The Backstedt sisters – Elynor and Zoe – were born to cycle. Easy for them, they just have to get on their bikes. Not so easy for their parents, Magnus and Megan, as they try to cope with the practical difficulties of helping the careers of two of British cycling’s most promising youngsters. Owen Morgan found out how they do it.
Parents the length and breadth of Wales will understand the challenges of delivering sporting offspring to various training sessions and competitions on time.
Number one child may need to be dropped off at gymnastics at 6pm, while number two child has to be at football a few miles up the road at exactly the same time.
So spare a thought for the Backstedt family, of Pontyclun, where cycling prodigies Elynor (17) and Zoe (14) are often competing in different countries let alone different towns.
Recently, younger sister Zoe was winning the British Cycling Circuit Series Youth A Race in Yorkshire, while Elynor was representing Great Britain in Belgium – winning two individual European titles and coming within a whisker of a junior world record.
Asked how he and wife Megan cope with the logistics of having two world class sporting daughters competing at different age groups, dad Magnus laughs: “It’s a nightmare!
“I think sometimes it would probably be easier to run DHL or UPS or something like that. But we make it happen somehow.”
However, there is a little more to this tale of sporting problem solving.
Mr and Mrs Backstedt have some experience at competing on the world cycling stage.
In a glittering professional career, former Swedish National Road Race Champion Magnus was a stage winner at the Tour De France, the Giro d’Italia and won the prestigious Paris-Roubaix classic in 2004.
Megan was the 1998 British National Road Race champion and competed for Wales at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in the road race and points race, where she finished fifth.
Even so, helping their daughters continue their stratospheric rise towards cycling success is a challenge.
Magnus says: “Everyone finds a way of coping and a way of managing to do what they want to do, it’s no different for us.
“Our biggest priority is to get the girls to where they need to be, to allow them to do want they want and to chase their dreams. We bend over backwards to make that happen for them.
“Especially at this time of year there isn’t really any routine, it’s ‘where’s the next bike race, how do we get there? With them being three years apart they don’t race in the same location all that often.
“This year, Elynor has been away with British Cycling an awful lot, which I guess makes it easier for us to manage to get Zoe to where she needs to be, but at the same time it does mean we miss out on watching Elynor racing live.
“When she was at the European champs we were sat scrolling around on various different devices trying to find any lap times, updates, or live feeds to see how she was getting on.”
It may be busy and takes some organising, but it’s a lifestyle which suits the sporting family Backstedt.
“We’re not really the kind of people who sit still an awful lot,” says Magnus. “There is always something happening. I think we all enjoy that lifestyle when we are busy and we’re travelling places.
“We get asked ‘when do you go on holiday’? We’re on holiday every weekend!
“It was something we asked the girls a few years ago. We said ‘look, we can do less bike races and go on holiday somewhere, or we can do a lot more bike races, what do you want to do’?
“The answer was quite simple and quite straightforward, and it was “we go bike racing’!”
With mum and dad having been top class professional cyclists, was there any doubt which sporting path the girls would take?
“They chose for themselves,” says Magnus. “Especially Zoe, who was very much into tennis for a while, netball, and all the other sports kids do.
“It was definitely not something we thought that the girls would get into, but the fact that they have is obviously very nice and the fact that they love doing the sport we’ve enjoyed throughout our lives is brilliant.
“I guess it’s both good and bad for them when they get compared to mum and dad and all that sort of stuff. It adds a fair bit of extra pressure on them, but so far they seem to be coping ok.”
Do the girls follow mum or dad in their riding styles?
“There are quite a few similarities. But if anything, so far, they both seem to be an awful lot better than we ever were. Hopefully that will continue.”
If they are better than mum and dad were, how far can the girls go in the sport?
“Who knows?” says Magnus. “I think they are still very young. I guess at this point it’s all speculation. I hope they can go far for their own sake because that’s where they seem to want to go.
“Certainly, if you’re looking at their commitment to the sport they could go to the very highest level.
“Whether they end up getting there or not, it’s a bit of a guess right now, but it’s certainly looking very promising at this stage in their careers.”
Promising may be something of an understatement given the string of titles and prestigious race wins they have already amassed at home and abroad.
Is Magnus surprised at what they have achieved at such a young age?
“You obviously hope that you’re kids are going to do well, but when you’re starting to look at World Championship medals and a European title now for Elynor it’s definitely something that wasn’t on the radar and wasn’t something we thought we would be witnessing. But it’s obviously lovely when it happens.
“For us, it’s what the girls want to do. That’s what Meg and I go with and try to facilitate that in every possible way.
“As long as that is what they want to do then we are happy to continue with that and take them as far as we possibly can to help them.”