Number 18: Jessica Varnish breaks 19-second barrier

Manchester, February

The issue of who would kick-off the team sprint for Great Britain was in danger of becoming a problem.

The Australian pair of Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch had got into the groove and were consistently cranking out the sort of times that will be required to win gold at the Olympics.

Britain’s hopes that Shanaze Reade might be able to ride the track and BMX had fallen flat.

But at the World Cup in Manchester during the spring, Jessica Varnish suddenly demonstrated in competition just how far she had progressed.

Riding for the Great Britain ‘B’ team with Becky James, she became the first British woman to break the 19-second barrier for the opening lap of the team sprint. That is the invisible line that marks the shift from a very decent international rider into the realm of the world class.

Varnish and James qualified for the bronze medal race, while Pendleton and Reade finished only eighth in qualifying because Reade had a problem with the start gate. Although Varnish and James were beaten to a medal by France, it was enough to persuade the coaches to pair her with Pendleton for the World Championships. And it paid off, with a silver medal.

They may be a little way off the Aussies but Varnish’s improvement gives them a chance to take a run at London now.

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