Muddy off-road cycling in Cheshire isn’t exactly what Elinor Barker had in mind for 2020 but the Olympic champion says it’s given her a new lease of life.
The Cardiff-born track star was crowned points race world champion in Berlin back in March and weeks later was locked down in her house in Manchester.
Barker’s lifeblood has been daily rides into the Cheshire countryside that have helped her process the postponement of the Olympic Games – albeit they haven’t always gone to plan.
“Going out every day is what's been keeping me sane for so long,” said the 25-year-old.
“Being able to go out on the bike has been a godsend. I've been going out riding with my boyfriend, and we've been trying to find less popular routes.
“There’s an app you can use that shows the most popular routes, so we’ve been avoiding them and trying to find quieter streets.
“It hasn't always gone amazingly, we've ended up doing some mountain biking and off-roading unintentionally!
“We just follow the little map on our head unit, and you just don't know what the road's going to be like especially if it's an area you're not completely familiar with.
“There have been points when we've need to cross fields and go down a muddy mountain bike track, and climb over fences and stuff like that.
“It’s a choice between that and going give miles further. It’s probably not great for the wheels, but we always take the shortcut.
"The freedom of being on a bike is massive. It completely takes you away from the caged feeling of being in the house.”
Alongside Laura Kenny, Katie Archibald and Joanna Rowsell-Shand, Barker broke the world record in all three rounds of the team pursuit in Rio to claim gold at her first Olympics.
And powered by National Lottery funding, Barker and team-mates are recalibrating training and competitive goals to defend their title at next summer’s rearranged Games in Tokyo.
Cycling’s team pursuit has been a shining example of the impact of the funding with the men’s squad medalling at every Olympics since the funding was introduced in 1997.
Barker is one of more than 1,100 athletes on UK Sport’s World Class Programme that allows her to train full-time and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
Great Britain have won silver at the last three World Championships in team pursuit – behind USA in 2018 and 2020 and Australia in 2019.
Barker feels technical innovation enabled by National Lottery funding will be a key factor in their bid to outstrip rivals next year.
“If you were going to bet on someone being the podium, we'd be a safe bet but if you're betting on someone winning, it's a fairly wide-open race,” she said.
“Even since Rio it's changed quite a bit. Other teams are doing different, quite interesting things.
“The workload used to be neatly shared between riders, whereas now you see riders doing incredible impressive individual efforts.
“Everyone's trying new, interesting tweaks and changes to try and go a bit faster.
"We've got a great performance analyst and a lot of people working behind the scenes on the best mathematical options for us. We've got a few tricks up our sleeves!”
No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise around £30 million each week for good causes. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/stories/track-to-tokyo and #TNLAthletes #TracktoTokyo