Later this week, Elinor Barker and Katy Marchant will head off to Grenchen, Switzerland in what will be their first major track event since giving birth last year.
“It’ll be really nice that we can be there to support each other,” says Barker. “As much as I think other team-mates can be really supportive, no one really knows how it feels to leave your baby at home for such a long period of time if they’ve not done it themselves before.”
When she’s away with her trade team Uno-X, Barker’s son Nico is part of the family. He spends his days being looked after, before joining up with the squad in the evenings for a chit chat and some dinner.
“He would eat everything from the buffet,” Barker laughs. “He had olives one night and he’s 10 months old. He’s just a bottomless pit.”
Spending time with her son on training camps has served Barker well. She’s excited to take on the season, and feels her best form is quickly returning. Still, she knows the stakes will be high in Grenchen.
“If I didn’t go to Euros and compete in these events, I can’t do the Olympics, because that’s how the qualifying works,” she says.
This week, she’s set herself the task of collecting all of her qualifying points in one fell swoop. To do so, Barker will ride the Elimination race, before teaming up with Olympic champion Katie Archibald in the Madison. She’s keen to win, but admits her outlook on racing has changed since having a child.
“I used to get really nervous about races because I’d think ‘Oh God, what if I lose?’ and then I’ll just have to come home and sit with that disappointment,” she says. “I still care exactly the same amount as I did before, I just don’t have enough time to think about it.”
When Barker first found out she was pregnant, she and Marchant were sharing a room in Tokyo, Japan at the 2021 Olympics. “[Marchant] got pregnant not long after getting back,” she says. “We’ve been really close through that whole period, so it’s been really nice that we’ve been able to be there for each other.
“She literally just sent me a picture of her little boy in her National Champs jersey, which is so cute.”
The jersey in question came from Marchant’s title-winning ride in the team sprint at last month's British Track Championships, only her second competition back since becoming a mother. Once the 30-year-old stepped off the podium in Newport, Wales, she headed straight towards her son, Arthur, picking him up in one hand, while clutching her victory bouquet in the other.
“I’m feeling a little bit rusty,” Marchant tells Cycling Weekly after the race, “but it’s so good to be back.”
Like Barker, the sprinter’s perspective on racing has changed. “I’ve stepped away for 18 months. I’ve had a child. I don’t care any less about cycling, but I have bigger things to care about now,” she said. “It allows me to come to training and that’s my time away, that’s time for me.”
Over the past two years, Marchant has tried to ride her bike as much as possible. She trained right up until the end of her pregnancy, and then returned to the track shortly after childbirth.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a challenge,” she says. “But to me, I thought there was no way that I was going to stop. I really wanted to push my body to the boundaries and just see where I can get to really.”
That place, she hopes, is next year’s Olympics in Paris.
Barker, too, would like to be there, but for the team pursuit gold medallist, there’s another big event circled on her calendar.
“Every race, my target will be trying to prove that I’m good enough to go to the Tour,” she explains. “That’s what I really want to get from this season.”
Barker describes the newly introduced Tour de France Femmes as a “shining beacon of light”, which has left a lasting impact on her and the wider world of women’s cycling. “It’s already made a huge difference,” she says. “The changes in the professionalism of teams over the last few years has just been huge.
“I started my career 10 years ago, not being paid. Now I’m on a team where I’ve got maternity pay and a pension.”
When Barker and Marchant take to the track in Grenchen later this week, they'll follow in a line of British Olympians - including Lizzie Deignan, Laura Kenny and Sarah Storey - who have taken time out to have children, and returned to the top tier of racing.
The duo's day-to-day lives are different to what they were before, and training time is precious, but they're excited to race once again on the international stage.
The European Track Championships start this Wednesday 8 February, and run until Sunday 12 February.
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