The beaming smile of a world championships rookie

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Sometimes a story idea moves in a completely different direction than you anticipated. I set out to introduce two rookies to you; two first-time Road World Championship riders. I ended up with this story about Amber Joseph, the first rider off the ramp at the women’s elite time trial on Thursday, representing Barbados.

“I live and ride for the UCI World Cycling Center (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland,” Joseph tells me. “I had never done Road World Championships but they were supposed to be on our doorstep this year. I could familiarize the roads and prepare for this great unknown. Normally I ride on the track but I joined the WCC this year to do more road racing and gain endurance to build on for my track races.

“When the World Championships were moved to Italy, I didn’t want to go but my coach said I should. So here I am, enjoying this experience. I was quite nervous before the time trial but there is no pressure on me here.”

The result of the time trial is not relevant to her. It’s all about experience for the now-20-year-old cyclist. She has a bubbly personality. Her smiles radiate through the phone line. The energy on the other side is high and contagious. She didn’t lie when she said she is always smiling. A Google search shows rows of pictures of a vibrant, perpetually smiling rider from Barbados in blue and yellow kit.

“It’s the first thing you will see on Barbados: smiling people,” she says. “It’s my home. It’s paradise, the vibe, the sun, the white sands. So, we smile.”

Joseph heads down the start ramp to begin the 2020 Worlds time trial. She is the first woman to represent Barbados at the Road World Championships.

Joseph was born on the island and is of mixed descent: her father is a Barbadian of color, her mother English. When she grew up on the island, she did a myriad of sports, including swimming and running. She was given a bike as a kid but the training wheels never came off, so to speak — she never rode it. But at some point that all changed, and the bike changed her life.

“A friend of mine asked if I was interested in a triathlon because I was already a good swimmer and runner,” she recalls. “She said I could use her dad’s race bike. The moment I jumped on it, I was sold. The feeling of freedom it gave me was unbelievable. I was in charge of where I was going and how fast.”

When Joseph and her mother moved back to England, she joined the Palmer Park Velo club and enrolled in the British Cycling apprentice program. Track became her specialty.

“I tried keirins, sprints and endurance events when I was with British Cycling,” she says. “I did them all and had to decide what to specialize in. The Barbados federation asked me to take part in the Pan American Games as a junior. My heart and soul had always stayed with my island so I changed my affiliation and started representing Barbados. I also started focusing on the omnium.”

It was a successful start to a career. She got a silver medal in the omnium as a first-year junior and came back the year after to win the gold. And then she managed another silver.

“I was so disheartened by that result because everyone expected me to bring home the gold to Barbados,” she says. “I hadn’t planned on riding the points race but when I did, I made a bet with my mother. [If I won] a medal, she would have to buy me a ticket to Barbados. I won the gold and flew home. Barbados will always be home. England is home away from home and Aigle is home away from home away from home,” she laughs.

Her track record on the velodrome is already impressive with a seventh place in the scratch race at her first senior world championships. She’s done Six Day events and the Revolution Series, a televised track event in the UK.

Joseph’s dreams are big but she feels that representing a small nation has its disadvantages too.

“We have so much sporting potential on the island,” she says. “World-class cricket players, squash, athletics, field hockey. But we are also a small island with limited means. Getting off the island to compete is expensive. Equipment is expensive. The bigger nations have so much more in terms of equipment that we can never match.

“However, I do hope to inspire young people to make it. If I can do what I did with limited means but with dedication and determination, they should too. I hope to be an inspiration.”

Her dream is to implement a structure on Barbados for girls to start cycling. “We already have a men’s team but I want to inspire girls too,” she says. “Hard work and determination can get you a long way on the bike but that also goes for off the bike. I need people believing that we can do this on Barbados. We have beautiful roads and climbs. Not the ones I got to know in Switzerland but still. I want to help, inspire and mentor all girls.”

There is a lively discussion now about the representation of colour in our sport. Joseph feels the costs of the sport are a factor but can’t pinpoint exactly why more girls on Barbados don’t ride.

“I can’t tell you why there are not a lot of girls of colour on the bike,” she says. “I don’t look at colour. I look at the heart and soul of people.”

Amber Joseph’s primary focus stays with track racing. The points system to qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo is a two-year cycle. She missed out on the first year because she was still a junior. Paris 2024 is her goal. Her future on the road is still clouded in unknowns but she is only 20 and has a long future ahead of her.

Joseph in action at the 2020 Worlds time trial.

“I didn’t enrol for the road race at the world championships, only the time trial. The course is just not for me. I am not a climber. In this weird year I did one race, the Climber’s Trophy in Vresse sur Semois. No, I am definitely not a climber,” she laughs.

“What will road racing bring me in the future? I don’t know. Anything can happen. It’s bike racing. I learned in Imola that I have to enjoy every second of what I do, to enjoy riding my bike. I am just a baby when it comes to cycling but I know I love it.

“That’s what you need in any sport. If you don’t love what you do, don’t do it. It’s too hard if you don’t absolutely love what you do, so that’s what I do. Every moment of it.”

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