Becky James: My first rainbow jersey

Becky James was the sensation of the 2013 UCI Track Cycling World Championships, winning two rainbow jerseys, two bronze medals and cementing Britain’s place at the top of the medal table.

Had there been any doubt following the retirement of Victoria Pendleton British Cycling would struggle to replace an iconic figure of the sport, by the conclusion of competition in Minsk Becky James had shown the new generation was ready to prove themselves on the track, three years out from Rio 2016.

Photographer Luke Webber documented the first landmark moment on that journey to Olympic success for British Cycling.

James-001Becky James smiles after collecting her first ever senior rainbow jersey. The title came in the women’s sprint on Saturday.

Becky-001aSir Dave Brailsford described the 2013 track world championships as a changing of the guard. If you looked
hard enough there were still signs of those who had walked this path a decade ago. The box which used to contain Victoria Pendleton’s sprint helmet, is now the property of Becky James, however at the start of the championships the Welshwoman had a lot to prove if she was to inherit more than just an item of equipment.

James-003The week of competition started with uncertainty as James (left) and Victoria Williamson made their first competitive outing. Williamson’s senior world championship debut, the younger British Cycling Olympic Academy athlete was not a natural choice for position one in the team sprint – but unknown to everyone a tactic devised at the team’s pre-championship training camp would secure James’ first podium appearance of the week.

James-004James passes Williamson at the start of lap two in the women’s team sprint. Moments earlier, in what looked like a mistake – but was actually a planned move devised by coaches – James had gained height on the banking and rushed Williamson for the changeover. It worked and the time was good enough for bronze.

James-005Williamson and James share a moment after winning the bronze medal in the team sprint.

James-006Before James’ next competition in the 500m time trial, video footage is reviewed alongside coaches Iain Dyer (far left) and Jan Van Eijden.

James-007James then consults Van Eijden about how she will pace her effort, which requires a standing start and two laps of the track.

James-008James makes a powerful start in the 500m time trial and accelerates through bend one. Her time is good enough to place first, however there are over ten competitors still to start.

James-009James waits nervously in the British pit alongside teammates Laura Trott (left) and Dani King. As the results come in she is knocked out of the lead and eventually finishes third. A forced smile – but no overt celebration – reveals after yesterday’s success James has ambitions for further achievement in the championships.

James-010James walks onto the podium to collect her second bronze medal and hear the national anthem of another country for a second time. It will focus her mind for the seeding round of the women’s individual sprint contest.

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James-012Day three and the 200m time trial, a seeding run for the individual sprint. James circles the rail, keeping height and building speed for two laps, before delivering a maximal effort. In just 10.957 seconds she completes the distance and qualifies first.

James-013James produces a peak power of over 1000 watts as she accelerates to a speed in excess of 40 miles per hour. It’s not merely power to the pedals that decides the outcome of the time trial though. Hours are spent on perfecting delivery, pedaling technique and position on the bike to shave vital thousandths of a second.

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James-016Qualifying in first place means James gets what should be the easiest route to the final – starting by facing the slowest competitor as the competition takes on its familiar knockout format. Before each heat, James goes through a set routine, including putting on that helmet, pulling on gloves and tightening shoes before walking on to the track. That routine stays true for every event, right up until the final.

James-017James is positioned on her bike by sprint coach Jan Van Eijden and waits on the apron before being called to the start line by officials for the final against Germany’s Kristina Vogel, the second fastest qualifier.

James-018Sprint racing is decided by the smallest of margains – often requiring a photo finish. James lost the first of three heats against her German rival, but came back to take the world title on her third attempt.

james-019Coach Jan Van Eijden, who has worked with James for over six years, raises his hands in celebration as his student realises the dream of becoming sprint world champion.

James-020James’ grandparents celebrate in the background, as their granddaughter gets her moment.

James-021After collecting the flag from her grandparents, James poses for media, replicating something she had only seen before on TV.

James-022Walking to the fence, James celebrates with her grandparents who had travelled to watch her compete. They had little idea it would be for her first world title.

James-023The moment James turns around and returns to track centre champion of the world. It is the first time the achievement became a reality.

James-024Dusted down, next stop is the podium. Before taking the top step, there’s a moment to adjust crumpled hair.

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James-026The British Cycling team including fellow athletes, coaches and support staff along with the world’s media, are all out in force at the coronation of the new sprint world champion.

James-027From the podium to the team pen, James is warmly congratulated by British sprint coach Iain Dyer.

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James-029Removing the rainbow jersey for the first time is a moment as historic as pulling it on.