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An interview with Yanto Barker, September 21, 2005
Wanted: pro contract
Yanto Barker says he's done the groundwork to being a pro, he's shown he can race against and beat the pros - so what, then, is he waiting for? One pro contract seems to be the only thing missing, writes Shane Stokes.
Yanto Barker (Driving Force Logistics) had a fine showing at the recent Tour of Britain, finishing as best British rider in ninth place overall. The basis for his ride was performing well in the crosswinds and high speeds on the opening day to get into the crucial break, finishing sixth on the stage. He then went into the final day of racing in 11th place overall, moving up two places by the end of the London criterium.
"It is good to be at the sharp end of racing with guys like Nick [Nuyens]," Barker said after the stage. "There is a very good field in this race, including Tour de France riders, and here I was watching them, racing with them and suffering with them on the climbs."
The 25 year-old had been hoping to place in the bonus sprints on the final day to make sure of a top-ten position. "I did have a go for one of the sprints but haven't been sprinting so well in this race," he told the media, not realising at that stage that time lost by Bert de Waele (Landbouwkrediet Colnago) and Erwin Thijs in the criterium would move him above them in GC. "I think I have lost some weight and that has shown on the hills, but I think it has also shown in the sprints... positively in the hills and negatively in the sprints. I don't have the same flat-out power, but am climbing better. So I think it is a fair compromise. I didn't get the time bonus, but I got everything out of this week to put myself where I am. I have no regrets for this race."
Barker had been training for a long time in preparation for the Tour of Britain. "I was aiming to do well in this race," the Welshman said. "I have been training for it for a while, it has been a focus since the nationals and I was aiming for a stage win, a top 10, or both. I always feel better when I achieve what I have set out to do, but even if I don't do that, I know I have ridden to the best of my ability.
"I am disappointed not to get a stage win. But I'm realistic, too - there were some very good riders winning stages, and when you get into the break on the first day and are a GC rider, it limits things a little as regards having the freedom to go for stage wins. But that's the way it goes."
Barker has been based in the UK for much of the season, racing with the Driving Force Logistic squad. He says that competing at the Tour of Britain is at a higher level than what he has been accustomed to, but that he was able to rise to the challenge. "I have always enjoyed big occasions," he explained. "I went to the worlds at 18 and did a good ride there. I have noticed that I worked well under pressure, and with mental preparation and focus and an intention to do something, I can usually up my level for the big occasions. This race was no different. Like I say, it was exhilarating to be at the top of the hills with Rogers, Nuyens, Blaudzun and good bike riders like that."
Barker has somehow been overlooked by the British selectors for the world championships but will target another major meet in 2006. "Next year, for Wales there is the Commonwealth Games. I am really keen to represent them there and again up my level and do something. I have an objective and my focus all winter will be on that, basically. I will approach it in the same manner that I approached the Tour of Britain, with a clear intention and positive thinking."
His other big goal is, of course, earning a pro contract on the continent. He enjoyed several successful seasons in French amateur clubs, winning the French Mavic Cup in 2003 and 2004 as part of the CC Etupes squad. He also has a win on a stage of the Circuit des Mines to his credit, as well as a 12th place finish in the under 23 world championships in Zolder 2002 and 11th in the junior worlds in Valkenburg four years earlier.
Now he's hoping that his Tour of Britain ride can attract a deal for 2006. "I would like to ride again in Europe. I am always keen to step up, move on, keep progressing and I hope that there is possibly a chance that somebody, somewhere might have seen what I am capable of 25. There is no reason why I can't progress for the next for five years. I would like to take the opportunity and race abroad again," he says. "I am convinced I would fit in well and that I have a lot to offer."
Cyclingnews: What is your reaction to getting that top 10 place in the Tour of Britain?
Yanto Barker: I am very pleased. It was my objective all along, which I set out well before the start of the race. I enjoy working towards goals and that is why felt like I did in the race, stepping up to the level that there was in the Tour of Britain.
CN: This year you were fourth in the FBD Insurance Rás in Ireland, third in the British championships and second in the Havant GP. Before this season, you were racing in France - can you tell me about your time there?
YB: I raced for two seasons with CC Etupes, two with VC Roubaix and one for a small French club called Troyes. The biggest results for me, which I consider my greatest achievements in France, were finishing first two years in a row in the overall Mavic Cup Division One series. It is comprised of the hardest races there. The Mavic Cup is held over eight months and eight rounds; I won that at 23 and 24 against all the old pros and the guys who signed contracts that year. I beat them all. My strength is consistency, which I think it is shown every season that I have raced seriously.
CN: What prompted a move back to England this year?
YB: Well, I was in France hoping that what I was doing there was what is needed to get into a big division one pro team, or a team close to that level. I felt that I had done my best there in France and I had nothing else to achieve. I was the most consistent rider in the hardest races two years in a row. I won two or three races each year as well, including big races such as a stage of the Circuit des Mines, and was also up there in bigger French stage races. I didn't get a contract, though, so I felt like I needed a change of scene. That was behind my decision to come back to Britain and it just happened to coincide with the launch of this new DFL team.
CN: What appealed to you about the team and the move?
YB: Well, they were going to offer a good standard of racing which was important, as I would find it hard to motivate myself if I didn't have that. Plus there was the change of scene - I would get to live in Britain, which I consider home. I actually enjoyed it [being back in the UK], it was very relaxing in a lot of ways that France isn't, purely because Britain is all familiar. I feel like it is the right decision. I have used it for what is and taken the best out of it, achieving some good results. I think that before the season started, if I had laid out what I wanted to do this year, I would have been happy if somebody told me in January that I would go on to achieve the things that I have done. I'd have been satisfied with what I got. They were the days that I really wanted to go well on and they were the days I gave my best.
CN: Do you have any idea why racing in France didn't produce the result that you wished for...in other words, a pro contract?
YB: Well, one or two years there was a definite lack of contracts, so that obviously made it harder. And secondly, riders are in the public eye in France and I guess those teams like French riders. That is the message I got. It is quite subtle but they definitely leaned towards the French side rather than the foreign guys. You basically have to accept the way it is. I'm sure it is the same in Belgium, in Germany, in Italy - they want their own riders, their own names and their own personalities, not necessarily foreigners. So I guess that was one influence which made things tough.
CN: Has your strong Tour of Britain ride led to any talks with teams yet?
YB: It is early days yet, but I'm hoping that there will be something. I feel that I showed myself at a good level, and I also feel that I am good enough to compete at that level regularly. Not just that, I believe I can compete at the top end of that level. I think what I showed in the Tour of Britain and the way that I stepped up to this level is an indication that I can race at this standard. In fact, I always perform better at a higher speed. This gets the best out of me rather than being a slog, which is what the Premier calendar races in England can be like.
I guess that is part of the reason why I enjoyed the Rás in Ireland so much; they actually raced properly. Even if some of the riders there are out of their depth and can only race for 80 to 100 kilometres of the stage, they compete properly for that 100 kilometres and they get it all out. Whoever is left at the end then keeps going for the finish. But in Britain it is not actually like that. There are guys trying to be a bit sly, trying to duck and dive. There is a very inconsistent speed to British racing. This is probably because they lack the depth. There are not enough good guys who race from start to finish.
CN: I guess if you can show yourself in a race such as the Tour of Britain, it shows that you have an extra level to step up to what they don't have...
YB: Yes, I definitely have another gear. In addition, the difference for me every year in terms of how much I improve is impressive, in terms of natural development and from the experience of racing at high levels and getting a lot of miles in my legs. I am impressed by the how the body keeps on getting stronger. People say about cycling that you are at your peak at 28 or 29. But I remember talking to Julian Winn, the Welsh rider, and he says that he felt that he was getting better every year, even now. He says that he still feel stronger each year than the year before. I feel like there is a lot more to come for me, getting up to this level regularly and perhaps even going up another level again. ProTour level or something like that.
CN: So what do you think you can offer a potentially interested team?
YB: I don't mean to sound arrogant or presumptuous or anything, but I actually feel that I have that capability in me [to race at the top level]. I think I would be a very good asset to any team, and that if I get the chance, I can really prove my worth.