a lot more than I would have, and almost potentially could have won if things had gone differently. But fourth was great.”

Track is still close to Hayter’s heart and growing as a sport, as proven with the Champions League format introduced by world governing body the UCI, in which riders can win about £35,000 for events in velodromes across Europe.

“It’s very different [back on the track], yeah. I did the World Cup in Milton, Canada, this year and that was good fun, but compared to the scale of professional road racing teams it’s really different. But it’s fun and I enjoy it still.”

And Evans, as a Scot, has half an eye beyond these World Championships, on next year’s bumper championships in Glasgow, which for the first time will incorporate several cycling disciplines all in one 11 day-long tournament – all live on the BBC.

“The crowd has a good vocal capacity – it’s just a wall of noise,” said Evans. “It’s one of those moments if you’re off the front at a race you’re trying to get a lap and the crowd just roars.

“And Glasgow, I don’t know why, somehow within the building all the acoustics seem to particularly echo because we had it in the European Championships, and it was very loud. You almost don’t want it to end. It’s mega, it really is – it’s difficult to describe.”

Great Britain squad

Men’s endurance

Dan Bigham, Rhys Britton, Ethan Hayter, Will Perrett, Ethan Vernon, Ollie Wood.

Men’s sprint

Jack Carlin, Ali Fielding, Hamish Turnbull.

Women’s endurance

Katie Archibald, Megan Barker, Neah Evans, Laura Kenny, Josie Knight, Sophie Lewis, Anna Morris, Jess Roberts.

Women’s sprint

Lauren Bell, Sophie Capewell, Emma Finucane.

Coverage details

Wednesday 12 October

17:20-21:00 – BBC Red Button / BBC iPlayer / BBC Sport website

19:05-21:00 – BBC Three

Thursday 13 October

17:20-21:00 – BBC Red Button / BBC iPlayer / BBC Sport website

19:05-21:00 – BBC Three

Friday 14 October

17:20-21:30 – BBC Red Button / BBC iPlayer / BBC Sport website

19:05-21:30 – BBC Three

Saturday 15 October

16:20-21:00 – BBC Red Button / BBC iPlayer / BBC Sport website

19:00-21:00 – BBC Three

Sunday 16 October

10:50-12:00 & 12:20-16:05 – BBC Red Button / BBC iPlayer / BBC Sport website

19:00-20:00 – BBC Three (Highlights)

All times BST. Coverage times are subject to late changes. The BBC is not responsible for any changes that may be made.

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