Rally Cycling teammates Emma White and Lily Williams are more than ready to make their Olympic Games debuts in Tokyo, taking up two of the spots for Team USA in the women’s Team Pursuit squad, which will begin qualifying rounds at the Izu Velodrome on August 2.
It is just the third time in the modern Olympic Games era the endurance event will be contested by women, added in 2012, but it’s the first time the American team is considered a favourite for the gold medal.
Five years ago in Rio de Janiero, Americans took silver, and from that squad Jennifer Valente and Chloe Dygert return as veterans with a mission possible. The Rio pair rode with White and Williams to take the gold medal at the 2020 Track World Championships, but the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has meant they haven’t raced since then and it also led to a full year’s delay in the race for gold in Tokyo.
“Our last track race, the World Championships in Berlin, was in the beginning of 2020. So that’s a long time ago and it’s not been easy,” White told Cyclingnews when she took part in the USA Cycling Pro Road Championships in June. “But at the same time, for every country that was their last big race. We believe that we are in a good spot because we have a lot of new riders on our team so one year extra has only benefitted us.”
At the 2019 Road National Championships, White won the elite women’s pro criterium title, was third in the pro road race and swept U23 honours in all three races that week – the time trial, crit and road race. Close on her heels in the road race was Williams, who was fifth.
Back in 2019 they were on different trade teams, White with Rally Cycling and Williams with Hagens Berman Supermint, but they faced off more often in cyclo-cross races across North America in the fall and winter.
“Coming from cyclo-cross I’m a firm believer in the very short, punchy [moves] …. I really believe that helps me going onto the track, especially in pursuit,” said White, who is 23 years old.
“I look at it as the other disciplines have really made me stronger on the track. Before, I kind of tried to spread myself pretty thin in trying to be the best that I could in everything. Now I am able to really focus 100 per cent on track, and I thank Rally for that. They have been so supportive, so encouraging of these opportunities.”
Williams, 27, is in her third year as a road professional, and also agreed with teammate White that the experience from cyclo-cross and road have only been beneficial to her new focus on the track.
“We couldn’t have been part of a better road programme during this time because they’ve given us pretty much complete flexibility to train exclusively for the track, which has been really necessary, in my opinion, for both of us as pretty new riders for the track programme. So having had the past year and a half to focus has made a big difference for our team going in to Tokyo,” Williams told Cyclingnews.
“I’ve always wanted to remain multi-disciplinary in cycling. I think it’s really good for women’s cycling, for visibility in the sport for all of us. I am thankful that we are part of programmes that let us do that.”
The differences between the disciplines, however at times can be stark. The two laughed when describing the Team Pursuit as an “endurance” event.
“Our event is four minutes long and it’s considered an endurance event, whereas the sprinters on the track are doing a flying 250 metres, so it’s like a 100-metre dash runner. We are more like 800-metre runners,” Williams explained.
After a year-and-a-half of twice a day workouts, “every day”, with lots of road miles and long hours in the gym, the chance to race on the track again with Team USA is just hours away now.
“We really don’t have a lot to go off, we really don’t know,” White said about gauging the competition. “Our race is against the clock anyway, so it’s not like we’ve missed out by not having other teams around. Although there is an unknown about how other teams are going compared to how we are going.
“But we know we’ve gained a lot of strength in the last year and we can only try to put that to the test against the clock in Tokyo.”
The gold medal Team USA won at the Worlds in 2020, 1.894 seconds faster than Great Britain, was their fourth world championship title in the Women’s Team Pursuit in the last five years. The qualifying rounds at the Tokyo Games begin 15:54 local time in Japan on August 2, with additional rounds and the medal finals on August 3.