Laura Kenny may have been the queen of the track for Team GB at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, but teammate Elinor Barker is looking to challenge for the crown, admitting she would love to try and take her colleague’s omnium spot if available.
Barker claimed her first Olympic medal alongside Kenny in Rio, when they teamed up with Katie Archibald and Joanna Rowsell Shand to win the team pursuit, setting a new world record in the process.
She was 21 at the time, but even at such a young age the Cardiff-born rider already boasts an impressive palmares in bunch racing, winning Commonwealth silver and bronze in the points and scratch races, respectively.
On the Commonwealth Games podium alongside current teammates Kenny and Archibald
Barker also won omnium silver at the junior track World Championships, in the same year her future colleague was stunning the world with a dominant win at London 2012.
But now, age 22, and with four years of development ahead of her before the next Games in Tokyo, Barker is not limiting herself to just the team pursuit.
“I would definitely go for a spot in the omnium, I’d be mental not to,” said the two-time team pursuit world champion.
“I’d like to think I’d be back in the team pursuit.
“It feels awesome to think I’m an Olympic champion. I didn’t think that would be happening at the age of 21, but I’ve just turned 22 so I’m a bit older now!
“It feels like it’s just the start of my career, but one day it will seem a long time ago.”
Barker enjoyed an extended break after the Games, taking six weeks off to enjoy Rio before travelling to America for a holiday.
But she is already back in competition and back in the medals at this week’s European Track Cycling Championships, before heading to the Lee Valley VeloPark velodrome, the scene of Kenny’s first two Olympic successes, for next week’s Six Day London event.
There she will race alongside Archibald in a three-day omnium, knowing full well that how you are feeling one day can bear no resemblance to your performance the next.
“When there’s a pursuit it’s really interesting. Someone will be on a good day, someone will be on a bad day,” she added.
“It’s not always how you're feeling on race day that matches with how it is in training.
“Our strongest girl on the final race day in Rio was Katie, but there were days two weeks before when she was our weakest rider.
“Now that’s not saying she was weak those two weeks before, it just shows that things fluctuate so much that it could be anyone’s day at any point in time, you just have to make sure that even on a bad day you’re still good enough.”
Barker on the Tour of Britain podium in 2015, racing for Matrix Fitness Pro Cycling
Ask Barker to look further back than Rio and she will tell you that the time they rode to win Olympic gold, 4:10.236, was exactly what they had aimed for….. four years before the race.
When Kenny, Rowsell Shand, Barker and London 2012 gold medallist Dani King set the first ever world record for the women’s 4km team pursuit in September 2013, the mark stood at 4:32.721.
Kenny, Archibald, King and Barker then lowered that to by six seconds the following month, and in a single Olympic cycle the time to complete 16 laps of a velodrome had tumbled to 4:13.683, set by the Australian quartet in February 2015.
That record stood until the start of Rio 2016, but British Cycling’s coaches and the riders themselves were still gunning for the target they’d set in 2013, a 4:10.
Team GB’s shaved 0.4s off the Australian’s mark in their preliminary round in Rio, before the American’s dropped it by another second in their effort.
That threw the gauntlet down and Team GB recorded a 4:12.152 in the first round before knocking a remarkable two seconds off that mark to win gold in the final.
And despite four years of planning and preparation, Barker admits she was confident that they would hit their mark.
On the way to a world record at the 2013 European Championships
“Weirdly enough, the time was exactly what we were aiming for,” she said.
“We sat in a meeting room a few years ago and said ‘this is the time we all think is going to win the Olympics, this is what we’re going to aim for’.
“All of our training was towards those times. We knew the speed at the start that we had to do, and all of those credentials, but even two weeks out, or ten minutes out, I didn’t think we’d be able to do it.
“I thought it would maybe be an 11 or a 12. An 11 would have been incredible, so I can’t believe we did a ten.”
And what made the medal even sweeter? Beating an on-song American quartet, of course.
“We didn’t really know exactly where they were going to be, but I’m really glad that America were going so strongly and we managed to beat them at their very best – that was a really special thing to be able to do,” she concluded.