Introducing Eluned King: the next big thing in women's cycling
With the rebirth of the Tour de France Femmes and the rapid growth of women's cycling, there's no better rider to interview than Eluned King - the possible future 'Queen' of British cycling. Given her impressive and diverse palmarès, she has already proved herself to be one of the UK's best female cyclists. Eluned King is a rider to remember, as she may be pulling on that Yellow or stripey jumper in a few years’ time.
Training hard or hardly Training? Photo © Honor Elliott
Throughout her teenage years, El dominated the UK scene both on the road and track, notably winning the UK National Road Championships in 2019 and representing GB at the World Championships. 2020 was sadly a year to forget, as for many UK riders.
However, at the end of the season she took the step up to the Under-23 GB Academy, moving from her home in Swansea to Manchester. Spending 2021 riding the track and road programme with GB, she made the most of the limited opportunities given to her by the pandemic. On the domestic scene El continued to show strength given the situation, winning the prestigious Otley GP and the opening round of the Tour Series in Guisborough. Meanwhile, on the continent El finished 6th at GP Ecostruct (UCI), showing her strength against the pro ranks in Europe. Her strength on the boards was also shown in 2021 with a Silver medal in the Team Pursuit U23 European Championships and making the selection for the TP senior team at the European Championships.
At the end of the 2021 season, El signed a two year neo-pro contract with Le Col-Wahoo, with plans of running a dual programme of riding the road with them, but also continuing her track career with GB. Already kicking off her season with her first Classics campaign in Belgium at just 19, it should be an exciting season for the young pro. I chatted to El about the past, present and future!
To give all our readers an insight into you as a rider, describe your perfect race; from the parcours to the weather and tactics involved.
I love racing in terrible weather. Then racing over short punchy climbs, around 1km long and finishing on a steep ramp from a reduced bunch kick. I like a short and hard race which splits but that ultimately comes back together into a group of around 20.
Talk us through how 2022 has kicked off! From preseason camps right through to how your season started? And of course how it is going!
I was really lucky and spent most of my winter abroad. I did a preseason camp with GB in Mallorca straight out of Off Season. Then in December I had my first training camp with the team in December in Cambrils, Spain. Unfortunately when I got home I caught COVID over Christmas which halted my training for a bit.
But I was basically out of isolation and straight onto a plane to Mallorca with GB again. A few weeks later I was back in Spain with the team. Since then I've basically been in Belgium full time for the Spring Classics.
Teamwork makes the dreamwork, King on domestique duties at Gent-Wevelgem. Photo © Theoclarkes
I had a very rough start, crashing in my first race and had a suspected concussion which took me out of GP Samyn, which I was really looking forward to. I went home for a week to recuperate and recover, and then got sick with an upper respiratory infection. It was a miserable couple of weeks, but I was able to come back to Belgium for the Roubaix and Flanders recon followed by some racing. The level is really high in the peloton, but I'm learning so much just living and racing out here.
How are you finding your first real Classics season at just 19 with a professional team that has entries to Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège?
It's really hard! Especially coming from racing in the UK, where the peloton is generally smaller, and there's quite a big disparity in the physical ability. Everyone is aggressive, and everyone races as if they can get a result. The hardest part for me is positioning, I constantly feel like I'm battling to move forward, or fighting for key moments.
At the moment I have a positioning role withing the team, which is a different pressure to what I'm used to. I never had to think of other people, I could move through the peloton alone and in the sprint think only of myself. Now I'm thinking for five other people, and how my actions can ultimately be the difference between them getting a result, or making a split, or not getting caught up in a crash.
You spent 2021 on the GB under-23 academy. How did you find it and when did you initially join the GB Programme?
I have been a part of the GB pathway since I was 15, so have followed the traditional pathway of the Junior and Senior academy. I really enjoy being part of the academy, it's a great transition from being a teenager, and starting your career as a cyclist. Similar to university, you don't just have an education (in our case, training etc), but learn valuable life skills like living away from home.
At the start I found it really difficult, especially because as soon as I moved away from home, we went into another long lockdown. But we have a really great group of girls, which makes a massive difference. Another massive positive to the Academy is the support, having access to World Class physiologists, S&C coaches, physios etc. which has a massive effect on your development.
After a heavy crash, the GB U23 squad still managed to podium at the under-23 Euros. Photo © UEC
During 2021, you made the step up to the Senior Track Team for the Team Pursuit. Is this something you’re hoping to continue into the future? Could Paris 2024 be on the cards?
Yeah, it was actually a bit of a last minute decision. I had a really bad crash at the U23 Track Euros in the Madison. I sustained a concussion which left me feeling pretty rough for weeks, once I was back fit, a conversation around taking a mixed team to Senior Euros was discussed. Some of the podium riders were, understandably, taking a break after the Olympics, so we got to race at the Senior Europeans.
Doing sessions with Katie Archibald and Neah Evans, getting advice and just generally chatting to them was a really cool experience!
For 2022 you signed your first professional contract with Le Col–Wahoo. How and why did this come about and will you still have opportunities to ride for GB?
I picked up a sixth place at GP Eco Struct in May last year, and then followed that up with third at Cicle Classic and a win at Otley GP. After that I was contacted by Tom Varney to have a chat about joining the team. As a Brit I obviously had knowledge of the team and liked what they stood for. As soon as I spoke to Tom, and then Nico Marche (DS), I instantly clicked with the ethos so it was an easy decision to join the team.
I am still a member of the Senior Academy, and after the Spring Classics I am planning on getting back on the track for some racing and TP training in particular for the U23 Track Euros. I think racing on the road will ultimately make me a better track rider, and vice versa.
Having made the move to Le Col–Wahoo, does this change where you’ll be based for this season and the future?
I am currently still living in Manchester with the academy, but have been in Belgium since late February. After Liège-Bastogne-Liège, I will be returning to Manchester. I do hope to move abroad in the next couple of years though, but as is the issue with most Brits at the moment, finding visas is proving difficult.
With the split programme of being both on Le Col-Wahoo and on GB. What’s your calendar looking like for 2022?
I still would like to race on the track as much as possible, but with Glasgow Nations Cup on the same week as Flèche and Liège, I decided to go with the road focus. In May I will hopefully be racing in Spain, there's three big races very close together so it makes a nice block so that would be really cool. After that I'm not too sure, I'll definitely target National Champs, but do it around track training as I hope to be selected for U23 Europeans and of course, the Commonwealth Games.
Preseason camp with Le-Col Wahoo at the start of 2022 © Honor Elliott
How are you finding juggling the balance of training as a track cyclist, but also as a professional road cyclist?
In the winter I split my time pretty equally between track and road, with some gym slotted in too. But since January I've not touched the track due to a mixture of travelling, sickness and Manchester Velodrome closing. That's not been ideal for my track goals this year, especially for something like Team Pursuit where you need a really strong foundation within the group to perform. You don't just rock up to a championship with four strong riders, it takes several months and a lot of repetitive drills to build a team.
Although I've not been on the track as much as I hoped, it's been really good to hit the spring with full focus on the road. I have enough firsts this year anyway; first European season, first professional team, first time with team roles etc. that I think it would be pretty overwhelming trying to fit some track in too.
With this extensive and mixed calendar. What are your objectives and aims for 2022? Would the Tour de France or Commonwealth Games be on the cards?
The team has been selected for the Tour de France which is awesome, obviously I would love to make selection, but also only if I'm physically and mentally ready. I don't ever want to be on the start line just to make up numbers.
Over the Summer I hope to switch to a track focus with Commonwealth Games and U23 Tracks Europeans. In both events we have a real medal opportunity, especially in the Team Pursuit. I would love to race a bunch race too, but we will have to see.
There has certainly been a growth in women’s cycling the past few years. But there are still large inequalities and unequal opportunities within the sport. In all aspects of life, people are asking themselves what they can do to reduce inequality on an individual level. What do you think the male cycling population can do to reduce this gap?
To engage with women's cycling, watch the coverage, like the Instagram posts, retweet on Twitter. Just do whatever you can to get the sport out there. At the moment, the argument is, do we go for more prize money, or more coverage. In my opinion, coverage is always best, as prize money only rewards those at the highest level in the peloton. I don't mean to not push for equal prize money, but I think greater media coverage rewards and supports smaller teams, or domestique role riders.
King won the opening round of the 2021 Tour Series, one of the most contested events on the UK calendar. Photo © Honor Elliott
We all watch and respect riders such as Luke Rowe or Tim Declercq on the male side, but that's only as we now have coverage of races from the start. Before you'd only see the last 40km and a results sheet which doesn't actually tell you much about the race at all. We have the same type of riders on the women's side too, but they're just not in the know as there's no one filming their contribution.
Do you think the steps taken over the past five years are signs of a bright future for the women’s side of the sport and could equality be achievable?
Yes, I'm so grateful to the generation of female cyclists before me, I am in a privileged position of being able to race full time without having a job at the side. Five years ago, that wouldn't have been possible for the majority of people.
On the racing side, we have more prestigious races and for the Cobbled Classics especially, there's more coverage and a lot of excitement surrounding the races too. There's still a long way to go, but compared to five years ago, the sport is more professional and the level is improving exponentially every year.
At the end of the day, it's not about reaching 'equality' with the men. We don't want to be included in their history, but write our own.
Looking into the future, what would be your ideal cycling career path? Track success followed by a transition into a more road focused programme, or possibly just a road programme? Which is more likely now in women’s cycling with the development of events like the TDF Femmes.
At the moment I'm keen to get as much experience as possible racing every type of race to see what my preference is, but in the future I hope to build my season around the Spring Classics. Racing for the win at Flanders and Roubaix is the ultimate goal.
I will pursue the track as long as possible especially as I really enjoy the bunch racing aspect, so to mix some Nations Cups or major championships would be great. If I'm good enough to be in the Team Pursuit squad for Paris or LA Olympics I will fit that around a full road programme, but we will see. I'm of the opinion that track racing, and TP in particular, is starting to become more and more specific. The physiology needed to perform at the highest level is really unique and the training is completely different to someone targeting the Tour or the Giro. Although the German, Italian and French Team Pursuit squads on the female side are all accomplished road racers so it is possible to do both to a high level.
El taking her first win of the 2021 season at Otley GP. Photo © SW Pix
We have seen the difference in style between different pros, so when on the podium would you rather wear a casquette or a baseball cap? And why!?
I love a casquette, the team have some super cool designed one which I'm absolutely loving out in Belgium at the moment, especially with the bad weather!
Finally some quick fire questions... Favourite race?
Stage race, La Vuelta. One day, World Championships.
World or Olympic Champion?
On the road, World Champion. But on the track, Olympic.
A hard one! Track or road?
A lack of Champagne practice in 2020 and 2021! © SW Pix
Brecon Beacons or Peak District?
Brecon Beacons for sure!
A long ride in South Wales with good company and a coffee stop.
If you weren’t a cyclist what career would you pursue?
Probably something to do with statistics or data analysis.