Elinor Barker is relishing a return to the Lee Valley Velopark for December's TISSOT UCI Track Cycling World Cup, as she looks to add to a catalogue of memories of the iconic venue.
Barker and her Great Britain team-mates will compete in London over the weekend of December 14-16, when crucial qualifying points for Tokyo 2020 - as well as world cup titles - will be on the line.
Barker is targeting Tokyo as she looks to add to her Olympic team pursuit title from 2016. However, although the biggest moment of her career to date came in Rio, she admits that events at the Lee Valley Velopark have helped to shape her cycling journey.
"When the girls won the team pursuit at London 2012 I was actually on a plane on the way to the Junior World Championships," she explains. "I remember feeling pretty inspired though. I was just about to turn 18 and just about to join the squad - not that I knew that at the time - and I was trying to emulate them and everything that they were doing.
"It was sort of strange because I felt like the girls were celebrities that I kind of knew. I had met them before, raced them before and then they were there on worldwide TV just doing incredibly well."
Barker soon fought her way into the contention for the team pursuit event, forming part of the quartet which claimed world championship gold in 2013 and 2014. A first competitive ride at the Lee Valley Velopark followed, with the British foursome again winning gold at the world cup event in December 2014.
"I remember being very excited for my first world cup in London," she adds. "There's a big sense of pride associated with the venue, and that's especially apparent when you're with riders who competed there in 2012. You can kind of sense the difference walking into London compared to walking into any other venue."
Tougher times then followed, though, as the Australians and Americans closed the gap and Great Britain found themselves occupying the minor medal places on the world stage. The most painful episode of this period, Barker says, took place in London.
"Qualifying at the worlds in 2016 was a pretty big blow to us, to be honest," she says of the 2016 UCI Track Cycling World Championships, when Great Britain's quartet was separated during their qualifying ride, resulting in them recording only the fifth fastest time, meaning their best medal hope was bronze - which they went on to win.
She continues: "It wasn't necessarily a blow to our confidence, because we had been training very well and we knew what we were capable of, but it just didn't come together on the day. The unfortunately does sometimes happen, but to happen at a home worlds just before the Olympics was bad timing.
"But I think it just adds to the story - we weren't dominant for years and years beforehand, and we certainly weren't a guaranteed win for Rio, but we managed to get it all to come together on the day and have everybody in good form. So what happened in London added to the story for me, and it added to the emotional experience of actually doing well in Rio."
Barker and her team-mates now have their sights set on following up that Rio victory with gold in Tokyo, while the endurance squad also has the additional incentive of competing to be one of the two riders selected to represent Great Britain in the first ever women's Olympic Madison.
Barker has already outlined her Madison calibre this season, taking world cup victory alongside Katie Archibald in Milton last month, when she was also part of a victorious team pursuit quartet.
"We've got a very high standard across our women's endurance programme at the moment," Barker says. "We've never had a squad this big, so it's really interesting to have nine riders at training sessions when we're used to having four or five. We're in a position where we can send different teams to different competitions and still be thinking about medalling.
"Obviously the team pursuit will always be the main event for us, because by its nature it's the most controllable event. But if I could do the team pursuit and one other race in Tokyo I'd be delighted. At the moment I'd say the Madison is probably my best shot at doing a bunch race there, but there's still a lot of time to go and a lot of talent in the squad, so we'll see."
Tickets for the TISSOT UCI Track Cycling World Cup in London are available to purchase here<https://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/britishcycling>.
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Photo: Rémy Gros