Versatile road and track cyclist Elinor Baker (GBR) is now committing to the boards as she looks to retain the team pursuit Olympic title she so memorably won in Rio (BRA) alongside team-mates Laura Kenny, Joanna Rowsell-Shand and Katie Archibald.
“I’ve raced a lot on the road this year, but I won’t be doing that at all next year. It will be entirely track-focused and even more so on the team pursuit because that’s what’s so important. It takes over and everything else gets put to one side until the Olympics are over,” said the Welsh athlete.
Evidence of Barker’s total focus on the track came in November at the second round of the Tissot UCI Track Cycling World Cup in Glasgow, Scotland, where she was part of the Great Britain quartet that beat Germany to take gold in an impressive 4:12.244mins. The time was more than half a second quicker than that which brought recent European success in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, in October. Over the two events, Barker was joined by Archibald, Ellie Dickinson, Neah Evans and Laura Kenny. Exactly who, from that five, will line up in Japan 2020 remains to be seen but Barker’s place looks set.
Will Barker also race the Omnium, whose new format of four races on one day includes the Scratch Race? In Poland in February, Barker won the second individual track world title of her career in the Scratch, adding to her points race gold at the 2017 UCI Track World Championships in Hong Kong. In Poland, Barker sprinted neck-and-neck against Dutch legend Kirsten Wild for a result that surprised many including herself.
“I don’t think I’ve ever won a Scratch Race in my life,” Barker said after her victory. “I thought I’d timed it ever so slightly wrong, and I’ve come second in a lot of Scratch Races. To win feels amazing.”
Barker’s world-class level of performance is even more incredible as she fought an undiagnosed condition for years, endometriosis. Its symptoms – including heavy periods, debilitating pain and intense fatigue – are similar to many other conditions, and diagnosis takes several years. Barker underwent key-hole surgery in 2018, but not before winning points race gold at the Commonwealth Games. She has conceded that the condition is not completely disappeared, and the likelihood is that she’ll have further surgery down the line. But right now, she’s fully fit and firing – and that’s despite another recent visit to the medical ward.
At early August’s RideLondon Classique, Barker was brought down in a sprint crash, resulting in a broken collarbone. Typically, Barker saw the bright side, writing on Twitter the morning after: “They say you’re not a real cyclist until you’ve broken a collarbone. Avoided joining the club for the last 15 years, but not much I could do yesterday.”
Baker was racing for the British-based UCI Women’s Team, Drops, after joining them in the winter of 2018-2019 after Wiggle High5 folded. Barker’s enjoyed some solid road results and Drop’s manager Bob Varney has said that after the Olympics Barker will commit more to the road. With her noted endurance and devastating kick, could she match fellow Welsh rider and 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas in taking road cycling’s most prestigious stage race – in women’s racing the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile?
The Maindy Flyers school of cycling
Both Barker and Thomas’ journeys to world-class racing might never have happened if it hadn’t been for a small Welsh cycling club, Maindy Flyers. The Cardiff club was born in 1995 and has seen thousands of children pass through the club including Barker, Thomas, Dani King and Team Ineos rider Owain Doull. The club was also home to Elinor’s sister, Meg, who now also has her eyes set on Olympic glory.
Can she emulate her Olympic-winning sister? She can at least learn from her, especially Elinor’s capacity to turn off from the high-pressure environment of track cycling. Away from cycling, she relaxes but also enjoys pushing her mind as much as her body, and is currently studying for an Open University degree in human biology and mental health, as well as learning sign language.
Elinor Barker is clearly a woman on a mission, and the most pressing mission is reclaiming team pursuit gold at the Tokyo 2020 T Olympics. Barker will still only be 25 come Japan, meaning there is still a bright, varied and competitive future for the Welsh rider. We’ll see if her focus then changes more to the road but if she claims another victory in Tokyo, it’d be difficult to see Barker not attempting a hat-trick of Olympic golds at Paris 2024.