It's hard to believe that in the space of a few short years, Elinor Barker has climbed the British Cycling ladder, amassed 14 medals in European, Worlds and Olympic competition and is rapidly becoming a household name in cycling.
The Cardiff-born athlete has had a whirlwind career to date and there doesn't look to be any slowing down as Elinor finished her track season last month on an absolute high, she had won gold and silver at the Track World Championships. Fresh from track season, Elinor has her sights set on racing Time Trials later in the year.
Sitting in the kitchen of Stephen and Helen Wyman on a particularly cold day in France, Elinor and me sat down with some herbal tea to chat about the year so far and what she has planned for the rest of it.
The Track World Championships took place in Hong Kong this year and after the track success of Team GB in the Rio Games last summer, there was a lot of hype going into the competition. I asked Elinor how she felt going into World's and how she handles pressure for races:
"There's always a lot of pressure going into the competition but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Some people in the media said that Team GB had a terrible world performance, yet we were 4th in the medal table... I put a lot of pressure on myself because I wasn't doing it for anyone else this time. Usually, there's pressure to not let others down like on the team pursuit."
Elinor was everyone's top bet for taking the gold in the scratch race at World's, but she was beaten to the line by Italy’s Rachele Barbieri in a nail-biting finish. However, on the final day of the Track World Championships, we saw Elinor really come into her own as she scooped the gold in the Points race after a phenomenal performance.
"I kicked myself over the scratch race, as I should have sheltered for a quarter of a lap more. There are things I could have changed slightly, but at the time I thought I made the right decisions. I was absolutely gutted at the time, but I'm now a lot more proud of myself and I think the points race felt more special."
With the track season behind her, Elinor Barker has turned her sights to Time Trail racing which is where she first began to make a name for herself after winning Junior Worlds. To do this, Elinor runs on a season in two halves; one leading up to Track Worlds and the other to focus on the road.
Elinor tells me that her training hasn't changed too much. Track sessions are replaced by longer road rides, and the focus is directed towards overcoming terrain, climbs and course structure - a stark difference from the track. Just from the tone of the conversation, it was evident that Elinor is more than just a little excited to get back on the road and get her teeth into Time Trials.
Many of us can only imagine what it's like to be a professional cyclist competing at World and Olympic level, so we asked Elinor for some inside perspective.
How do you deal with pre-race nerves?
"You just have to deal with it. The most nervous I've been in a long time was at the Track World Championships, right before the Madison. I think it was mostly owing to the unknown and how I was going to do. My parents won't talk to me for about a week before a big race because they don't want to put her off, which is really sweet. I also find that a good song helps too, something with a quick beat and positive lyrics."
What are the best and worst of being a professional cyclist?
"It's pretty cool because the travel is amazing. I would never have been to all these places if it wasn't for cycling. The only thing that can be annoying is not having enough time to see the country properly. Travelling around a lot makes me feel so much more appreciative of the time I have when I'm home seeing friends and family."
"As I've gotten older, I've become more grateful of my career where I think to myself a few times a week, "Wow, this is it. This is my life". It's the little things like getting up early and training hard in the rain, getting drenched, going home for a shower and some food, then that's me done for the day and I can be in my pyjamas by 14:00."
Do you have any rituals or habits for races?
There's nothing really out of the ordinary. I think I moved away from that when I was younger because I realised you can't really control everything. Races can get moved up and then suddenly you don't have time for that ritual you need to do. Although, I used to tie my shoes up really really tight and I would carry on doing it at the line with 10 s to go.
A big area of discussion in women's cycling is the importance of saddle comfort. Some riders get on harmoniously with their set-up, whilst others embark on a long journey to find a suitable perch for riding on.
Having spent endless hours in the saddle, who better to advise us on how to find a good saddle system. Elinor tells us that a saddle is incredibly personal which is why she refuses to contract herself to a saddle brand. She goes on to say:
"Everyone still suffers all of the time. When you were younger, you couldn't tell your coach and you would just have to deal with it if you did have saddle soreness. I'm so glad people are talking about this topic a lot more."
Here are some recommendations from Elinor...
- Find a few good pairs of chamois shorts and rotate them around
- Try not to ride in the rain consecutively
- Use perfume and soap free shower gels
- Chamois creams are quite personal but it's good to try different ones
- If you're sore or feel stinging pain in the shower then don't ride the next day
- Get a good bike fit which includes saddle mapping - I can't recommend this enough
As Elinor prepares for Time Trials later in the year, she's also hosting a new hearing dogs sportive. This event hopes to raise funds for Hearing Dogs for Deaf people which will take place on Sunday, July 9th.