It’s been over a month since my last race. I can easily recall the emotions that always fill the short window between warm-up and racing; I get so worked up with nerves that I vow never to put myself through this torture ever again (a promise that’s always forgotten with the first pedal rev of racing).
This pre-race ritual was going no differently to normal before the points race at the World Championships, albeit with some distraction. We were in Berlin, and Kristina Vogel was being presented the UCI merit award at her home track. I was sitting in the pits, headphones on, trying to stay in the zone, when I became aware that everybody around me had stopped talking and was watching the big screen. Curious, I took off my headphones to see what the fuss was about.
The next few minutes changed my mindset entirely. I started watching feeling like a nervous young girl who temporarily wanted to be anywhere else. By the end of the three-minute long montage of Vogel’s incredible career I felt weirdly wiser and more confident. While a lot of the video was taken up with footage of her winning races (and there were a lot of wins to choose from) what really got to me was how unconditionally happy she was in every clip. She carried the same confidence and joy in her celebrations as well as her defeats. By the end of the video I could hardly wait to race, invigorated by a new found (and yes, incredibly cliché) determination to enjoy myself and not to be held back by a fear of failure, because you never know when the opportunities could end.
I had no idea how relevant this would become.
Fast forward just a few weeks, and I’ve currently no idea when my next race will be. It should have been the Tokyo Olympics this summer which, ICYMI, has been postponed until 2021. While this was only real option, (the apocalyptic nightmare of bringing together athletes and spectators from around the world during a global pandemic doesn’t even bear thinking about), it still sucks.
Any other year this would suck slightly less. But unfortunate timing means coinciding a postponed Games with the move of track cycling to a summer schedule in 2021 i.e. no winter world cups or World Champs between now and Tokyo. For athletes whose lives revolve around racing, and are often planned into neat four-year blocks, having both thrown into the air and waiting to see where they land is a lot to get your head around.
Whenever I let this get on top of me I try to transport myself back to that moment at the beginning of March. Using this Kristina-inspired mindset, I remind myself to enjoy the things I’m lucky enough to take for granted. Last week, that was riding with friends while we were still allowed. This week I’m savouring being able to explore quiet roads on my bike as part of my “daily exercise.” And for the foreseeable future, I’ll be preparing for those familiar start-line nerves, whenever they come next.
Elinor Barker is a British Olympic gold medallist in the team pursuit and current world points race champion