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Welsh cycling enjoying its finest hours in Rio; OLYMPIC GAMES: RIO 2016.

Byline: Gareth Griffiths Olympics correspondent gareth.griffiths@walesonline.co.uk

WELSH cycling has enjoyed some stellar showings in recent years.

Who will forget Nicole Cooke celebrating Olympic road race in the Beijing rain eight years ago to add to the world titles she won.

You also have Geraint Thomas winning two gold medals in the team track pursuit in China in 2008 and at London 2012 and also riding to 2014 Commonwealth Games road race glory in Glasgow.

But what happened over two nights and 24 hours at the velodrome in Rio 2016 will be hard to top.

On Friday night you had Cardiff cyclist Owain Doull playing an integral part of the world record breaking GB men's team pursuit gold medal winning quartet.

And then you had fellow former Maindy Flyers youth cycling club member Elinor Barker storming to Olympic gold in Rio on Saturday evening. Just moments later fellow Welsh cyclist and Abergavenny ace Becky James struck silver in the keirin.

Just 24 hours after Doull helped Sir Bradley Wiggins make history in the men's team pursuit, Barker did the same for Laura Trott, who becomes the first British woman to win three Olympic golds.

It was a case of whatever the men can do, the women can do just as well as they set yet another women's team pursuit world record - their third of the Games - to edge out the United States in a thrilling finish.

Barker ripped around the track with Trott, Joanna Rowsell Shand and Katie Archibald in a time of 4:10.236 , knocking almost two seconds off their previous world record ride.

And while Trott and Roswell Shand have been there and done it, having teamed up with Dani King four years ago, this was a new feeling for Barker, as the Cardiff cyclist marked her Olympic Games debut in style.

"What do people say at a time like this?" she said. "We are incredibly lucky that we've been able to pull it off on the day and go faster than we've ever gone before.

"We've had some incredibly training sessions and we broke the world record a couple of times in training which we managed to keep quite quiet as well.

"But we've also had some terrible training sessions as well so it's all about how it goes on the day really."

The scene had been set after the morning's qualifying round with United States setting a new world lead 4:12.282 before Barker, Trott, Rowsell-Shand and Archibald snatched the mark back with a time of 4:12.152.

The Brits had rolled up to the venue on their bikes ahead of the gold-medal final session of the day but it was clear from the looks on their faces that they meant business.

They had been slightly down on the Americans after 1,000m but from then on there was only ever going to be one winner, as the Brits pummelled onwards and the US lost a rider going into the closing stages.

Barker became only the fourth Welsh woman to win Olympic gold after swimmer Irene Steer (1912), fellow cyclist Cooke (2008) and taekwondo queen Jade Jones (2012) At this point spare a thought for Welsh cyclist Ciara Horne who had travelled to Rio as part of the fivestrong squad but was not given a ride in any of the three rides and had to watch from the sidelines.

Horne tweeted: "Heartbroken not to race at the Olympic games but I gave it my all trying to make the line up. So proud of my teammates; Olympic champions!" And just moments later after this victory it was a second medal for Britain as former world champion James, cheered on by family and friends, including her parents and boyfriend George North, finished second in the women's keirin.

James' road to Rio had been a difficult one with illness and injuries ruling her out of establishing herself as a force during the last Olympiad.

But all that appears behind her as the 24-year-old progressed easily through the heats to make the final, where she launched a late bud for the line to finish second behind Dutch rider Elis Ligtlee.

"I am lost for words - I don't think I have ever been lost for words," said James, who will also compete in the women's sprint on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

"I can't even believe that happened. I am over the moon. I feel like I am in really good form and it is what I needed. I love the keirin and I love the racing."

James made a point of seeking out her support network in the crowd afterwards and she admitted having there witness her medal success had made it extra sweeter.

"It was so special. I have got ten of them here," she added. " They have never been on a longhaul flight and my mum and dad have never watched a race together aside from the worlds this year.

"It is incredible, and having George here and my little sisters and my auntie. It has been a tough 18 months, two years and I could not do it without their help. It is a medal we have all won together."

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<B Elinor Barker, Becky James and Owain Doull, inset far left, celebrate after their respective gold and silver medal-winning rides in the Rio velodrome
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 15, 2016
Words:895
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