These are unprecedented times in British cycling, and the history books confirm it. There have been some world beating British riders before, but more often our internationals were expected to go abroad and lose, not only by the Europeans but very often by themselves.
I did one of these rides recently with Milk Race winner Chris Walker and his brilliant racing kids Joey and Jessica, and Chris summed up the trend of a lot of British cycling history when he said; “When you raced abroad you were laughed at just because you were British.
With the GB teams everything was done on a shoestring, and the Europeans just thought we were all Freds. And it got to you a bit, so even if you won some races your ambitions were still a bit limited, but the kids today don’t have any of that. They see Brad and Cav winning and they expect to do the same. It’s wonderful to see and be part of really.”
A 90-minute ride with hills, flats, twists and turns, just like you get in a time trial.
Seeing success is like receiving permission to be successful, it allows it to happen, and if you need further proof of that just look at the Garner and Barker sisters. Lucy Garner and Elinor Barker have dominated world junior cycling.
In their two junior years Lucy has won the world road title twice and Elinor has taken silver and gold in the time trial. That’s three A stars and an A out of four in the worlds podium A-levels.
Lucy and Elinor are incredible, and they both have another one like them at home. Grace Garner is so quick that BC’s coaches aren’t sure what to do with her yet, and shortly after meeting the Barkers I’m convinced that 15-year-old Meg is already on a similar track to Elinor.
And in an uncanny way, they are both following the steps of another Cardiff cyclist. Geraint Thomas’s introduction to cycling was by seeing the Maindy Flyers racing around the track when he was on his way to swim training. Cycling looked more fun, so next week he was doing that.
“That’s what we did,” Elinor tells me. “We were going to the Maindy Pool, and not really enjoying it, then we saw them zooming round the track. Meg said we should try it. I wasn’t very keen at first, to be honest, but I liked it once I got going, and it was better than swimming. Much more fun”
Elinor and Meg started doing schools cycling then the various national series, where in most circuit races Elinor was out-sprinted by Lucy Garner, “Although I won at Hog Hill,” she points out, revealing her innate strength. Hog Hill is much harder than your average closed circuit.
Garner is at the sprint end of the road race spectrum, while Barker is at the constant pace end, they are the Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins of junior women’s racing.
Meg is so like Elinor, plenty of podiums, some wins, including Welsh titles, but with a potential that will be reflected better in time trials, the track pursuit and longer junior road races. She’s patient too, and doesn’t feel slightly put out by following in the wake of her illustrious sister.
“Everybody at schools says, “Oh yeah, your sister is really famous,” but it doesn’t bother me,” she says. Elinor uses today’s ride for her time trial training. “It’s a basic loop that takes around two hours from our house and back again.
To train for the Worlds I rode it a lot but added on loops taking it to three hours. The loops are all different, but they don’t have much traffic on them and not many junctions. Each loop takes between 10 and 20 minutes to do and I ride them at time trial pace and on my time trial bike,” she says.
And Barker’s time trial pace is something to see, just ask her dad Graham. “When Elinor was 12 we did a time trial on a camping trip she did with Maindy Flyers.
She was too young to ride on her own so I rode with her. The thing is I was a bit slow getting my foot on the pedals at the start, so by the time I managed it she was 10 metres in front. I spent the next 10 miles trying to close the gap but I couldn’t.” And in case you are wondering, Graham turns a nifty pedal when he’s not ferrying his daughters to races.
It takes about 20 minutes through the Cardiff suburbs for Elinor and Meg to reach the outskirts at Lisvane, so I’ve made that the start of this ride on the map. But while doing so dodges the traffic and avoids the lights, it means that this ride starts with a climb – a big one.
Track racing features in the Barker’s careers, and it shows in the way they spin up this long climb.
Elinor broke Nicole Cook’s British record for the under-16 pursuit, she’s won a national title at the event and a silver medal in the European Championships. The track is important to her, and when I press her for her big ambition she says; “It’s an Olympic gold medal in the team pursuit.”
The precision and symmetry of the team pursuit, and all the things you don’t see that go into it, really appeal to Barker, who has an incredible eye for detail. “I picked the loops I used for my time trial efforts off this circuit not only because they were quiet, but was also because they were like bits of the Worlds course,” she reveals.
And, as she explains the precision with which she prepared only intensified when Barker got to Valkenburg. “I covered the circuit three times every day for the three days before the race, either by bike or in the car. So that was nine complete times, and we did some sections more than once each time.
That’s why I didn’t have to think about my line through corners or what gear to be in during each section. I try not to think about anything in a time trial, except focusing on my cadence,” she says.
Barker has been to the Cali Track World Cup already this winter and will ride other world cups with Welsh Cycling’s trade team, SWI WC. She’s still doing her A-levels, so although she’s part of BC’s Olympic Development Academy she will stay at home until they’re done.
And Barker is also part of the recently announced DTPC-Honda team. Her future looks very bright indeed, as does the whole of British women’s cycling, but internationally they still need the TV for big races. That will bring the sponsorship they all deserve.
The Cycling Dragons
Welsh Cycling has a performance plan similar to British Cycling’s with the aim of maximising their medal chances for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. As part of it they recently created a trade team called SWI Welsh Cycling with backing from Sport Wales and Wiggle. They will take part in track world cup races this winter, to gain experience at first then help their riders progress later.
It’s run by performance head Matt Cosgrove and head coach Darren Tudor, who says: “Team SWI Welsh Cycling is part of a long term project that will aim to deliver riders to the podium programmes at British Cycling. Major targets for Team SWI WC include the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in 2014. In the meantime, we will work to deliver riders to British Cycling with the hope of success at Rio in 2016.”
Who is Elinor Barker?
Occupation: School student and world champion
My training bike
Elinor rode her Dolan bike in the SWI WC colours. It’s Shimano Ultegra equipped with American Classic wheels, some hefty Conti Gatorskin tyres, Look pedals, a Dedaccai finishing kit, and it was kept clean through this ride on damp roads by a set Crud mudguards.
Find the station in Lisvane on the B4562 and ride north-west until a church on your right. Turn left then go right, under the M4 and start climbing. The summit is a pine forest. Descend and turn left to Rudry and Caerphilly, where you turn right on the A468. Turn right in Machen and follow this road to Draethen, where you turn left to the A468 again and go right.
Turn right at Rhiwderin and climb over to Michaelston-y-Fedw. Continue to Catleton and Marshfield, heading for the sea. Turn right on the B4239 and follow it through Rumney to turn right on the B4487 then left after three kilometres on the B4562 back to Lisvane.
Ride distance: 47km
Total climbing: 650 metres