Barker: Stage could rip professional field to shreds
IANTO BARKER, who knows the roads better than most, believes that Devon's Stage Seven (Barnstaple-Dartmouth) of the Tour of Britain could rip the race's best-ever field to shreds.
Barker (pictured left), 32, one of the UK's most experienced pros, will ride the Tour with Team UK Youth, seven years after he was the highest placed 'home' finisher (9th overall) in the 2005 edition.
"I know most of the roads and all the climbs well, but I'd never connected them up until we 'recce'd' the stage as a team recently," said Barker.
"When we did it, I realised why you wouldn't!
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"There's nearly 3,000 metres of climbing in 106 miles, in lots of short, sharp climbs.
"That can be harder than long climbs, when you can get into a rhythm.
"There will be no rhythm on the Devon Stage.
"On longer climbs, you can ride in a group and you can cover a lot of the ground on momentum.
"The Devon climbs will genuinely take a lot out of everyone.
"There are no flat spots.
"When we rode it the other day, all of us found it hard and they were all going well.
"The funny thing is, I'm really looking forward to it!"
Barker now lives in Berkshire and he divides his time between cycle racing and running his own cycle clothing company Le Col.
But he grew up in Littlehempston, near Totnes, and attended Dartington's Steiner School.
Veteran European pro Jeremy Hunt, who will ride this year's ToB in support of Team Sky Procycling stars Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, was also a Steiner pupil. Like Hunt, Barker took his first steps in the sport with the local Mid-Devon CC/Colin Lewis Cycles, in whose colours he won the National Junior Road Race Championships in 1998.
Seven years later he won a bronze medal in the National Senior Championships.
Barker built up an impressive record at home and abroad before, disillusioned at failing to secure a decent pro contract while rivals he'd beaten did so, he retired from the sport in 2006.
But he staged a successful comeback three years ago and can still give as good as he takes among the best of the UK-based pros.
He now acts as an 'elder statesman' among a fast-improving Team UK Youth sponsored by Exeter-based ex-Formula One driving world champion Nigel Mansell.