AFTER a one-year hiatus from competitive cycling, TT cyclist Nicholas Paul sees his recent silver medal performance at the International Belgian Track Meeting as a positive indicator ahead of his debut Olympic campaign.
In the men’s sprint final, the 23-year-old was unable to get past the experienced tactics of 2012 London Olympic gold medallist Jason Kenny (Great Britain).
Paul, however, was pleased with his display at the Eddy Merckx Cycling Centre in Ghent, Belgium, on Saturday. He credited his most recent accolade to the many months of hard work put in at the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cycling Center (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland, under coach Craig McLean.
Paul’s last major event was the UCI World Track Cycling Championships in Germany in February 2020. He welcomed his long-awaited return to the circuit and was pleased to secure a precious podium place.
“Firstly, I’d like to give thanks to God because without Him none of this would be possible. I was really happy with my performance at this meet seeing that it was my first meet in over a year.
“It was really good to get back out on the track and get the legs rolling again and the mind into a racing zone once more,” he said.
After returning from his tenth place finish at “Worlds” last year, Paul and fellow TT Olympic cycling debutant Kwesi Browne took part in the TT Cycling Federation’s National Championships just days before the country was shut down owing to the pandemic.
Since then, the pair had not competed. The duo, however, returned to the WCC, in October, to climax preparations under pro cycling coach McLean. At the Belgian meet over the weekend, Browne settled for 18th place overall.
Paul said, “The last couple of months I’ve been here at the UCI World Cycling Centre doing my training and preparation ahead of the Olympics. I’m pleased with how it’s going so far.
“I’m taking it step by step and each day I’m trying to get stronger, faster and fitter. I just have to continue working hard.
“I’m happy with my current training and preparation going into the Olympics and I thank Craig McLean for being here to guide me along the way.”
Paul’s journey to the final saw him rack up some impressive performances. After advancing with the third-fastest time (9.858s) in the Flying 200m (qualifier), he went on to defeat Lithuania’s Svajunas Jonauskas to book a spot in the quarter-finals.
Briton Jack Carlin topped the qualifying round in 9.775 seconds. Browne also progressed although he placed 17th out of the 28 qualifying riders.
In the last 16, Paul clocked 10.802s to better Lithuania’s Svajunas Jonauskas. Browne, however, could go no further as he lost to Dutch rider Daan Kool. He then produced another commanding display by trumping Jai Angsuthasawit (Thailand) to set up a semi-final meeting with WCC training partner Jair Tjon En Fa of Suriname.
Paul won the first race in 10.140s but Tjon En Fa clawed back into the contest to snag the second race in 10.164s. In the third and final race, Paul showed grit and booked a title shot by bettering the Surinamese in 10.171s.
Against Kenny, Paul knew he faced an uphill task for the gold. The British rider has a short history of competing against TT cyclists having ousted Njisane Phillip in the sprint semi-finals at the 2012 Summer Games. Phillip went on to vie for bronze against Australian Shane Perkins but, in the end, settled for fourth at his first Olympic Games.
According to Paul, going up against an Olympic champion was a definite challenge. But he embraced the opportunity.
“It was a hard race. He’s (Kenny) a really tactical and technical rider. I was happy to ride and compete against him knowing that he’s really experienced. I was happy to get that experience under my belt and it was a good race. Although conquered on the track, Paul believes his silver medal showing has provided him with a good benchmark going forward to the Tokyo Games.
“This meet gave me a good gauge to know where I’m at, what I have to work on and what part of my training has to be tweaked.
“It’s just to go back to the drawing board and get at it so I can get better for the Games,” he added.
Paul concluded, “Next up is to get into a new training block and prepare for upcoming races. Maybe Hong Kong or Cali, Colombia and then the Olympics. That’s it at this point because we have to see how everything goes. We have to take notice that the pandemic is still ongoing.”