Six months ago, Elinor Barker almost quit the sport. The Olympic and three-time world champion had fallen out of love with cycling and was ready to walk away from it. In Poland tonight she took her fourth world title after a surprise win in the women’s scratch race.
“It’s a massive surprise. It feels really bizarre. Just to get here felt like such an achievement in itself.” Barker said. Here to focus on the team pursuit, she had stayed out of trouble throughout the race, only making her move with a lap and half to go.
Coming over the top of the bunch she led out the sprint ahead of reigning champion Kirsten Wild of the Netherlands. A big crash behind took out half the field and the pair were well clear of the rest by the time they crossed the line.
“The first race of the week is always a bit sketchy. Everyone’s fresh and most people want a sprint. I wanted to stay out of the way, a little bit for safety and also to save my legs because I’ve got the team pursuit tomorrow, so this was always the secondary event.”
Having won the 2017 points race title, Barker will now be firmly in the mix for women’s omnium selection now the event has been stripped of its timed events that so favoured Laura Kenny. Barker had ridden team pursuit qualifying earlier in the afternoon with Katie Archibald, Laura Kenny and Eleanor Dickinson.
With the next Olympic Games now on the horizon, Barker admitted things were once again getting serious. “Laura obviously had quite a long break after Rio and myself and Katie focused on bunch races, so it’s the first time we’ve been completely focused on team pursuits,” she said.
“It’s been really, really tough in training because everyone is coming back to where they used to be.”
The British team qualified in second place behind the Australians in the team pursuit, riding their fastest time outside of an Olympic games. The competition resumes for them tomorrow.
The men’s quartet also set their fastest time outside of the Olympics as they comfortably progressed to the gold final tomorrow. They will come up against old rivals Australia who went even faster in their round one ride despite the fact the quartet got split up inside the last kilometre when a Kiwi rider swung up as the Australians were about to overtake.
The performance suggests the world record could be broken tomorrow, and the conditions are far from perfect.
Sprinters off the pace
Britain’s sprinters faired less well on day one, as neither male nor female squads troubled the medal finals in the team sprint. The women’s team was however a success for the fact it heralded the return to the World Championships for Victoria Williamson. A horrific crash in 2016 could have left her unable to walk, let alone ride. But now back in this environment Williamson had little time for sentimentality.
“I’m just disappointed. I didn’t come back to be average. Most people are saying it’s an achievement to get here and I understand that, but it’s not what I want.” Williamson said, fighting back the tears.
“I wanted to come back and deliver a world-class performance – and that wasn’t a world-class performance. So apologies to my team-mate, Katy Marchant who delivered a class lap.”
The pair qualified in 14th place, and although Williamson will ride the 500m TT it’s the team sprint performances that are already counting toward 2020 Olympic qualification . “British Cycling obviously know that I’ve got the legs in training but it’s not quite coming together on the track,” she said.
“For me [going to Tokyo] would be the icing on the cake but, it’s a long way to go and we’re still on the backfoot. As long as I give everything in this last bit of the Olympic cycle I can hold my head high and say I gave it everything. If I don’t go, I don’t go.”
While the men made it through to round one of the team sprint, their time meant they came up against the Flying Dutchmen who were heads and shoulders above everyone else here.
For Jason Kenny it was end of his Worlds as he hadn’t been selected for the individual events.
“The World Cups have gone well this year and we were hoping to push for the podium,” Kenny said. “It’s just one of those things.”
“It didn’t come together in qualifying. We were a bit ragged. We’re not in the shape where we can challenge the Dutch at the minute. We need to be tighter. We need to be on top of each other, get them gaps down, [and] get them changes down”
The Dutch went on to win them men’s title while Australia won the women’s team sprint for the first time in 2011