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World champion Lotte Kopecky celebrates winning the women's Points race at the 2024 European Track Championships.

Olympic build-up: Kopecky, Bigham and Hayter among top performers at Euro track champs

The big stories from the European Track Championships as road stars thrive eight months from the Paris Olympic Games.

Lotte Kopecky celebrates winning the Points Race on day four of the 2024 European Track Championships in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands. Photo © Cor Vos

Kit Nicholson
by Kit Nicholson 14.01.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Ian Fleming once wrote, “The best drink of the day is just before the first one.” In other words, regardless of the result, the anticipation, planning and preparation can be the more fulfilling stage of the process.

We’re just about still in that stage of 2024 right now, and boy, does it promise to be a big year. It already is just by virtue of expectation, with Pogačar’s first Giro d’Italia on the cards, another Battle Royale between the ‘hard men’ over the cobbles, the tantalising prospect of a big four at the Tour de France Hommes, the first year of the post-Van Vleuten era, and of course, the Paris Olympics.

The Olympic Games and the draw of track racing specifically often adds a certain something to the season for road fans, and not just those of us who have a lasting interest in the fluidity and musicality of the indoor discipline. There’s never any shortage of drama on the boards, and with top road names like Lotte Kopecky and Filippo Ganna sure to be in the mix, there’ll be plenty to get our teeth into come August.

The European Track Championships this week have offered fans a glimpse of what to expect when the Games roll around, and athletes a chance to test their legs against some of the competition they’ll meet in eight months. At this stage in the Olympiad, nations arrive with varying goals (particularly on the endurance side): everything from those with no choice but to go all in to secure qualification points, to those who can afford to send a B team of sorts, or test out young hopefuls having already booked their tickets to Paris.

There were some notable absences including Filippo Ganna from Italy’s reigning Team Pursuit squad (in Australia for the Tour Down Under) and the prolific British track star Katie Archibald – and of course the track powerhouses outside Europe – but there were plenty more in action in Apeldoorn, one of the last major competitions before the summer.

Here are some of the big stories, focusing on the road stars to look out for in the build-up to the Olympic Games.

Kopecky’s big night in rainbow bands

Kopecky had a sensational season in 2023, and with three rainbow jerseys to her name (road, Points and Elimination) at the start of this Olympic year, even bigger things are expected in 2024 – if that’s even possible.

The Belgian will once again balance road and track goals this season, and before her spring campaign begins on the road, Kopecky hopped over the border into the Netherlands for the European Track Championships where she contested Omnium, Points, Elimination and Madison with her new partner Katrijn De Clercq in place of Shari Bossuyt.

By all accounts, it was a super strong competition for the 28-year-old. Seventh was the best she could do in the Omnium despite winning the third round (elimination), but a golden weekend awaited with back-to-back victories in both Points and Elimination events, both titles claimed within 30 minutes due to what might have looked like a scheduling faux-pas, though it didn’t seem to faze the world champion.

World champion Lotte Kopecky alongside Italy's Chiara Consonni on the front of the pack during the women's elimination final at the 2024 European Track Championships.
Kopecky alongside Chiara Consonni at the front of the pack during the Elimination.

It’s worth noting that the standalone events are only raced as part of the Omnium at the Olympics, however, such confident victories in both should stand Kopecky in good stead. What’s more, she and De Clercq made good from a couple of mistakes in the crash-marred Madison to snatch the silver medal behind France.

Kopecky is going to be one to watch this summer – surprise, surprise.

Points Race podium (women’s):

  1. Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) – 24pts
  2. Anita Stenberg (Norway) – 19pts
  3. Jamila Machačová (Czech Republic) – 18pts

Elimination podium (women’s):

  1. Lotte Kopecky (Belgium)
  2. Lea Lin Teutenberg (Germany)
  3. Jessica Roberts (Great Britain)

Statements made in the Team Pursuit

The GB men's team pursuit team after taking the win at the 2024 European Track Championships.
Ethan Hayter, Dan Bigham, Ethan Vernon and Charlie Tanfield experience relief and elation in Apeldoorn.

One big takeaway from this competition is that Great Britain topped the medal table with a total of 14, including six golds, six silvers and two bronze medals. This is nothing new; Brits and track cycling still go together like fish and chips, and yet the current crop can’t boast quite the dominance enjoyed by the previous generation.

One event in which Team GB has traditionally thrived, and never more so than during the British cycling zenith of the 2010s, is the Team Pursuit, but a significant changing of the guard for the men in particular – on the bikes and in the back room – meant that the 2020(1) Olympics were far less certain for the British track team. The relatively young squad of Ethan Hayter, Charlie Tanfield, Ethan Vernon and Oliver Wood had enjoyed some considerable success in the years before the Games, but still, the pressure of national dominance rested on their broad shoulders, and it all came crashing down in the Izu Velodrome.

Charlie Tanfield of Great Britain and Fredrik Rodenberg of Denmark immediately after crashing during the Team Pursuit track event at the Tokyo Olympics.
After setting the fourth-fastest qualifying time in Japan, the British quartet crashed and burned when they met reigning World Champions Denmark in the knock-outs. First, third man Charlie Tanfield rattled loose of the train, then as Denmark chased hard into the final lap, the men in red closed the gap and evidently didn’t realise how close they were to the British tail, Frederik Rodenberg riding straight into the back of Tanfield. The resultant crash meant that neither team was able to record a time, but having caught their rivals, Denmark was able to progress to the gold medal final against Italy and the Brits ultimately finished seventh.

The British lads were left licking their wounds, their nation’s dominance broken as the Italian era began.

The British men’s Team Pursuiters went on to take back the world title in 2022 with the addition of Dan Bigham to their ranks, but more bad luck at their home World Championships in Glasgow last summer rocked the boat again, and forced them onto a tough path to Paris. Having failed to get a result needed to qualify early and tumbled down the Olympic rankings, they had no choice but to perform well in the Europeans and Nations Cups.

So there was a point to prove in Apeldoorn, and though the Italians were without the talismanic Filippo Ganna, the reigning Olympic champs – including new Lidl-Trek teammates Jonathan Milan and Simone Consonni – and the ever-powerful Danes would be strong competition.

Denmark set the fastest qualifying time, but the Brits were within a second, while Italy trailed almost four seconds slower. Denmark then set the fastest time of the competition in the heats, but with GB beating Italy in theirs and a night of rest to come, the Brits had a golden chance to go for glory the following day.

It was a spectacular final. Denmark was strong from the gun, setting their fastest lap in the first quarter, but the Brits kept it steady and consistent, finishing fast to achieve a narrow victory that couldn’t come at a better time.

The victory made Messrs Bigham, Hayter, Tanfield, Vernon and Wood the first British men to claim the European TP title in nine years, giving them a much-needed boost, as Denmark and Italy took silver and bronze respectively – though, and I hate to say it, the latter two had a little less pressure to perform.

Team pursuit podium (men’s):

  1. Great Britain: Daniel Bigham, Ethan Hayter, Charlie Tanfield, Ethan Vernon, Oliver Wood – 3:45.218
  2. Denmark: Carl-Frederik Bévort, Tobias Hansen, Niklas Larsen, Rasmus Pedersen, Frederik Rodenberg – 3:46.372
  3. Italy: Davide Boscaro, Simone Consonni, Francesco Lamon, Jonathan Milan – 3:49.974

In the women’s competition, it was Italy, if anybody, who had a point to prove. With Britain fielding a team without Archibald, Elinor Barker or Laura Kenny (not competing yet but targeting her second post-partum return to racing in time for her fourth Olympic Games), and no Americans, Kiwis or Australians on the boards, you might argue that their competition wasn’t exactly fierce. Winning is winning, though, and if the azzurri are to do better than sixth in 2020(1), they’ll want to perfectly execute their process as often as possible between now and August, just as they did at the 2022 World Champs in Paris.

The Italian women's Team Pursuit team on their way to victory at the 2024 European Track Championships.
The Italian women’s Team Pursuit squad is on track (sorry) after brushing aside the British team to take the European title.

The Italians sent their A team to Apeldoorn and it showed. Rivals on the road, Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek), Martina Fidanza (CERATIZIT-WNT), Vittoria Guazzini (FDJ-Suez) and Letizia Paternoster (Liv AlUla Jayco) came together to put their international rivals to the sword, setting the fastest qualifying time – by two seconds over Germany and GB – and then progressing to the final by catching the French quartet.

It was Italy’s fifth consecutive European Championship final, and the pressure was on to finally turn those four silvers into a gold. GB started faster, sitting in the green for the first four laps, but Italy paced it perfectly to go ahead from the fifth. They had about a second and a half over GB going into the last quarter, and as Italy motored onwards, the Brits began to fall apart, all three remaining riders untethered. This essentially gave Italy a victory lap and put their rivals on notice.

Team Pursuit podium (women’s):

  1. Italy: Elisa Balsamo, Martina Fidanza, Vittoria Guazzini, Letizia Paternoster – 4:12.551
  2. Great Britain: Megan Barker, Josie Knight, Anna Morris, Jessica Roberts, Neah Evans – 4:15.950
  3. Germany: Franziska Brauße, Lisa Klein, Lena Reißner, Laura Süßemilch, Mieke Kröger – 4:14.768

Bigham leads the way

Daniel Bigham of Great Britain during the Individual Pursuit at the 2024 European Track Championships.
Performance engineered power (and absence of Filippo Ganna) set up a winning run for Ineos Grenadiers’ aero guru and former Hour Record holder Dan Bigham.

Dan Bigham needs no introduction. He was already a homegrown hero and disruptor in the UK – operating outside the vaunted British Cycling system as figurehead of the prolific Huub-Wattbike team – before he began to make a name for himself as the go-to guy for aerodynamic enhancement for some of the sport’s top road teams. His status reached new international attention when the Ineos Grenadiers hired him as their performance engineer, through which he perhaps most notably masterminded Ganna’s Hour Record (helping the Italian beat Bigham’s own distance).

In 2022, Bigham earned himself a place in the senior Team Pursuit lineup, and it worked straight away, helping the team to the world title that same year, beating Olympic champions Italy in the process.

Then this week, he and his teammates took another much-needed international title (above) after an unfortunate 2023, and Bigham was also able to claim his first ever individual title outside the UK. He proved his chops on the world stage last summer when he came second to Ganna in the Individual Pursuit, and it was another friend and colleague he faced in Apeldoorn as Charlie Tanfield also made the final.

Despite being the physically smaller man, Bigham was the favourite, and he delivered, sliding cleanly through the warm air inside the velodrome to win by a convincing margin.

Sadly (very sadly, if you ask me), the Individual Pursuit was cut from the Olympic programme after Beijing so Bigham wouldn’t get a chance to go for an individual gold, but in the contest for spots in the TP squad, he’s making a strong pitch.

Individual Pursuit podium (men’s):

  1. Dan Bigham (Great Britain) – 4:05.783
  2. Charlie Tanfield (Great Britain) – 4:07.777
  3. Rasmus Pedersen (Denmark) – 4:10.119

Ethan Hayter is back with a bang

One of the Brits walking the path laid by predecessors and/or colleagues like Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas is Ethan Hayter who, like his world-beating Italian teammate at Ineos Grenadiers, divides his time pretty successfully between track and road. That said, the European Championships marked a return from hiatus for Hayter whose 2023 track goals were derailed by injury.

Forged in the talent factory that is Herne Hill, Hayter was due a comeback in a year he’s targeting big things. A multiple world champion in both Team Pursuit (2018, 2022) and Omnium (2021, 2022), and Olympic Madison silver medalist (with fellow WorldTour rider Matt Walls), he’s become part of the foundations of the British men’s endurance squad, and based on this week’s competition, that’s not about to change any time soon.

After his part in the Team Pursuit title, Hayter’s next goal was the Omnium. Second in the opening Scratch race got him off to a good start, but fifth in the Tempo and a surprising seventh in the Elimination gave him work to do in the final round. But he got it done.

It was a thrilling finale, the ultimate standings very tight at the top as Hayter only got the best of Denmark’s Niklas Larsen on countback, the pair tying on 121 points after an electrifying skirmish in the eleventh hour. It’s the 25-year-old’s second European Omnium title, his first in Glasgow in 2018 at just 19, beating then Olympic Omnium champ and future road teammate Elia Viviani.

Neither Hayter, British Cycling, nor his Ineos Grenadiers team could ask for a much better start to 2024; his performance in Apeldoorn bodes well for his summer in GB kit and his contribution to his trade team’s road campaign.

Omnium podium (men’s):

  1. Ethan Hayter (Great Britain) – 121pts
  2. Niklas Larsen (Denmark) – 121pts
  3. Fabio Van den Bossche (Belgium) – 118pts

A Storm is coming

Danish pairing Michael Mørkøv and Theodor Storm during the Madison at the 2024 European Track Championships.
Olympic Madison champion Michael Mørkøv paired up with Theodor Storm in the youngster’s very first senior competition, and the duo rode to third behind champions Germany (Roger Kluge and Theo Reinhardt) and runners-up France (Thomas Boudat and Donavan Grondin).

The Madison is always a fun event to watch, if a little tricky to get your head around at first, and in this week’s men’s race it was the bronze-medal team that caught the eye. The Danish team was made up of Michael Mørkøv and a young newcomer called Theodor Storm in his first senior appearance.

Mørkøv is a true veteran at 38 years old and has won accolades on both track and road, for himself and by leading out his teammates in the sprint. On the other hand, there’s Storm, less than half his teammate’s age at just 18, and a relative unknown who is two weeks into his debut year as one of Ineos Grenadiers’ youthful contingent.

Storm is at the beginning of his professional cycling journey, but of all the mentors you could have, it probably doesn’t get much better than Mørkøv who’s been around the block more than a few times, and who has a very busy year ahead of him. As the keystone of Mark Cavendish’s sprint train at Astana Qazaqstan, it’ll be an interesting run-up to what would almost certainly be his last Olympics, if he competes. And then it’s a question of who would join him in defending the Madison title? Will it be Lasse Norman Leth (né Hansen) again, or will Theodor Storm slide into his place?

Madison podium (men’s):

  1. Germany: Roger Kluge and Theo Reinhardt
  2. France: Thomas Boudat and Donavan Grondin
  3. Denmark: Michael Mørkøv and Theodor Storm

Dutch heavyweights just having fun

World Sprint champion Harrie Lavreysen and Dutch compatriot Jeffrey Hoogland await the start of their Individual Sprint semi-final in the 2024 European Track Championships.
World champion Harrie Lavreysen with his hand-picked coach Hugo Haak alongside teammate-cum-rival Jeffrey Hoogland and his own righthand man, national sprint coach Mehdi Kordi, who guided the big Dutchman to a new Kilo World Record last year.

Besides the welcome return of orange with a capital ‘O’ to the Dutch national kit, the home crowd had plenty to celebrate through the unstoppable Harrie Lavreysen. Actually racing was more or less a formality for the huge sprinter who could surely only be beaten by bad luck or hubris, and sure enough, he was unstoppable in his specialist subject, the Individual Sprint, and he then responded brilliantly to the pressure in Sunday’s Keirin.

Sprint podium (men’s):

  1. Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands)
  2. Mateusz Rudyk (Poland)
  3. Mikhail Yakovlev (Israel)

Beaten by Britain’s Jason Kenny at the 2020(1) Olympics and by Kevin Quintero (Colombia) at the 2023 World Champs, Lavreysen was still expected to win the Keirin comfortably. He was clearly confident, reading from the same page of the playbook in both semi-final and final, dropping off the back before charging around the pack and crossing the line in daylight.

Keirin podium (men’s):

  1. Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands)
  2. Mateusz Rudyk (Poland)
  3. Stefano Moro (Italy)

In the end, his margin of victory in the Keirin final was extraordinary, bringing to a close the Dutch-organised event with a huge bang.

Harrie Lavreysen celebrates winning the Keirin at the 2024 European Track Championships in front of a home crowd in Apeldoorn.
The happiest man in Europe tonight.

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