After the frustrations of Covid lockdown, Handsling-sponsored elite track cyclist Amber Joseph is raring to go in what could be a milestone season. The 21-year-old Barbadian, who rides a Handsling TR3evo track bike, has competed at the highest level at the 2019 World Championships in Poland, the 2020 World Championships in Berlin and in the Senior UCI ranks. Now she’s gearing up for a host of new challenges, including racing for a US-based pro team - her second ever contract . She’s also eyeing the velodromes at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. We caught up with Amber at the Handsling workshop before she jetted off to the US to start her new journey.
Q: It’s been many months without the intensity of competitive cycling - how are the legs feeling?
I’ve been training for a long time now and I’m very much ready to start racing. I was able to get on the track at Herne Hill (Velodrome) recently. To pin on the number and get some track into the legs felt great. It was a shock to the system for sure - the intensity of sprinting and racing with the men. But it was good to be back and feel the adrenaline going through my body again.
Q: How was your lockdown experience from a cycling point of view? Can you take any positives from what must have been a frustrating time at this important phase of your career?
I love racing - it’s what I live for. So yes, it was frustrating. But I was also really appreciative of being able to be at home with family, which I hadn’t done for a while. I was based at the UCI centre in Switzerland so I’d be there for months at a time then go away for races. It was nice to recharge my batteries during lockdown - I needed that. I also spent time working on my weaknesses - endurance training, gym sessions strengthening my back, working on my core. I had the time to take everything apart and work on them individually. Overall, I'd say it’s been positive.
Q: And now a new challenge awaits you in America. What can you tell us about your new team?
I’ve joined the Los Angeles-based team L39ION (pronounced Legion). It’s a team that I’m extremely proud to represent. I believe in them and their values. It’s a black-owned team that wants to bring diversity and change into the sport. It’s exactly what I would love to do in my career - to inspire younger generations and bring more diversity into our sport. The journey with this new team is meant to be at this time in my life and I believe it will make a huge difference.
Q: How important is this move for your overall career progression?
I think that this team will open a lot of doors for me and allow me to grow as an athlete. There will be exposure to many more disciplines in cycling, including road racing, and that’s something that will help me improve. Cornering, descending - all round confidence on my bike. These are the skills I aim to develop with this team. I’ll also be working on my endurance and my top end speed, really focusing on my strengths as well as my weaknesses - training on the track and hours on the road. The competition will be strong, but let’s see what happens.
Q: Why do you particularly need to work on your confidence on the road?
I actually didn’t grow up cycling. In Barbados, i didn’t cycle around as a kid or ride to school. I didn’t have the opportunity to build that confidence from an early age. I was all about sports when I was younger, but only started cycling because I did a triathlon in 2012. I was a strong runner and swimmer, but didn’t know I could actually ride a bike. I came second that year and the first the next. It wasn’t until 2013 that someone lent me a track bike and I found somebody to help train me. I remember getting on the track and thought it was like the bike I’d ridden a year ago. I stopped pedalling and jolted forward. I had no idea about the world of cycling, but now I love it.
Q: What’s your race calendar looking like for 2021?
I’ll be doing crits and road racing with my team. I’ll be based in Pennsylvania training on the track and keeping the track legs going. All being well, I’ll then have UCI races in T-Town in late summer. After that I’ll have Cali 2021 Junior Pan American Games, which is a huge goal for me this year, as well as Pan Am track championships when they get a finalised date. It’s a busy year, but compared to last year, it’s a year I’m more keen to do. I’m very excited. I love racing - it’s what keeps my motivation up and my mind positive.
Q: How do you see your career progressing in terms of disciplines?
Right now it’s track - that’s my main goal. But who knows what will happen over the next couple of years. I might become really good at crits and find a career in that as well as track. I might even venture out to the road a bit more and find I like that. But track and the 2024 Olympics is the focus over the next four years.
Q: As a track-focused rider, what attracted you to the TR3evo and what’s it like to ride?
When I first saw the frame I thought it was gorgeous. There’s also a connection because Simon’s (Handsling owner Simon Whiten) wife is from Barbados. Two months before the Worlds, I started training on it. I was using training wheels and I was cold, but it still felt good. Later, when I was in a warm velodrome with race kit, race helmet, race wheels - it was the smoothest thing I’ve ever ridden on the track. It was beautiful to ride and I would never go back to my old bike. I felt like I was floating. It was very easy to manoeuvre - it was light and I felt very firmly on the track.
Q: You worked your way through the British Cycling ranks in the UK, but switched your allegiance to Barbados. What does it mean to you to represent them on a national level?
I was born and bred in Barbados and lived there until I was about 13-years-old. Then we moved to England. I remember first putting on the national jersey in Trinidad at the Junior Pan Ams - it’s an indescribable feeling having those colours on me and representing my home. Barbados will always have that special place in my heart because it’s like no other place I’ve ever been. It’s paradise.
Q: Finally, is inspiring women in sport back home in Barbados something that is important to you? What support is there for young cyclists?
One day, I would love to be a role model for the young girls in Barbados. But I have a long way to go and a lot to prove before then. They support me the best they can and I’m very appreciative of it. But compared to GB, France, Australia, all the countries I race against… their funding and support is massive. It’s on another level. We’ll go to Nations Cups (UCI Track Cycling Nations Cup) and I’ll be there on my own or with my mum playing Uno or eating mango and pineapple. Next to me they’ll be someone with a masseuse, a swannie (soigneur), and a team manager. It’s very different, but I love the relaxed atmosphere and being able to do things the way I want to. It allows me to race without pressure and that’s when I race at my best. I’m not the weakest in the bunch, but I’m not the strongest either. I’ve got a long way to go and I’m learning how to push myself more. My good days are definitely still to come. I’ll put in my hard work and whatever you put in you get out.