Elinor Barker interview: I needed a new goal I could really sink my teeth into - Road Cycling UK

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Elinor Barker interview: I needed a new goal I could really sink my teeth into

Welsh ace reflects on points race gold as she switches focus to time trial success on the road

Rewind just a little more than four years, and – as a prodigiously talented teenager – Elinor Barker was rapidly climbing the British Cycling ladder – junior world time trial success, and an unexpected, and hugely successful, promotion to the senior team pursuit team under her belt.

Now, with a new Olympic cycle underway, the Welsh star found herself as one of the senior figures in the British team at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships aged just 22 – and lived up to the billing by claiming points race gold and two silver medals in Hong Kong.

In a season of two halves, it was objective number one completed and Barker will now turn her focus back to the discipline in which she first came to public attention: the time trial.

Taking place in Bergen, Norway, Barker will look to add to the rainbow jersey she pulled on after her points race victory, with one from the world time trial – something only one British woman, Emma Pooley, has previously done at senior level.

New, fresh targets are the key to staying motivated in cycling – especially when you are programmed into four-year cycles – and Barker says this new challenge is exactly what was needed a year on from winning Olympic team pursuit gold at Rio 2016.

Elinor Barker claimed points race gold at the 2017 UCI Track Cycling World Championships and will now switch her focus to the world time trial (pic – Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

“In the run-up to this year, after Rio, I knew I needed a new goal,” she told RCUK. “There were two things I really wanted to do, and they were the points race and the time trial, so I knew I could split the year in two halves.

In the run-up to this year, after Rio, I knew I needed a new goal.  I thought about a goal that I can really sink my teeth into, and it was the time trial. When the course came out, I just thought ‘perfect’.

“I knew I wanted to be on the track, doing the bunch racing and doing things like the Six Days and just generally enjoying myself, but it cut so much into the road season this year that I wasn’t going to be able to do any of the Classics or the stage races as I simply wouldn’t have the racing endurance for it.

“So I thought about a goal that I can really sink my teeth into, and it was the time trial. When the course came out, I just thought ‘perfect’.”

Given it was the junior world time trial title in 2012 – one of two golds Great Britain’s junior women’s team took home from Valkenburg that year as Lucy Garner won the road race – that first earned Barker national recognition, just a year on from her winning silver in the same event, could this mark a change in direction for a rider who has focussed solely on the track for much of the last four years?

“I think it’s a decision I’m going to have to make fairly soon,” she admitted, laughing. “I still don’t know what I’m going to do next year; I’m torn between the idea of going back on the track, and having a split year between the track and road again, or having a full year on the road and actually seeing what I’m capable of with a winter of training.

Barker won time trial gold in the junior women’s event in 2012 (pic – Sirotti)

“I think, for me, going back to the road would be quite a big difference. As a senior rider, I’ve never had a winter of training – my winters have been based around travelling around the world racing, and having big breaks in training in order to race.

“It will be different for me to have entire blocks of training just on the road, and also having a training week which is focussed purely on the road. Of course there will be a gym session or two, but all the quality training sessions will be on the road which will be quite rare for me.”

Elinor Barker, union jack, UCI Track Cycling World Championships, 2017, pic - Alex Broadway-SWpix.com - 2
Elinor Barker, points race, gold medal, UCI Track Cycling World Championships, 2017, pic - Alex Broadway-SWpix.com
Katie Archibald, Laura Trott, Elinor Barker and Jo Rowsell Shand celebrate gold (pic: Sirotti)

Should Barker stick with the track, however, she will find herself a senior member of the team despite only being 22 herself.

With Joanna Rowsell Shand retiring, and Laura Kenny taking time away while she is pregnant, Barker admitted she relished the different role she got to play in Hong Kong – albeit a strange experience compared to her previous team pursuit-focussed Championships.

“It was pretty different feeling nervous on my own, rather than being nervous in a group,” she joked. “I did quite enjoy the experience but the weirdest thing was racing right up to the last day – and being one of the only ones racing up to the last day too.

“When I was there for the scratch race, all the team pursuit and team sprint riders were there too – everyone was packed into the pen. For the points race, it was just me. But I really, really enjoyed it actually.

Barker admits it was a very different experience to what she is used to at a World Championships (pic – SWpix.com)

“There’s no pressure for points or qualifying for the Olympics this year, but obviously there are only so many chances you’re going to get to compete at a World Championships.

“Just to be selected for racing is a big deal – I didn’t know I was going to be selected for the scratch race up until the week before, simply because everybody wanted to do it. Selection was really tough.

“While it’s not necessarily the biggest year in an Olympic cycle, it’s still big and it’s still a huge opportunity which might only come around, well, once a year if you’re lucky.”

Having narrowly missed out on gold in the scratch race, before finishing second with Emily Nelson in the inaugural women’s Madison, her objective for the points race was clear: gold.

She joked on social media afterwards that she was the ‘eternal bridesmaid no more’ after claiming her first individual victory in a major track competition.

And she admitted she was prepared to sacrifice everything in the race in her pursuit of a gold medal.

“I knew I really, really wanted to win,” she said. “By the points race, I wasn’t just there for a good performance and a medal – I really, really wanted to win.

“I said to my coach beforehand, don’t freak out if I do something stupid at the end in pursuit of a gold medal because I’m fully willing to risk the whole race in order to win.

“If it meant a stupid attack at the end in a desperate bid to gain a lap, then that was my plan – I wasn’t interested in just finishing in the top three anymore.”

Elinor Barker celebrates with team-mates Manon Lloyd and Emily Kay – despite being 22, she is now one of the senior riders in the women’s endurance squad (pic – Alex Broadway/SWpix.com)

Having proved herself, a split track-road season in future would likely include more bunch racing again – and Barker admitted it’s something she would definitely enjoy.

But she played down suggestions her experience in the team – despite her age – would add to the responsibility on her shoulders.

“I’d like to do as much bunch racing as possible,” she said. “There are now more World Cups in a season, which means more opportunity to race things like the omnium and each bunch race individually.

“It’s such a great opportunity because, at the moment, there are only three chances to do it a world level and one at a European level before the Worlds, and so many people want to do it.

The girls are coming along so well, and they are so good technically, that we are hitting the ground running.

“I’m looking forward to going back into the team pursuit. I’m not sure when it will happen, but I’m pretty certain it will. But I wouldn’t really say there was a ‘senior’ role.

“The girls are coming along so well, and they are so good technically, that we are hitting the ground running.

“I think they had an average age of like 19 or something ridiculous like that. At 22, I dramatically bring that up. But they’re really, really good girls and I don’t think they’re going to need any extra guidance from me really.”

Be it the team pursuit, bunch racing or committing to the road, however, there is no denying a lot has changed for Barker in four-and-a-half years. And at 22, you can’t help but feel there is plenty more to come too – starting in Bergen.

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