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Q&A: Team GB track cyclist Elinor Barker

Britain’s in-form track star on gold medals, Cool Runnings and part-time degrees

Mark Bailey
10 Jan 2018

Cyclist: After winning gold in the madison and silver in the team pursuit at the European Track Championships, and gold in the madison and team pursuit at the World Cup in Manchester, are you pleased with your start to the season?

Elinor Barker: I didn’t think things would go as well as they have because it’s so early in the season. I did the road Worlds then I had a week off. I should have had two weeks of training before the Euros but I hurt my neck.

Suddenly I was on my bike thinking, ‘I’ve only done a week of training for this. How’s it going to go?’

Cyc: Did you enjoy racing on the road?

EB: It’s been a lot better than I thought, but in very different ways. I’d decided to target the time-trial this year but it just hasn’t really gone my way.

I might come back to it in a few years. But I had a good Nationals [4th in the road race, 5th in the TT] and I won a stage of the Ladies’ Tour, which I never expected.

It was a case of: have a go at this and whatever happens I can still come back to the track in winter.

Cyc: What are your earliest memories of cycling?

EB: My family always cycled a lot. My grandad was a cyclist and raced in TTs but he died when dad was a teenager so we never found out until my aunt found some clippings of races that he had won and TTs that he had got records in.

Cyc: Is it true you took up cycling to avoid swimming classes?

EB: It’s true. There was a cycling track at the pool and the two sessions were at the same time. I knew if I did one I couldn’t do the other.

I have no idea how I got away with it because swimming was cheaper, a lot less dangerous and it was inside so mum could sit in the cafe and chat.

Cyc: Was there a moment when you knew you could become a pro?

EB: No, absolutely not. I just thought, ‘I’m being beaten by this person now and maybe I’ll beat them next time. Then maybe I can get on to the Talent Team.

Then maybe the Olympic Development Programme. And one day I want to get selected for this race.’ And then eventually the only race you have left is the Olympics. And you want to win it.

Cyc: What do you remember after winning gold in the team pursuit in Rio?

EB: It was the best 10 minutes of my life. It’s going to take a lot to top that. I was in more pain than I’ve ever been in, but it was incredible.

My parents don’t come to a lot of races because they have jobs, so it was pretty huge to have them there.

The 10 minutes straight after were awesome, but about two hours later I had an argument with my family about what we were going to do next and it got very mundane very quickly. 

Cyc: How did you celebrate?

EB: Me and Katie [Archibald] wanted to go out with our families and that’s what started the argument because it was like herding cats.

It had been two hours since we left the velodrome and we could still see it. We just needed to find a bar somewhere – anywhere. Eventually we just left them and went to the Team GB house.

We didn’t have any food so we got drunk pretty quickly. It got to 4am and we realised we hadn’t had a shower. We were in our tracksuits.

We didn’t go out in our kit but we were still wearing the socks and sports bras we raced in.

Cyc: Describe the sensation of riding a world-record team pursuit.

EB: When it’s going well you have almost no memory of it. There’s nothing stand-out about it. It’s almost unremarkable because it’s just seamless.

The bad ones make me think of the scene in Cool Runnings when everything falls off [the bobsleigh] and it gradually gets worse.

You know something’s wrong but you’re not sure what and it just falls to bits. 

Cyc: Do you develop close bonds with the other team pursuit riders?

EB: Yeah, but not in the way people expect. People think it must be like a classic American sports film where they hate each other to begin with, work through their problems and they’re all best friends at the end.

I think we do have a strong bond, but it’s not like we wear ‘best friends forever’ necklaces. 

Cyc: How do you relax?

EB: The normal stuff like watching TV and listening to music. I study part time as well. I like that because it means if I’ve had a bad day on the bike I’m still doing something with my life.

I’m doing an Open University degree, and I’m doing human biology and mental health at the moment.

As a women in sport you don’t get into it for the money. It’s not something I complain about, but it’s not something where I think I’ll make loads of money and never have to do anything else.

I’m going to have to have a job after this and I want to set myself up well for it.

Cyc: What are your goals for 2018 with the Wiggle road team and GB track team?

EB: I’m looking forward to it as the last year before Tokyo when I can spread myself a bit thin. I want to sneak in a few Classics between the track Worlds and the Commonwealth Games.

Everyone wants to do the Women’s Tour. I’d like to go to the Tour of California and do Norway, Sweden and Plouay, but it depends where the team needs me.

Cyc: When will you start focusing exclusively on the track for Tokyo 2020?

EB: If we were a less competitive nation I’d say a year out, but there are so many girls who could justify a spot in every race.

To do a World Champs you need to do a World Cup, and to do that you need to qualify. The snowball effect is that if you get some good results now, you get picked for races next year.

If I didn’t put myself up for it, there would suddenly be fewer opportunities. So it’s kind of started now, to be honest.

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