Daunting challenge for Britain's Carlin as he faces Dutch dilemma

cycling09 January 2024 15:11| © Reuters
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Jack Carlin © Gallo Images

British track cycling sprinter Jack Carlin has big boots to fill as he begins the countdown to the Paris Olympics where he will face one of the toughest tasks in the sport.

The 26-year-old Scot will likely spearhead the sprint squad as the senior rider now that Jason Kenny, who won a British record seven Olympic gold medals, has retired from racing.

Following Kenny, who Carlin raced alongside at the Tokyo Games in 2021, and Kenny's predecessor Chris Hoy, is daunting enough.

But Carlin must also try to de-throne Dutch powerhouse Harrie Lavreysen, the reigning Olympic champion who has made himself almost unbeatable around a velodrome.

Carlin was duly beaten by fellow 26-year-old Lavreysen in the semifinals of the world championships in Glasgow last year as the flying Dutchman went on to win a fifth individual sprint world title in six years.

He will have another opportunity to go head-to-head with his nemesis at the European Track Championships which begin in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, on Wednesday where Lavreysen will be seeking to add to his haul of 24 major gold medals.

Carlin, who won a team sprint silver and an individual bronze in Tokyo, has never been on the top step of the podium.

"I think he's the best track cycling sprinter that ever lived really," Carlin told reporters when asked about Lavreysen's domination.

"No one's touching him in terms of times. The results he gets day in day out are absolutely incredible. But all I can do is focus on myself.

"You look at the worlds and I raced Harrie in the semis and I gave him a good run for his money and I wasn't in tip top shape and in Olympic form.

"I'm hoping to find the next step up and then if I'm on the same level physically, then it becomes a lot more close."

Carlin says he occasionally wakes up with a sense of 'imposter syndrome' but he will have one weapon in his favour in Paris with Kenny now British Cycling's sprint coach.

Kenny will leave no stone unturned trying to find a chink in Lavreysen's armour, as he did himself when surprising the Dutchman with an audacious keirin gold in Tokyo.

"Jason was my coach at the worlds in Glasgow and he had his Hawkeye on every race, looking at all the tactics and looking at how people were racing and he was giving me advice," Carlin said. "Not telling me what to do but telling me what others were doing and I think I really respond well to that.

"I don't like people telling me exactly how to race a race because you hare to have your instincts. But Jason and I worked really well so I'm excited to see what we can do this year."

Britain has been the dominant track nation for more than a decade and invariably come good when it really matters and Carlin concedes the European championships are more about blowing off cobwebs.

"I think if you ask most athletes, they'll have one big day circled in red, that's the start of the Olympics," he said.