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A difficult week for the British team ended at least on a positive note, Elinor Barker claiming the world points race title for the second time in her career, thanks to a wonderfully gutsy ride which left the Welsh rider “seeing stars”.
Barker famously said after winning her first world points race title in Hong Kong in 2017 that she was happy to be the bride rather than the bridesmaid for once in a world championship bunch race.
She is becoming something of a bridezilla these days, what with her scratch race win as well last year. She certainly remains one of the heavyweights of this Great Britain squad; one of a trio of women’s endurance stars alongside fellow Olympic team pursuit gold medallists Laura Kenny and Katie Archibald.
Britain are lucky to have Barker. This was the second straight year she has bailed them out with their only gold medal of the world championships.
The concern – and it was one that Barker herself pointed out – is that the points race is not an Olympic discipline. In fact, rather incredibly given their successes over the past 15 years, no British rider or team has won a world title in an Olympic discipline for two years.
Tokyo 2020 will be the first time since Sydney 2000 that the British team will go to an Olympics without a reigning world champion in any of the disciplines. It was a point not lost on Barker.
“I’d have much rather have won the Madison to be honest,” she said, referring to Saturday’s disappointment, when team-mate Neah Evans crashed 20 laps from the finish, costing them any chance of competing for a medal.
“But I knew that I had good legs yesterday, so I’m glad that I was able to prove that today.”
She certainly did. Lying fifth with 21 laps of the race remaining, six points behind leader Jennifer Valente of the United States, Barker went all in, trying to gain a lap on the field which she knew would win her 20 points and see her leapfrog her opponents.
Working initially with Australia’s Alexandra Manly, and then, once Manly blew, on her own, Barker risked it all. It was a brave move.
She made the point afterwards that, having won a few world titles now, she is in a place where she would rather finish 10th trying to win the race than ride cautiously and settle for a medal. “I’m not too scared of that anymore.”
The crowd appreciated it, as did the German announcer on the PA system, who screamed something about the “British Empire” as she made the catch.
Barker admitted she would have been powerless to react had one of her rivals launched a late counter-attack at that point.
“I wanted to have some more energy to at least get involved in another sprint after I got the lap, but I had absolutely nothing left, I was seeing stars,” she said. “I couldn’t even entirely tell who the four at the front were, I just had my fingers crossed that they didn’t get the lap or anything. The plan would have been to have a few more beans at the end but it went as well as it possibly could.”
It certainly helped to gloss over some of the more worrying aspects of these championships from a British perspective. It has been a bruising week for the team, what with sponsor HSBC UK announcing at the start of it that it was choosing not to take up the option of a second Olympic cycle.
On the track the battering dished out to the men’s pursuit team was even more painful than the crash in the omnium that left golden girl Kenny with four stitches in her face.
Ethan Hayter and Ollie Wood, looking for some late redemption after that pursuit thrashing, never looked like getting it in Sunday’s Madison, finishing ninth. Katy Marchant, meanwhile, narrowly failed to make the women’s keirin final.
Hayter insisted he was not panicking, pointing out that Britain’s quartet produced a personal best in qualifying, with the gap to Denmark – who broke the world record three times en route to gold – not quite as big as everyone was making out since there were two teams on the track in the later rounds.
“I think the [deficit] is only four seconds in qualifying,” he said. “Which knowing we’ve got a lot to come is bridgeable. I’m still positive.”