“It started off with me and my mum,” says Amber Joseph, the only Barbadian rider in the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome at the Track World Championships. “She was my bank. She was my chauffeur, mechanic, manager, and she didn’t even know the difference between the front wheel and back wheel.”
Joseph stands out as she warms up inside the track centre. The 22-year-old is decked in bright yellow kit, sitting up high in the saddle while she spins her legs. To her right, her mother sits on a plastic chair.
In less than two years, this same velodrome will host the track cycling events at the Paris Olympics. If Joseph qualifies for the games, she’ll be the first female cyclist to represent Barbados at the Olympics, and the first Barbadian cyclist to compete in two decades.
“Barry Forde, right?” she says when I remind her of that statistic. “He’s actually the guy that got me cycling in Barbados.”
“My mum knew Barry’s wife and just got speaking to them. Barry had me in the gym when I was like 12, lifting 120kg and doing squats. It was crazy.
“Then he put me on a bike and it felt amazing. It was like I was supposed to be on a bike.”
At the age of 13, Joseph and her mum upped sticks in Barbados and moved to Reading, England, where she made quick progress through British Cycling’s track programme, joining the Olympic development academy.
In 2016, after three years with Great Britain, she was asked to represent her birthplace of Barbados at the Pan American Championships. An opportunity, Joseph says, she simply couldn’t turn down.
“I decided to change back my UCI licence to Barbados,” the L39ion of Los Angeles rider explains, “and got silver in the omnium.”
I start to ask if she regrets leaving British Cycling, but before I can finish the question, Joseph deals an abrupt “no”.
“Barbados has always been my home. It always has. If I had to choose between England and Barbados… Barbados any day. Not just because it’s paradise.
“I find with British Cycling, from the outside and from things that I’ve heard, it’s a little bit more difficult than just riding your bike,” she adds. “Now I can literally pick any event that I want to do.”
When it comes to money, though, it’s far from smooth sailing. Four years ago, Joseph began receiving funding from the Barbados Olympic Association, taking some of the financial burden off her and her family. “But it’s nowhere compared to what surrounds me,” she quickly clarifies, glancing across the riders warming up inside the velodrome.
“To come here, to stay at the big hotels, it was going to cost me and my mum £4,000. We found our own hotel, drove here from England, from Reading, and stayed in a hotel for £300, just because it fit in my budget better.”
In a year, she explains, it’s easy to spend over £30,000 travelling to competitions with her support team. “That’s just like flights and hotels,” she adds. “I pay for all my own wheels, equipment, helmet. I have to do all of that stuff myself.”
A parrot called Nigel
When she’s not riding bikes, Joseph’s riding horses. “That’s where my family kind of comes from, their background is horses,” she says.
“I have a lot of animals at home. I have like four ducks.”
Dogs? I ask, assuming I’ve misheard through the booming dance music.
“No, ducks. And we have four dogs.”
Joseph then starts to rattle off the pets she keeps at her home in Reading, and the list gets more surreal with each animal. “We have two sheep, like 21 chicks, like five chickens. We have a parrot. I have two cats.”
What’s the parrot called? I ask.
“Nigel,” she says, with a deep belly laugh. “My cats are called Dorothy and Dave. And then one of our dogs, my dog, my child, is called Betsy. And then we have one called Potato.” She cradles her hands together into a small sphere shape. “She looked like a potato when she was a puppy.”
At this point, Joseph is splitting her sides with laughter. “I’m a big animal person. I like animals more than I like people,” she says. “No offence.”
Fortunately for her, she also likes competing. Today, at the Track World Championships, Joseph is set to take part in the omnium, her preferred event. “I can’t do the Madison for obvious reasons,” she says. “There’s only one of me.”
In order to gain points for Olympic qualification, Joseph will travel next year to Indonesia, Egypt and Canada for the Track World Cups. She’ll then return to the World Championships, the final one before the games, to compete in Glasgow, Scotland.
“Everything’s going in the right direction,” she says. Had 2022 been an Olympic year, she would have qualified through the individual ranking.
“It’s not going to be an easy road for me, because it’s quite difficult for single nation [riders],” she says. Joseph looks over to the track, the same track that will be used for Paris 2024, then turns back with a purposeful look. Her tone shifts suddenly.
“I’m going to do it,” she says. “I’m going to do it. I’m very set on that. And I believe it. I think once you believe in something, it’s achievable.
“I just have to put in all the hard work and do what I know I’m capable of, and it will be an absolute honour to make history, once again, for Barbados, and make them proud.”
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