The Backstedt dynasty - Inside the world-beating cycling family

Sisters Zoe and Elynor Bäckstedt
Sisters Zoe and Elynor Bäckstedt (Image credit:

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A Welshwoman and a Swede walk up to each other at an Australian criterium. Sounds like the start of a bad cycling joke, doesn’t it? There’s certainly been a lot of laughter in the intervening 25 years for champion cyclists Megan Hughes and Magnus Bäckstedt. After love at first sight, they moved in together in Belgium within months and got married. 

Magnus went on to win Paris-Roubaix, while Megan curtailed her career and raised their daughters. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Via a lot of miles in the motorhome from their Welsh home and medals galore, 21-year-old Elynor and 18-year-old Zoe race in the WorldTour for Trek-Segafredo and EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, respectively. 

While the genes fit, it’s a triumph of drive and dedication. Elynor was third in the junior World Championship time trial and has combatted injury misfortune in her nascent career. Meanwhile, multi-faceted Zoe has dominated the junior scene, taking five world titles across road, track and cyclocross. Make no mistake; the Bäckstedts are a modern cycling dynasty.

Over four individual interviews with Cyclingnews, the charismatic family talks about their respective careers in the saddle, the 2023 three-way “rivalry” on different WorldTour teams and family life – which means intensely competitive Yahtzee games and setting up a cyclo-cross course around the house.

Cyclingnews: How did you get into cycling?

Megan: It was at Maindy velodrome [in Wales] a long time ago. It transpired I was quite good, enjoyed it and progressed forward. I liked the competitiveness, I think. I got into the WCRA (Women’s Cycle Racing Association), and they were taking us abroad. That was brilliant and gave me a load of opportunities, and then I was with British Cycling from there on. 

Magnus: It was 1987, and I’d been riding my bike for two weeks. My friend from downhill skiing told me about this regional TT in Motala, about 40 kilometres away. I had absolutely no idea: I took my running shoes, went for a five-kilometre run to warm up and smashed it. I won my first-ever bike race and obviously got hooked from then on.

Elynor: I was probably about four. My granddad has videos of it. It was at Carmarthen Velodrome and might have been a scratch race on road bikes. I just stopped at the finish line; [now Team Coop-Hitec Products pro] Jess Roberts was there, and I nearly took her out! She had to swerve around me.

Zoe: I don’t remember my first race, but I always kept myself busy doing something. Up until I was ten, I did netball, tennis, athletics, cross country and cycling. I was doing two training sessions on a Monday overlapping in the buildings next to each other, having to leave sessions early or late. It was a bit too much.

Zoe Bäckstedt dominates the junior women's events at the World Championships

Zoe Bäckstedt dominates the junior women's events at the World Championships (Image credit: Alex

Cyclingnews: What results are you proudest of?

Megan: My bronze sprint medal at the [1995] Junior Track Worlds. In the British nationals road race in 1998, I rode off the front and won by five minutes. I was fifth at the 2000 World Cup in Philadelphia, too.

Magnus: The big highs are winning a [1998] Tour de France stage and the 2003 Paris-Roubaix. Roubaix was so strange because, in my head, it was completely quiet in that velodrome. I didn’t hear anything other than tyres on concrete, brakes on rims and gear changes – and Megan shouting as I went round turn one, stood right on the railings. It’s a nice memory.

Elynor: I did a lot of track as a junior. I was European Pursuit and Madison champion, got second in the Worlds, then third in the [road] time trial. I never really thought about having any other job.

Zoe: I’m proud of how my results have been, but I couldn’t have got them if I hadn’t been in a happy place. I’ve made a lot of new friends, and I’ve enjoyed travelling. I got to go to Australia, Israel, races in Belgium and the Netherlands, everywhere.

Magnus and Megan Bäckstedt with their daughter Zoe in 2019

Magnus and Megan Bäckstedt with their daughter Zoe in 2019 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Cyclingnews: And how did you meet?

Megan: In 1998, out in Australia at a crit series. If you think about all the countries involved: I’m Welsh, he’s Swedish, we met in Australia, moved back to Belgium, then to France! It was probably love at first sight.

Magnus: I think it was. Those couple of months she was in Australia were interesting, trying to talk without it costing an arm and a leg. I was in Adelaide with my team, and she was in Melbourne with Great Britain. It clicked, we understood each other, and that was that. We made that commitment we were going to try living together. And it worked out; she never moved out! 

[Later], fatherhood gave me more purpose to make sure I did everything to the best of my ability every day. I think we had a very good understanding in terms of needing to train and travel a lot. Meg took care of the house and the girls for me to be able to do the job as well as possible.

Megan: I didn’t actually compete for that long. I stopped in 2000 and had Elynor in 2001, but what I did achieve in that short space of time, for women at that point, was quite an achievement. It was a big thing to fall pregnant and get back to cycling when I was racing. Now there are so many amazing mums that have proven that you can do it.

I guess I fell out of love with it for a short while, and there was a bit where Maggie and I were not seeing each other a lot; that was a big part of it. I could never have made a career out of it. I was having to survive myself. Between racing, I was working on the checkout in [supermarket] Tesco’s in Llantrisant. They were fantastic; all the other girls would swap shifts so I could fit in flights, training and everything else. I wasn’t ever going to be a proper paid athlete like they are now. It’s fantastic the sport has progressed so much.

Magnus Backstedt in his new coaching role at Canyon-SRAM

Magnus Backstedt in his new coaching role at Canyon-SRAM (Image credit: Canyon/Sram & TinoPohlmann)

Cyclingnews: What was it like as kids, growing up together?

Zoe: Going through secondary school, Elynor was always looking out for me or would help with homework if I needed it. And because she was going down to the training sessions [at Maindy], I kind of followed what she was doing.

Elynor: I kept an eye on her, but I never wanted to be the sibling who interfered with everything. I’m always one who says you need to make your own mistakes and grow from them. You can have all the advice in the world, but sometimes you need to find it out for yourself.

Zoe: Since the pandemic, we’ve definitely gotten a lot closer. Especially when she was at home with her broken leg [sustained in May 2020], I helped her get around and kept it lifted up so it was not uncomfortable as the cast was so high. We went to the Alps over the summer and trained every single day together. I really just love having her there; it’s the nicest.

Elynor: I remember Zoe doing a cyclocross course in the back garden in lockdown. Through the house, round the cars, back through the house, in the garden. We had some planks of wood; she made a seesaw and some hurdles. That will always be funny.

Zoe Bäckstedt wins cyclocross title at the British Championships

Zoe Bäckstedt wins cyclocross title at the British Championships (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/

Cyclingnews: Have you ever felt any pressure to cycle?

Zoe: None at all. My parents were always like, whatever sport we end up doing, they’ll support us through everything.

Megan: They’re their own people. They can do what they choose, and it just so happened cycling was what they chose. They’re in a position to make a living and a career out of it, which is brilliant.

Elynor: We’ll forever be grateful for everything they’ve done for us, and we understand it’s not a cheap sport. I know they're so proud of us. Although it wouldn’t have mattered if we hadn’t become athletes, it’s all paid off. It’s nice to be able to give back now after what they’ve done for us.

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Cyclingnews: How do your parents complement each other? Who’s the organiser, who’s more mechanically minded? 

Elynor: My dad has always been the mechanic, and my mum has mostly been the driver, more the soigneur! She’d prepare food and be there with the bottles, grabbing jerseys from the side; my dad would be in the pits or doing gear checks.

Zoe: Going to races when I was younger, they’d always help me with little tactical decisions. I remember going into a track Elimination Race with my dad on the sideline pointing out ten fingers – ten riders left – so I knew without having to look behind me.

Magnus: We helped them a bit to start off with, and as soon as they started wanting to be very strict with coaching and training, we felt the need to step away and try and keep some sort of a parent-daughter relationship rather than adding parent-daughter-coach-mechanic into the mix. 

Elynor: We would always talk after a race about what we felt we could do better, not what they necessarily thought we did wrong. And then, if there were something we missed out, maybe they’d have input. It was more driven from us than them.

Cyclingnews: How do you organise your hectic schedules?

Megan: It’s a constant little fuzzle going on in my brain of what’s what, who needs to be where. I’m assuming that going forward, it’s going to be a little bit easier: Zoe’s away [in Belgium], Elynor and [husband] Charley, though they’re still living here, have their own place and will be moving there some point soon.

Elynor: We never fully know where each other is. My mum used to have this massive calendar on the door next to the fridge: Tuesday Maindy mini-league, Wednesday here, Thursday night Belgium, my dad’s commentary on there. Everything is planned out. It’s so easy to double-book. It was a logistical nightmare!

She tells her friends about what’s happening at the weekend, and they can’t believe it: dropping Elynor at the airport at one, Zoe needs to be here at two, then we’ll drive to Manchester to race, then go to Dover to be in Belgium for the cyclocross that starts tomorrow at 10 am. I don’t know any other family that plans life out like that, but we have to see each other and make sure we don’t miss anything.

Megan: Our motorhome has been an absolute saviour. It means we can drive, stop and sleep wherever we need. Not just for races, but so we could do a couple of summer holidays trips down to West Wales and camp in a field.

Elynor Bäckstedt joins Trek-Segafredo at a pre-season training camp

Elynor Bäckstedt joins Trek-Segafredo at a pre-season training camp (Image credit: Trek-Segafredo)

Cyclingnews: What personality traits or values do you think have been passed on?

Megan: Probably not the good ones! [laughs] They’re both very caring. I’d like to think, as I’m a happy, bubbly person, that they take that from me.

Elynor: They’ve always taught me hard work and dedication: give 100%, no matter how good that is on the day.

Magnus: The result is never equal to the performance. 

Elynor: That really helps me in my career. I had a rough first few years as a pro, so it really gives you that drive to keep going and get absolutely everything out of the tank.

Megan: Sometimes Zoe and I can be a bit similar. She’s very much like I was when racing: grumpy before races. Well, it’s just nerves. And we sort of have a little battle with each other, so I have to take a step back and keep quiet!

Magnus: To me, it’s a big mix; elements of Elynor resemble me, and elements resemble Meg. It’s nice to see they’re their own people, doing things their own way. As long as they’re having fun and enjoying what they’re doing in life, we’re happy.

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Cyclingnews: Is there a strong competitive spirit in the family?

Zoe: Very much so. We don’t really do game night. I’m the most competitive one, probably; I don’t like losing, especially board games. We choose ones where there’s no particular winner.

Magnus: That’s a scary one; when the board games come out…

Elynor: My mum loves Yahtzee. She is the most competitive person you’ll ever meet. Bowling, mini golf, everything. And she trained an awful lot in lockdown [on Zwift]. She’s still very strong. When she rides with me, she's always scared she’s not pushing hard enough, but actually, she’s pushing too hard.

Cyclingnews: And are you competitive with each other?

Elynor: I think Zoe is probably more competitive with me than I am with her. I think everybody’s on their own path. Even me and her have such different stories about how we got where we are today. 

Comparison is the thief of joy, and you need to focus on yourself. What will be will be, and we can help each other reach our goals. I’m really proud of her, she’s worked really hard to get where she is, and she gets all the credit she deserves. 

She’s a little star! 

Cyclingnews: How do you feel when you watch a fellow Bäckstedt race?

Megan: I am very nervous. I do try not to show that to them. I guess it’s normal. Even now, I will watch absolutely every race they’re in, trying to spot them and check that they’re OK. 

Magnus: There’s never a question of if there’ll be a crash, it’s when and how bad. For me, it’s possibly easier than it is for Meg. I don’t know why, but I seem to be able to compartmentalise it in a different way. Ultimately, you’re always nervous. But that’s also part of it, the adrenaline rush.

Your poor parents might have 15 more years of these nerves.

Zoe: Oh yes, they are going to love it.

Megan: That’s why I’m going grey!

Magnus Bäckstedt director at Canyon-SRAM

Magnus Bäckstedt director at Canyon-SRAM (Image credit: Canyon-SRAM)

Cyclingnews: In 2023, Magnus is a directeur sportif with Canyon-SRAM, Elynor is racing on Trek-Segafredo and Zoe debuts with EF Education-TIBCO-SVB. Three Bäckstedts on three different WorldTour teams, how do you think it’ll be?

Magnus: I don’t think it’ll be any different from the past. It’s bike racing; it’s where we work. I did a couple of races with Canyon-SRAM last year. At the Tour of Scandinavia, Elynor was racing. I’d bump into her in the hotel after breakfast; we’d stop, have a quick chat, see how things were and carry on.

Elynor: It’s gonna be fine. We've been brought up in this environment, so it's nothing out of the ordinary. We all understand each other's boundaries, and we know dad’s not gonna be telling me all the Canyon tactics, and I won’t be telling Zoe all the Trek ones because that’s not how it works. But we’ll look out for each other because that's what family does.

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Cyclingnews: And how would it be if you were the first father-and-daughter combination to win a Roubaix cobblestone?

Elynor: Really cool. It’s 20 years since my dad won too. Roubaix is a race where you never know what can happen. But I’d love to be on the start line and win.

Zoe: Between me and El, we’ve got a bit of skill on the cobbles, so we’ll see how it goes. It’s thinking very big. But yeah, one day…

Magnus: Even the thought of that almost brings a tear to my eye. Having either of them just on the podium of that race, I don’t know if I could hold the emotion in.

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Andy McGrath

Formerly the editor of Rouleur magazine, Andy McGrath is a freelance journalist and the author of God Is Dead: The Rise and Fall of Frank Vandenbroucke, Cycling’s Great Wasted Talent