Words by Amy Sedghi
For Elinor Barker, 2018 is looking like a rather busy year, but one she doesn’t seem intimidated by. Right now, her attention is focused on the stroopwafel that’s been placed down beside the teapot. “Ooh, I love these," she says reaching for the small caramel waffle, before offering to pour the tea.
Clearly, Barker has steely determination: 2018 promises graft on the track and on the road with an appearance at the Commonwealth Games, rejoining Wiggle High5 and competing alongside younger sister Megan at the Track World Cup in Minsk, already on the cards.
“Maybe I have a bit of a pessimistic view of the year in that I’m not expecting to really excel at anything because I want to be able to do everything." - Elinor Barker
“I’m excited to have a really, really busy year," she says, sipping her tea. “And maybe spread myself too thinly, but to really enjoy every aspect of cycling that I can be involved in and to go to as many races as possible."
Pessimistic isn’t a word you’d associate with Barker who laughs easily and delivers witty and honest gems throughout our conversation, such as her guilty pleasure for mixing Maltesers and white wine (“a surprisingly good combination") and how it feels to have her younger sister join her in the world of competitive cycling (“equally special and totally rubbish").
Part of the gold medal-winning women’s team pursuit squad at Rio 2016, alongside Katie Archibald, Laura Kenny and Joanna Rowsell Shand, Barker has big ambitions, Tokyo 2020 among them. For now, though, she is relishing the opportunity to pack in as much as possible before the all-encompassing Olympic obligations come calling.
“The year before Rio, I didn’t race on the road, did very few track races outside team pursuit and while I loved it, it was fairly boring and not as exciting as I think cycling can be," explains Barker. She’s excited to rejoin Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling, for whom she raced in 2013 and 2014 before switching her focus to track ahead of the Rio Olympics.
“I’m completely ready to go back to a big road programme"
How does she find the motivation to get out on the road in these cold, wet months? “Turbo is really boring," she says deadpan. “You’ve got to do the training somehow. You can’t always have gorgeous four hours, hilly rides in Mallorca, sometimes you’ve gotta have a grim, flat ride in Manchester in the sleet and hail." The Peak District is her favourite place to cycle, she can hit the first climb in around half an hour’s ride from her home.
Tips for winter training come thick and fast, delivered with another dash of amusing honesty; don’t cut your ride short: “I know if I get home and I’ve done the full distance I feel so much better. Then I sit on the sofa for the rest of the day and feel quite smug about it." Be prepared for returning home cold and wet: “If I know it’s going to be horrible, I’ll have my lunch in the fridge ready to just put in the microwave. I’ll have some old pyjamas, a dressing gown and a really big pair of socks. I will just sit on the sofa in old, dirty pyjamas until I get the proper feeling back on my feet." Prioritise your health over a spotless bike: “Things can be replaced but if you come home freezing cold, then you spend another half an hour out in the rain cleaning your bike, you're going to get ill and there’s no quick fix for that."
Does she enjoy having her sister competing too? “I think it’s equally as amazing and special as it is completely rubbish, “ laughs Barker. “As much as I love it, I do find it quite stressful at times, to be honest, and it’s sort of something else to think about."
“Which sounds really selfish." She pauses, looking slightly shocked by her words, before adding tenderly: “but it’s because I want her to do well." Does she take any of her advice? Barker laughs: “it’s a typical sister relationship, she wouldn’t listen to me whatsoever."
With all the expectations of competing at such a high level, does the pressure get to her? “I try not to feel like I’ve let anybody down if I don’t perform," she says. “I feel it’s a difficult way of thinking to get out of."
Travel is a clear passion of Barker’s, her animated response to the topic is a testament to this. Her whole family are into travelling, she says, listing off where various siblings are currently around the globe. If she wasn’t cycling, she imagines she would most likely be graduating from university or backpacking somewhere in South America or Asia.
“I’ve made quite a big effort in the last couple of years to actually try to go and see something everywhere that I’ve been," she explains, describing how she’ll build it into a training ride or hop in a taxi to see a landmark, even if it’s just for half an hour. “I think that’s helped me feel like I’m not missing out so much."
Where’s on her list? “Pretty much everywhere to be honest," she exclaims struggling to narrow it down. “There are so many places I haven’t seen that I’d love to go." She finally plucks a destination: “I’d love to go to Japan and see Tokyo". See you there in a couple of years then Barker.
You can follow Elinor's adventures via her lively Instagram account here. All the best of luck for 2018, Elinor!