March 6, 2019 / 8:00 PM / 7 months ago

INTERVIEW-Cycling-World champion Barker wants Tokyo sister-act

LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - Welsh rider Elinor Barker was enjoying warm-weather training in the Cape Town sunshine this week -- one of the perks of being a track cycling Olympic and world champion.

Meanwhile, kid sister Megan was practising at the velodrome in rainy Manchester, continuing along a path she hopes might make next year's Tokyo Olympics a family affair.

Both represented Wales at last year's Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Elinor winning gold in the points race and Megan part of the team that came fifth in team pursuit.

Elinor, 24, claimed a fourth world track title in Pruszkow last week, edging out Dutch favourite Kirsten Wild for a thrilling and surprising win in the scratch race.

But as she stretched her legs along the South African coast on Wednesday her thoughts were already fixed on making sure she is part of Britain's team pursuit quartet for next year's Olympics, having won gold in a world record time in Rio alongside Laura Kenny, Katie Archibald and Joanna Rowsell.

She may have some competition close to home.

So impressive has Megan's progress been that the 21-year-old is in the mix for the team pursuit -- something she admitted seemed impossible not long ago, such is the rivalry within Britain's track cycling medal machine.

"I think it would be interesting," Elinor, back in Manchester for the spectacular Six Day Series at the end of the month, told Reuters when asked about the prospect of vying with her younger sibling for a saddle in the team pursuit squad.

"At the moment there are enough of us who are rivals but it would be interesting when the team gets whittled down.

"You don't want to get beat by your younger sister, but after the tough time she's had with some serious illnesses, if she were to make it, it would be fantastic. And if she takes my spot one day I would be so happy for her. I want her to have every single success that she can possibly have."

Megan, who began cycling with her sister at Cardiff's Maindy Flyers CC, the same club at which Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas began pedalling, suffered a blood clot on the lung in 2017 and glandular fever.

MORE REALISTIC

But she is now fully recovered and part of the British podium squad eyeing next year's Olympics, although Paris in 2024 might be more realistic.

"It's going to be tough, but ideally we would both make it," she said. "We will both do everything we can to achieve that but don't worry, there will not be a family feud over it."

Elinor's gold in Poland last week was Britain's only victory, yet she herself has battled back from a low point last year when she almost quit.

"I had a tricky year, I was ill quite a lot and it made me question what was important to me," she said.

"I never fell out of love with cycling, I was just deciding whether I loved it enough to put my life on hold for another two or six years, however many Olympic cycles it would be.

"For a few months I was going through the motions but now I'm 100 percent focused again and very excited to be back on the top of a team pursuit podium in Tokyo. I've already go a continual countdown in my head."

The gauntlet has been thrown down by Australia who beat Britain to men's and women's team pursuit gold in Poland, although the women were hampered by an unwell Kenny.

"We can't just have tunnel vision about the Aussies," Barker said. "The Americans are a force to be reckoned with." (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)

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