New mum Elinor Barker ‘optimistically realistic’ ahead of track return

Elinor Barker will be back on track for Great Britain at the European Championships this week 11 months after giving birth to son Nico, but motherhood is not the only major change for the 2016 Olympic champion.

Barker, who learned she was pregnant while helping Britain to team pursuit silver at the Tokyo Olympics, is not just juggling nappy changes with training blocks but also pursuing major targets on the road for the first time – not least selection for July’s Tour de France Femmes.

“Normally I’ve just done bits and bobs (on the road) around track races and training,” Barker said. “This will be the first time I’ve got a full road calendar that’s taking precedent and track fits around that.”

Rather than going through final preparations for the Euros with her Great Britain team-mates, the 28-year-old spent Sunday finishing 15th at the Vuelta CV Feminas in Valencia, her first race for Uno-X after signing the same week she discovered she was pregnant.

“It’s going to be different,” Barker said. “In an Olympic year, for me, that’s the one result that matters, but this year I’m hoping to really find my feet on the road and set myself some solid goals for next year.

“I know what is and isn’t realistic so it does feel different. If I get to go (to the Olympics) it will be part of a bigger picture. I’m really looking forward to it.

“I’ve enjoyed that single-mindedness but now having more goals will be more suited to me.”

Barker will ride the elimination race and partner Katie Archibald in the Madison in Grenchen, Switzerland. With Olympic qualifying beginning this week, Barker needs to score points but admits she may be ring rusty.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Day Eleven
Elinor Barker, centre, discovered she was pregnant while at the Tokyo Olympics where she won team pursuit silver with Great Britain (Danny Lawson/PA)

“Not super high if I’m honest,” she said of her expectations. “That’s kind of where we’re at now… I still really want to win races but this is my first track race back. I’m trying to be optimistically realistic.”

Barker said there have been “ebbs and flows” in her return, and she is still a little way off rediscovering her best form.

Barker is one of two new mums returning for Britain this week, with Rio bronze medallist Katy Marchant back in the sprint squad. Marchant gave birth to son Arthur in June, and the two have been in regular contact since rooming together in Tokyo.

“We’d never really been that close but in Tokyo we got really close,” Barker said. “I found out I was pregnant while there and she got pregnant not long after.

“It will be nice to be there to support each other as well. As much as the other team-mates can be supportive, nobody else knows how it feels to leave a baby at home if they’ve not done it before.”

Though Nico will not be in Grenchen, he has been one of the star attractions of Uno-X’s pre-season training camps. Barker prepared herself to leave him at home but the team encouraged her to bring him along with the help of a babysitter.

“I’m so lucky they’ve been so open-minded to it,” she said. “One of the sporting directors said recently she loved that Nico will grow up with the team, learn everybody’s name and it will be a family for him. I thought it was so nice that that’s coming from them.

“I would understand if they said he couldn’t come, but it’s a really full-on job. If you want to get the best talent and keep them in the sport, not having people feel they need to leave the sport if they want to become parents… it’s going to prolong so many careers.”