Sky high heart rates and sleepless nights: What it's like to be the parents of a World Champion

Thousands of miles from Wollongong, the parents of Britain’s new time trial world champions battled their nerves

Josh Tarling on podium in Wollongong, Australia, at world championships 2022
(Image credit: Getty Images)

On Tuesday morning, Michael Tarling watched from a hotel room in Poland as his 18-year-old son, Josh, won his first world title.

Josh's mother, Dawn, and younger brother, Finlay, were at the race in Wollongong, Australia. Ten thousand miles west, his father was on a work trip in Eastern Europe, readying himself for the day ahead with the logistics company he joined just a few weeks prior.  

“I came into the office late,” Michael told Cycling Weekly. “I told everyone I wasn’t going to be here until around about 11 o’clock.” 

That morning, Michael had been wide awake, eyes glued to the television as his son thundered through the winding time trial circuit. 

“I had Eurosport plugged into the hotel tele and the live timing from Tissot on my phone trying to work out where he was,” Michael said. “Fin and Dawn were sending us updates on the family WhatsApp group as to how it was going.

“Fin was in the media car following him with Mark Renshaw so he was having a whale of a time watching.

“It looked like it was all going really good until the final time check. I think he lost about six seconds. We were a bit heart in mouth and the WhatsApp group was going backwards and forwards about whether he could hold on. But he had it all in control in the end, bless him.” 

Josh averaged over 49km/h around the 28.8km course, taking the rainbow jersey in the junior men's individual time trial by 19 seconds.

“He said afterwards that when he caught Jens Verbrugghe, who was in front of him, he thought he was probably going a little bit too hard so backed off and maybe backed off a little bit too much. But I think he did that to give us all a bit of a scare in the end. There were a few tears once he crossed the line.

“I must admit," Michael continued, "I’m probably not as focused as I should be on this trip, that’s for sure.”

The view from Wales

Earlier that same morning, at 1:46am UK time, Magnus and Meg Bäckstedt watched nervously from their family sofa in South Wales as their daughter, Zoe, rolled down the start ramp in the junior women’s individual time trial.

“I never actually went to bed,” Magnus told Cycling Weekly. “At about half past 10, 11 o’clock, I started feeling a bit butterfly-y.”

Last year, when Zoe crossed the line first in the junior road race, Magnus fell silent in his TV commentary role. A video released later that day showed the Paris-Roubaix winner sobbing as he celebrated in the commentary booth. This year, he said, the emotions were back. 

“We were both standing up in front of the television last night,” Magnus said. “We had one or two points where [Zoe] was descending, taking one of the corners in the skis and full gas. [Meg] was like ‘oh my god, my heart rate’s going up so high.’ So she looked and she was like 155 beats per minute.” 

Zoe Backstedt in Worlds ITT 2022

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Over in Wollongong, Zoe made racing look easy. The 17-year-old ended up winning by a margin of over 90 seconds, earning her a fourth world title in as many disciplines.

“I think the ride was something special, in terms of performance and everything that goes with it, you know, the pressure before the race to deal with being the outright favourite.

“I don’t know how she does it,” Magnus added.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Zoe will be the favourite once again as she looks to retain her title in the junior road race. With his eldest daughter Elynor competing in the women’s elite event afterwards at 3:45am, Magnus isn’t expecting to sleep a wink. 

“We’ve got a few friends and family coming round to watch it,” he said. “I think it will be an all nighter for us all to watch both of the girls do their racing.”

Michael Tarling, too, is planning a family affair for when his son Josh takes the start line in Friday’s junior men’s road race. “I’m landing in the afternoon and driving home,” Michael said. “Then I’ll probably go and watch it with his grandparents, my mother in law and father in law. They’re not too far away, so we’ll watch it together, I think.”

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