Elinor Barker delivered gold for Great Britain on the opening night of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships as she won the women’s scratch race.
The 24-year-old revealed she almost quit cycling in 2018, but her rediscovered love of the sport was rewarded with a rainbow jersey after she held off defending champion Kirsten Wild to record a superb victory.
“It’s a massive surprise,” Barker said. “It feels really bizarre. I came really close to quitting completely about six months ago. I’d kind of fallen out of love with it so just to get here felt like such an achievement itself.
“I fell out of love with it for a number of factors, but I’ve got it back now. I owe a huge amount to our new psychologist who we got around October time. He managed to keep me going and feeling at my best again.”
Barker sat back in the pack for 38 of the 40 laps before launching a devastating attack.
Moments later a huge crash took out several riders and Barker – like Geraint Thomas a product of the Maindy Flyers cycling club – found the strength to keep Wild behind her in the final bend.
“That was always the plan,” Barker said of the attack. “I wanted to stay out of the carnage. It’s always a little sketchy, the first race of the week, everyone’s fresh and most people want a sprint, so most people are in the race. But no one wants to take it on so it’s always sketchy.
“I wanted to stay out of the way a little bit for safety and also to save my legs because I’ve got the team pursuit tomorrow so this was always the secondary event.”
Earlier in the day, Barker joined Katie Archibald, Laura Kenny and Ellie Dickinson to set the second fastest time in qualifying for the team pursuit, stopping the clock at four minutes 15.618 seconds, leaving them 0.7 seconds behind Australia’s pace.
The men’s squad of Ed Clancy, Ethan Hayter, Charlie Tanfield, Ollie Wood and Kian Emadi will face Australia for gold on Thursday after beating Holland in the first round with a time of 3:51.635.
But if there were tears of joy for Barker, Vicky Williamson was left bitterly disappointed after she and Katy Marchant could only manage 14th place to make an early exit from qualifying for the women’s team sprint.
Williamson, competing in her first world championships since suffering career-threatening injuries in January 2016, could be congratulated just for reaching the start-line, but did not see it that way.
“I’m just disappointed,” the 25-year-old said. “I didn’t come back to be average. Most people are saying it’s an achievement to get here and I understand that but it’s not what I want.”
Williamson, who still suffers from pain in her back, neck and pelvis as a result of her crash, said she had delivered better times in training but is struggling to translate it into races.
“I’m just ripping myself to pieces but when I sit back and look at the video I’ll be able to work out what went wrong,” she said.
It was not a good day for the sprinters all round, with Jason Kenny, Jack Carlin and Ryan Owens losing to Holland in the first round of the men’s sprint to miss out on the medal races.
“It’s disappointing,” Kenny said. “The World Cups have gone well this year so we were hoping to push for the podium. We’ve not done our best ride. There’s more time in us. We need to tidy up technically and work on producing that when it matters.”