Pro cyclist interview: teenage team pursuit star Elinor Barker on her meteoric rise to the top

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Pro cyclist interview: teenage team pursuit star Elinor Barker on her meteoric rise to the top

Welsh starlet talks to RCUK ahead of World Track Championships

Rewind almost 18 months and Welsh track cyclist Elinor Barker, about to celebrate her 18th birthday, was just making the grade in the sport as she continued her studies in her home country.

Return to the present, and Barker will form part of a formidable Great Britain women’s endurance squad at this month’s UCI Track World Championships in Cali, Colombia, bidding to defend the team pursuit rainbow jersey she won on debut last year.

Elinor Barker has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top, having claimed World Championship gold with Laura Trott, pictured, and Dani King last year (pic: Alex Broadway/SWpix.com)

It has been quite a transition for the supremely talented teen, who came to the fore as a replacement for the injured Joanna Rowsell at Minsk  last year and has gone on to become an integral part of one of world sport’s most formidable teams.

In between, she  also found time to be crowned world junior time trial champion on the road in 2012, and to complete her studies before moving to Manchester to train with the British Cycling squad full-time.

And thinking back to her 18th birthday in September 2012, Barker admits a world team pursuit title was almost the last thing on her mind.

Laughing, she told RCUK: “Well I turned 18 about a week before junior worlds so I at least knew I was going to that one – I guess I’d have believed that world title slightly more!

I just think being world champion and wearing the rainbow jersey is the best thing ever

“I’d had a silver medal the year before too, so that was a massive goal but obviously winning at the track worlds in Minsk was never a goal for me because I just didn’t expect it.

“I just wanted to do really well in the World Cups and get noticed before I’d even consider going to any World Championships.”

Having been crowned world champion in Belarus last year however, alongside Olympic champions Laura Trott and Dani King, Barker admits it has had a big impact on her young career.

However it is an experience she would not swap for anything. “I just think being world champion and wearing the rainbow jersey is the best thing ever.

Barker, pictured, believes wearing the rainbow jersey is ‘the best feeling ever’ (pic: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

“It’s had a pretty huge impact – things like the Manchester World Cup and events like that were made just so much bigger. There is a lot more public attention if you’ve got a rainbow jersey on.

“But there is absolutely nothing that compares to it. It’s amazing.”

Despite the dramatic rise, what becomes clear when speaking to the Welsh talent is that she remains very grounded, taking a great interest in the step-up to senior ranks.

She is also under no illusions about the hard work required to make it at the highest level as she adapts to life in the North West.

I never thought I’d be a senior world champion at all, never mind so quickly

She explains: “It’s been really interesting stepping up to senior level. I wouldn’t say my life’s really changed or anything drastic like that, but I guess it has quite a bit.

“Some things I’ve found harder than I expected, and other things easier. I never thought I’d be a senior world champion at all, never mind so quickly, so that was quite a shock.

“But then I’ve found things like the road racing quite hard and generally the bunch racing too. It’s so much harder to train for.

“With the team pursuit, you know what to expect before and you know what to expect of yourself and what planning you can do yourself before you get there, whereas points races and road races and things like that – it changes a lot more I guess, it’s less predictable. I found that a lot harder to adapt to really.”

Barker has made an almost seamless transition to the new team pursuit format alongside her Olympic champion team-mates (pic: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

One adaptation she has made with almost seamless ease alongside her illustrious team-mates however is the switch in team pursuit to four riders over four kilometres – as opposed to the three and three raced previously.

Representing Wiggle-Honda at the British National Championships, Barker, King, Trott and Rowsell set a blistering mark in their first competitive outing as a four and the record has tumbled on each occasion they have raced this winter.

Their most recent mark of 4.16.552, set at altitude in Mexico’s Aguascalientes track, may prove to be untouchable, but Barker is hopeful of even faster times to come.

On the change to four riders, she says: “I think switching to four riders is one of the things I thought I’d find harder than I did to be honest.

It would be nice to think we could go a little faster in Colombia than we did in Mexico – I would really like to

“I thought it would feel really weird being in a four, and I thought the extra kilometre would make a massive difference but I guess if you’ve got an extra rider you still do the same amount on the front but you get more rest so in some ways it’s better.

“Obviously you can lose a rider too, which can sometimes be quite helpful – although not always.

“I think the record we set in Mexico will stand for some time now because we were all going really well and it was at altitude. I think that will probably stay for a little while.

“It would be nice to think we could go a little faster in Colombia though – I would really like to.”

Since setting a phenomenal mark in their first competitive ride together as a four at the National Championships, above, Britain’s golden girls have repeatedly smashed their own world record (pic: Alex Broadway/SWpix.com)

Wiggle-Honda’s golden girls have been backed by Scottish starlet Katie Archibald this winter, another rider to have made a seamless transition to senior level anchoring the team to European Championship gold on her debut in October.

With the powerful Scot completing the women’s endurance squad, Barker admits having five riders competing for four places is of great importance in keeping the girls’ standards high.

“I think it’s really important in pushing us along,” she said. “But it also gives you that bit of insurance. The more riders you have then the more chance there is – if someone is injured, or has an illness for example – of somebody stepping in so you’re not just stuck with three riders.”

Barker’s own rise to prominence owes much to the grounding she was given by Welsh trade team Team USN, whom she represented at World Cup level before making her Great Britain debut.

I think we’ve got a lot of good facilities in Wales. It’s a really good set-up for cycling

She is just one of a rising number of Welsh cycling stars – double world champion Becky James, Olympic champion Geraint Thomas and his Team Sky colleague Luke Rowe, and upcoming team pursuit stars Sam Harrison and Owain Doull are among many others to hail from the principality.

And Barker is quick to highlight the benefits of her time with her former team, saying: “My experiences with Team USN beforehand were massively important.

“If they hadn’t been there to help me out for the transition between junior and senior I definitely don’t think I’d have been at the Worlds in February last year, so they’ve helped me out massively.”

She added: “I think we’ve got a lot of good facilities in Wales. Obviously having the velodrome is a massive help and then there’s a lot of different tracks like Maindy, Camarthen and places like that.

Barker, who was crowned junior world time trial champion in 2012, will swap her British jersey for the Welsh at the Commonwealth Games – but she does not yet know whether that will include competing on the road (pic: Sirotti)

“You build a community around that, and they’ve all got links to each other. I just think it’s a really good set-up for cycling.

“It’s all very got closely linked and then you have the smaller communities like the Maindy Flyers for example, which is the club I came from, where it is very closely-knit and then they’ve got links with the velodrome so you hear about all these different races and events.

“Everyone just gets really involved, which is why I think you see people coming from being 13, 14 and riding for enjoyment to being in their twenties and riding really well.”

And Barker could give something back to her home county in the summer, when she is set to pull on the Welsh jersey at the Commonwealth Games.

Although she is yet to do so at a senior championships, she has represented Wales at youth level before and admits it is a great experience.

“I love wearing the Welsh jersey,” she states. “I did the Commonwealth Youth Games about two years ago and it was a really good event.

“It was my first multi-sport, multi-nation event and I haven’t done one since. It was huge. It was really interesting to see all the different nations and all the different sportspeople, which of course you don’t get at a single sport event.”

Her ambitions for the summer are yet to be decided however, with Cali remaining her immediate goal.

Barker’s grounded attitude despite her phenomenal success so far bodes well for the future (pic: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

She explains: “I would like to do both track and road but it is selection dependent. It will be on who’s going well on the track and the road at that time, and how I’m feeling at that time as well.

“The World Championship is my sole focus now.”

Such steely determination and focus appear typical of her mindset despite being just 19 years old – and after a stunning start to life at senior level there will rightly be significant optimism in the chambers of British Cycling about their latest talented teen.

Discuss in the forum

Elinor Barker formerly raced for Team USN, Wales’ first UCI-affiliated track trade team.

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