Belgium, France, Russia shine in HK
Benjamin Thomas said France had their sights firmly fixed on the next Olympics after he broke his country's gold medal drought and claimed his first major title at the Track Cycling World Championships on Saturday.
The 21-year-old won his first rainbow jersey in thrilling style, with a charge on the last lap of the final race of the four-event omnium to snatch victory by two points.
It came on a busy penultimate night in Hong Kong when Russia won two gold medals and the women's madison, which cycling chiefs want included in the Olympics, made its world championships debut.
Thomas's victory gave France only their second medal of the competition, but he said a youthful French team was starting to gel ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
"It's a new generation. We are all young. We are focused on Tokyo 2020," he said. "In two or three years we will be one strong team.”
Thomas was second in the standings after the scratch, tempo and elimination races, and he was level on points with New Zealand's Aaron Gate before the final sprint in the 100-lap points race.
"I never panicked. I was confident. During the last sprint, I knew if I beat Aaron Gate I would be world champion," he said, calling his victory "a bit special.
"The world championships did not start well for France. We only got one medal and the day passed and there was no medals, no podium. It was a bit hard," Thomas said.
Earlier, Belgium's Lotte Kopecky and Jolien D'Hoore became the first women's madison world champions when they finished the 160-lap race with 45 points, ahead of Britain and Australia, who survived two wipe-outs to take bronze.
The International Cycling Union is lobbying for Olympic inclusion for the madison, where teams of two riders swap in and out and sprint for points every 10 laps.
"It's a dream to become a world champion. Doing it in the madison is unbelievable, to be the first world champion," said Kopecky.
The event at Hong Kong Velodrome featured plenty of wheel-to-action and Australia's Alexandra Manly twice hit the deck after collisions with her teammate, Amy Cure.
"I must admit after our second crash, I thought we were out of the medals," said Cure.
America's Chloe Dygert won the women's individual pursuit by more than seven seconds over Australia's Ashlee Ankudinoff, clinching her first individual world title.
Her fellow American Kelly Catlin also beat an Australian, two-time defending champion Rebecca Wiasak, in the bronze-medal race.
Russia's Daria Shmeleva won the 500m women's time trial with a time of 33.282sec, 0.1sec faster than Germany's Miriam Welte, while Russian defending champion Anastasia Voynova took bronze.
Shmeleva, 22, moves on to three career rainbow jerseys after she successfully defended her team sprint title alongside Voynova earlier this week.
"I know that I'm a world champion in two events here, but it hasn't sunk in yet," Shmeleva said. "If you ask me tomorrow morning probably I can tell you what I feel.”
In the men's sprint, Russia's Denis Dmitriev, 31, finally broke through for his first major title with victory over Dutch rider Harrie Lavreysen in the gold-medal final.
"I have two bronze, two silver, but never gold and never this jersey and it was my dream," said Dmitriev, the first Russian winner in the event since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
"The next goal is the Olympics and gold.”
He added: "I hope my victory helps to put some kids on the bike and do some sports – not for winning, just for health.
"This is my biggest reason for doing what I'm doing now.”