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The Alpine Challenge: Talks to Yanto Barker

by Holly Blades

Yesterday saw the first stage of the HotChillee Alpine Challenge take place in Annecy, France. The "Professional Event for Amateurs" covers four stages in the French Alps and in this, the second in a series, we meet a participant in the Alpine Challenge and ask them how they're getting on in the mountains.

Yanto Barker is a former Junior British Road Race winner and owner of cycling clothing company Le Col. He also rides for Pendragon Sports-Le Col-Colnago team, a familiar presence on the Halfords Tour Series. He currently sits in the leader's jersey of the Alpine Challenge after one day in the saddle. We caught up with him to find out about his experience so far, and what's in store for him and Le Col.

"Today was great. It was my first stage in this kind of event so I had fun as well as pressing on for two big climbs. The organisation is great though, I felt safe at all times on some quite fast descents!"

One of the main attractions about the Alpine Challenge is the host town of Annecy, something Yanto seems to be enjoying.

"Annecy is great, it's got amazing roads, beautiful scenery and not many cars up in the mountains. For a cyclist you can't really get much better than that. There are also lots of beautiful things here besides the obvious - Nice bars and coffee places in the old town, not to mention some very cool shops."

Coming from a pro-cycling background, Yanto still finds the enthusiasm of the participants contagious, as he says, "The people here are all very friendly and obviously have a shared passion of cycling, they're all here for the same reason, which is because they love riding."

Does a pro-cyclist need to prepare for a Sportive, albeit a four stage mountain one? It appears being in form is all part of the job as Yanto tells us, "I've been all over the country racing and promoting my clothing business Le Col so I've not prepared specifically for this event. However, I had my last race the weekend before coming here so I've been in pretty good shape anyway!"

The Alpine Challenge isn't just a jolly in France for Yanto Barker, he's been over in Annecy launching a new venture for Le Col, in the form of Le Marq - a new high-end clothing range aimed at the discerning amateur. It's an exciting time for the Welshman. 

"I've been working to bring a product that services these types of events. The idea was to make kit that little bit better then what is available at the moment. It fits the type of people here who are fairly educated, and wear premium clothing. I'm working with a couple of partners to bring that quality feel to the Alpine Challenge and other events like The London-Paris 2012. I was very pleased when Stephen Roche said he really like the shorts and that they were very comfortable! I think that's a good endorsement, so were on the right track."

HotChillee's Sven Thiele (centre) with Red Jersey holder Yanto Barker and Pink Jersey holder Kelli Bayliss

When asked whether he finds it hard to juggle racing with his entrepreneurial aspects, Yanto has a simple response. He tells us, "Delegation is the answer! I have an assistant who does a lot of work that I wouldn't have time to do any more. But ultimately it's a work life balance - I love riding and I'm competitive so it's in my nature to want to do well at both business and sport. I think people could look and say I should do more of this or less of that, and I suppose time will tell - but I'm happy with the balance so far."

As somebody who's experienced both the pro-circuit and sportives, Yanto thinks the Alpine Challenge is up there in its organisation. 

"The Alpine Challenge is unique because it offers a chance for non-racing cyclist to be looked after like a top pro. HotChillee have done a fantastic job here. Honestly, it's run as good and efficiently as any pro race I've ridden and I've done a few over a career of 15 years - including a good few Tour of Britains!"

As the Red Jersey holder, and leader of the race, you could be forgiven for thinking Yanto may have some tactics for the next few days. It turns out it might be a lot simpler than that! 

"I'm going to ride as hard as I can and hope no one's left! Joking aside, but that is it. The timed sections here are big mountains so there's no messing - Fittest wins! Either way, I'm very proud to wear this jersey that I helped design."

Whether he makes it all the way to Sunday in the Red Jersey remains to be seen, but there's plenty on the horizon to keep Yanto busy regardless of his Alpine Challenge outcome, as he moves into the  glamorous world of Television.

"After the Alpine Challenge, I'll be heading to Edinburgh for the Tour of Britain where I'm working for ITV4 with Ned Boulting. We will be doing the race reports and interviews so keep an eye out for them - Every evening next week starting the 11th Sep till 18th!"

You can follow Yanto on Twitter here

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