Anna Meares has hailed the emergence of a new major British rival to her Olympic track cycling sprint crown after bowing to Welshwoman Becky James.
Racing at her first big international meet since the 2012 London Olympics, Meares was beaten 2-0 by James in the ride-off for the bronze medal at the World Cup round in Manchester on Saturday night.
It was at the London Games that the Australian great famously dampened perennial rival Victoria Pendleton’s retirement party by pipping her for the gold on her home soil.
In Meares’ absence, James won the world title this year and Meares accepted she would pose a formidable obstacle to retaining her Olympic title at the 2016 Rio Games.
“I thought I’d get a break from the British after Vicky retired,” said a good humoured Meares. “They just seem to be churning out world champions.
“This competition for me was always going to be the benchmark for where I’m at and where I need to go for Rio.
“It’s nice to get a taste of where these girls have come up to.
“Becky was always going to be a handful; she’s definitely going to be a big challenge.”
Before Rio, the pair are likely to go head to head again at next year’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games, four years after Meares edged the then 18-year-old James to win Commonwealth gold in Delhi.
Meares stamped her return with the fastest 200m qualifying time of the 28 competitors, a blistering 10.874 seconds but she admitted to pre-meet jitters.
“I was a little bit nervous as there is a lot of expectation that comes with being the Olympic champion,” she said. “It is new to me to be the hunted as I was always hunting Vicky.
“But that has to be managed in my own head, as I am not going to be in the form of that Olympic race in every race of my life.
“And all these girls are young, their improvements are always going to be significant while mine are going to be minimal given my age and how long I have already been in the sport.
“But this is what I love about sprinting. It is always a challenge, the game keeps changing and I have to stay on my toes and keep doing my homework.
“I really have to work very, very hard if I want to be back at the top. But I want it. It will happen. I will work very bloody hard, don’t worry about that.”
Germany’s Kristina Vogel won Saturday’s sprint gold medal, beating Lee Wai Sze of Hong Kong 2-0 in the final.
In other events, Australians Rebecca Wiasak (individual pursuit) and Luke Davison (omnium) won a silver and bronze medal respectively.