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MINSK, Belarus (AFP) — Great Britain’s Becky James succeeded Victoria Pendleton as world sprint champion on Saturday at the UCI Elite Track World Championships, breaking the six-year iron grip on the event held by the retired English golden girl and Australia’s Anna Meares.
The 21-year-old Welsh cyclist James edged out Germany’s Kristina Vogel in the final, making the most of the absence of the now-retired Pendleton and Olympic champion Meares, the duo that shared all the major titles since 2007.
James clocked the best time in qualifying, where she was the only woman to dip below 11 seconds, but came back from losing the first race in the final to winning the next two against Vogel, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the team sprint.
It was also revenge for James because she had lost out to the Germans in the team sprint on Wednesday. James and Jessica Varnish earned the bronze medal in that race.
Vogel was the first German to make the individual final since Annette Neumann in 1996.
“It’s unbelievable. I can’t believe this has just happened to me,” James told BBC. “I’m world champion and I can’t believe it. I didn’t know if I’d run the first run quite right. We went over the tactics right after.
“I really wanted to win this so I sat down, kept myself calm and thought about what I wanted to do in the next round, did it, and did it again in the third. I didn’t think I’d get a single medal – I was hoping to get top eight in everything. I can’t believe I got a rainbow jersey.”
There was disappointment, however, for Great Britain’s triple Olympic champion Jason Kenny, who suffered a quarterfinal exit in the men’s sprint.
The 24-year-old Kenny, who won both the individual and team sprint titles at the London Olympics after winning the team title four years earlier in Beijing, was knocked out by Sam Webster of New Zealand on Saturday, one day after his victory in the keirin.
Jarmila Machacova of the Czech Republic claimed her first world title with a victory in the women’s points race. A silver medalist in the event two years ago, the 27-year-old finished ahead of Mexico’s Sofia Arreola and Italy’s Giorgia Bronzini.