The spying game: Aussies film Britain's foursome in pursuit of Olympic supremacy
21:30 GMT, 3 April 2012
The espionage out here has reached such farcical levels that our lot are filming their lot filming our lot.
Why the convoluted John le Carre pastiche It revolves around the World Track Cycling Championships that began Down Under in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Evidence of this nefarious surveillance was conveyed to me — no covert packages were exchanged, just a couple of coffees shared — by Dave Brailsford, the all-conquering performance director of British Cycling.
On track: The Great Britain women's cycling team prepare in Australia
‘Look at this,’ he said, reaching for his smartphone. ‘That’s them filming us training.’ The ‘them’ in question are the Australians. So Brailsford brandished his own camera and snapped the spies at work as if to shame them.
‘It’s not that what they were doing was bad as such,’ he reasoned, ‘but come on! Really, I suppose we should take their close interest as a compliment.’ Over Brailsford’s shoulder gleamed the giant bowl of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a reminder of two things.
First, that there is probably no finer city in the world in which to watch sport than this games-mad metropolis, even if the Australian dollar is now so strong against the pound that you’re better off ordering your fish and chips from a mortgage adviser rather than a waiter.
Second, that we are in the right place to be talking about Ashes drama. These championships are the second in this year’s three-match Britain v Australia cycling series.
Chasing glory: The Great Britain men's pursuit side practice on the track
The first instalment came at the World Cup in London’s Olympic velodrome in February. Britain led the medal table with five golds, one silver, two bronzes. Australia came second with two golds, three silvers, one bronze. The final and crucial part of the drama will unfold at London 2012 itself.
At the heart of this rivalry is the ache the Aussies still feel from the drubbing they received at the Beijing Olympics in 2008: Britain’s 14 medals against their puny one.
The event in which they wish to assert their virility more than any other in London is in the men’s team pursuit. And this brings us to a second case of spying.
Another video, posted on YouTube, shows Britain riding at world-record pace over a 2,750 metres test run. Admittedly, it was shot at another Melbourne track, Darebin, not the Hisense Arena, near the MCG, where these championships are taking place.
Does this mean Britain are ready to regain supremacy over the full 4,000m and 16 laps, having lost four of their last five meetings to Australia’s reigning world champions
‘We don’t know the extent of the conditions, or how fresh they were, but they are definitely travelling well,’ conceded Jack Bobridge, holder of Chris Boardman’s old individual pursuit world record and, at 22, an elder statesman in a youthful quartet known as the ‘Boy Band’.
‘The British aren’t our only competition at the moment. You’ve got Russia and New Zealand. We get excited every time we win.
‘We’ve only seen one “effort” from the British so we can’t compare until after qualifying. We won’t share times before then. We’re riding well. We are fit and healthy.’
Barring a late change, the British pursuit team today will be Ed Clancy, Paul Kennaugh, Andy Tennant and Geraint Thomas. Revenge for their most recent defeat by the Australian foursome — Bobridge, Rohan Dennis, 21, Michael Hepburn, 20, and Alex Edmondson, 18 — in London seven weeks ago would set the tone for the five-day event.
Champions: Australia won the team pursuit in London in February
‘I remember the sheer noise from the crowd for our boys in London,’ said Brailsford. ‘It still gets to me now. It was unbelievable. We have a chart and the guys went off so fast because of the atmosphere that there is a massive spike in the graph. It’s quite funny. The Australians will have to deal with that noise, that adrenaline rush this time around.’
Mind games Hints of it, though behind the competitive zeal there is a mutual respect and co-operation between the two nations. Australia lend non- performance-critical equipment, such as the warm-up rollers, to Britain when they are over here under a reciprocal arrangement.
There are also a handful of Aussies on the British backroom staff, led by Shane Sutton, the exuberant and likeable head coach whose brother, Gary, is a key component in Australia’s preparations.
Normally, Brailsford has a ‘little bet’ with Shane on any Ashes clash — whatever the sport, whatever the venue. ‘We always do it,’ said Brailsford, ‘even if we know nothing about what’s going on.’
Needless to say, in no regard was he talking about this week. All bets are off.