FOR Lusia Steele, the road to the 2024 Olympics begins today in Bulgaria. The Renfrewshire cyclist is quick to point out that this is only the first step on what will be a long and eventful journey but a change in the format of women’s team sprinting has opened a door for her at an early stage.

The 20-year-old is part of the British squad competing at this week’s European Track Championships in Plovdiv where a new three-rider sprint format will be used in women’s racing for the first time.

With Paris 2024 in mind, coach Jan van Eijden has named a youthful group for the team sprint with a view to giving them early experience of the new format.

That means an elite level debut for Steele who, while not getting carried away, is excited to be involved alongside some of her more experienced and decorated colleagues.

“This is the first elite race that I’ve been selected for so it’s a big one,” said the third year GB senior academy rider. “You always want to do well individually but for the team it’s just about having a starting point looking ahead to the Paris Olympics.

“It’s nice to be in the reckoning at the moment but it’s just the first step. It’s not a case of British Cycling saying ‘this is the team for Paris’ as there are a lot of girls on the programme and they’re all really talented.

“So, I’m not thinking it will definitely be me at this stage. But it’s nice to be a part of it early on and then just keep pushing towards Paris. It’s good to see what could be ahead of you in four years’ time and work towards that. If you have a long-term plan then you can tick off little milestones along the way.

“The more experienced girls are really good with us, too. I’ve got a good relationship with Elinor Barker, for example, who is always giving me tips and advice. Sometimes you forget that you are friends with an Olympic champion which seems crazy!”

What chance is there of Steele also having a gold medal around her neck one day to show to friends?

“When I was a 10-year-old kid I wasn’t telling everyone that I would one day be an Olympic champion,” she admitted. “In fact, even now it’s hard to get your head around that possibility. It’s obviously what I want to do but I’ve always been the sort of person who would just take it stage by stage and see what’s possible.

“I’d like to make the Commonwealth Games team first and that feels quite achievable, although there is a load of good Scottish sprinters out there. And then if I can get to the Olympics after that, that would be a dream. But that’s still a long way away.”

To celebrate her European call-up, her former cycling club the Johnstone Jets produced a “how it started, how it’s going” meme of Steele.

“I think I was one of the first six Jets because my dad was one of the people who started the group, so I was in from the outset,” she recalls. “It was funny seeing that photo again as it seems so long ago now. My first memory is being on a bike in the playground at my primary school and just being hooked on cycling from there.

“I came through Scottish Cycling programmes, so I wasn’t someone who did the typical GB junior to academy move. In 2018 I went to the junior world and Euro championships and that’s when it probably started to get more serious. And now I’m all-in it looks like!

“It’s still fun for me even though there’s more at stake. I just love riding a bike. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

Manchester to Erskine is a bit of a jaunt but, when the occasion allows, Steele likes to come home to give something back.

“I’ve got my Level One coaching so when I’m back home I go along to the Jets’ Saturday sessions and help out a bit. I’m doing an Open University course on social care on the side just in case I had to quit cycling for any reason so I can see me working with kids in some capacity at some point.

"When I left school, I also did an apprenticeship with Renfrewshire Leisure coaching sports before I joined the GB programme. So, it’s something useful to have in the background. And it’s always fun to see how much the kids are enjoying themselves.”