Elinor Barker learning to navigate cycling as a new mother ahead of Commonwealth Games

Team GB's two-time Olympic medallist, who won gold at Rio 2016 and silver at Tokyo 2020, has just given birth to son Nico but is already back on her bike. How has she found the transition?

By ZK Goh
Picture by 2020 Getty Images

Elinor Barker will be racing at the British National Road Cycling Championships later this month.

You might think that's completely to be expected of a cyclist.

But Barker has only just returned from giving birth to son Nico in March – and, among other things, is now learning to navigate the world of being an elite athlete and a new mother.

It's a constant process for the 27-year-old, a Rio 2016 team pursuit gold medallist on the track who also won silver at Tokyo 2020 in 2021 when she competed in the heats while pregnant (something she suspected at the time but did not know for sure).

After discovering her pregnancy, she trained with a growing baby bump, which has now transitioned to the logical next step.

Just as well she has had incredible predecessors within British Cycling who have already trail-blazed a path for mothers in the sport – including five-time Olympic champion teammate Laura Kenny, the London 2012 road race medallist Lizzie Deignan, and Paralympic legend Sarah Storey.

Taking inspiration from Laura Kenny and Lizzie Deignan

Kenny, Barker's team pursuit compatriot with whom she won gold in Rio and silver in Tokyo, competed in the Japanese capital after having son Albie.

Deignan, meanwhile, came back after giving birth and won the inaugural women's Paris-Roubaix race, nicknamed the "Hell of the North" and regarded as one of the most difficult on the tour (men's or women's), last year.

Both women paved the way for Barker to believe in a career after pregnancy. But that alone isn't enough.

Barker is convinced that Kenny and Deignan were able to achieve what they did because their teams – the national federation British Cycling and the Trek-Segafredo WorldTour team respectively – supported both women all the way.

Speaking to Cycling News, she said: "When [employers] are supportive and they allow you to take a pause to have a baby, then you might get another six or seven years of a career.

"It's powerful for me to be able to see that it's possible, and it's powerful for the organisations who are in control of our futures to some extent, also to see that and to provide opportunities to more women."

Support for Barker from new team and British Cycling

Barker learned she was pregnant through test taken after the team pursuit event had ended in Tokyo. It put her in what could have been a difficult position.

She had agreed a contract with the Norwegian team Uno-X for 2023, but had not yet raced for the team. Now, she had to tell them she would need to take time away.

This pregnancy was important to Barker. She suffers from a condition called endometriosis, which can affect fertility and the ability to conceive. And she was worried that the news might affect her career.

The Welshwoman was put at ease by the response from both Uno-X and her national federation at British Cycling.

"If Uno-X and British Cycling hadn’t seen it done before, and hadn’t seen the opportunities, and what’s possible, they might have been far less likely to offer me such encouragement," Barker told the Telegraph. "So I thank those women who have gone before and blazed a trail."

British rider learning to handle motherhood

Barker has different challenges now that Nico has been born.

Before, it was all about finding information to guide her as she tried to keep up training while pregnant.

"It was kind of about seeing what opportunities were still available to me as a pregnant athlete and later on as a mum," she said to the BBC.

"I’ve kind of found ways to adapt, so either adapt physically what I’m doing, or literally my equipment - just to try and actually make room for my bump.

"Trying to just speak to as many people as I possibly could, so that was athletes, physiologists, coaches, and get as much of that information as I could to try and make my own decisions, was really quite a long process because there was just so much to learn and so little readily available information,” she added.

Now, however, with Barker back on her bike, the challenge is different, as she recently shared on social media. One such challenge?

“Choosing between time spent maximising training or time spent with my little baby,” she explained.

However, as with her pregnancy, Barker’s sponsors and British Cycling have accommodated her needs.

“These little things go a looong way towards getting me back in full time training as soon as possible, without having to sacrifice those precious newborn days,” she wrote.

With Nico in tow, Barker has been ramping up her time on the bike.

Beyond the National Road Championships, Barker has been selected in Wales' squad for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, with the road race scheduled on 7 August.

Nico will not even be five months old when his mother takes to the start line in England's West Midlands – an incredible post-partum comeback by any account. Birmingham will be Barker's third Commonwealth Games. She is a three-time medallist, having won two medals in 2014 and a gold in 2018, all on the track.

Speaking in February before Nico was born, Barker told the BBC: "My plan A does involve some racing this year, which is possibly a little bit ambitious, but I think I want to be back in races so that when I am actually physically back to full fitness, I've got those experiences in recent history that I can draw upon."

That 'plan A', Baker explained on Instagram, was a "shooting for the moon return to racing dream, which I'd suspected was a little ambitious."

Now, she will not only have the experiences of racing after giving birth to draw upon – she will, like Deignan, Kenny, and Storey did for her, be empowering and inspiring future female cyclists in the same situation.

"It's not that normal yet in sport, but it's pretty close to being normal," she said.

"I certainly think that now, it's not an automatic reaction that if you're pregnant, that's it. You don't need to fit in your whole career before you have children."

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