Having a palmares that includes a British national road title and the UCI Team Time Trial World Championship, Hannah Barnes is no stranger to leaving it all on the road. And with a season start racing Omloop Het Nieuwsblad alongside her Canyon-SRAM teammates, Hannah [pictured above, left] reflects back on her early days as a professional, how she transitions from the off-season and how it feels to ride with the ‘Wild Ones’.
In your online journal you reference the off-season and not needing to worry about form and power numbers.
After last year’s final race I had 5 weeks of doing nothing. No bike, no riding. Eating and drinking a little more and having loads of fun. The 25th November was my first ride and over the following 6 weeks it was pretty slow and steady. Getting the base miles back in until the New Year after which you start to add in the intensity.
So now that you’re at the Canyon-SRAM pre-season training camp, I was wondering what emotions run through your mind when you look ahead to the coming year?
Well, numbers do matter [laughs]. From mid-January it’s quite specific training with a lot of intervals. But it’s been good to see the progress this winter which is a positive. We’ve been enjoying some good rides together and pushing each other. And everyone knows that we’re close to starting the season and that brings with it a sense of excitement.
Is it possible to predict form?
Even though you’ve had 5 or so months away from racing you still have some idea of how well you’re going but you never really know until you’re standing on the start line. In December it’s very relaxed – the training is just long and social – but now we’re at the camp it’s much more focused. Riding out to the climbs; a lot of meetings where we talk through how we’re going to approach the races and the strategies we can use.
Looking at the Rapha ‘Wild Ones’ promotional launch for Canyon-SRAM, I noticed that certain words seem to resonate: uniqueness, power, trust, family. And I was wondering about the dynamics of building a new team for a new season?
Some of the team are more experienced than others but I feel that’s a really good way for individual riders to build on performances and develop their race craft. And it’s nice to appreciate the riders that are new to the team; so super motivated and excited to race.
You’re quoted in the promotional material as stating, ‘We’re all wild women…some are quiet, some are loud.’ Where do you sit on that spectrum?
More quiet. It takes me a very long time to open up. I’m fine once I feel comfortable but I’m quite shy if I’m walking into a room of people I don’t really know.
Does that translate into how you race?
Yes [laughs]. It’s actually very noticeable that the louder riders that we have – in the sense that they’re not afraid to say what they think or shy away from their opinions – they’re definitely the ones that race more aggressively. Not in a nasty way but in the sense that they instinctively don’t hesitate.
Speaking of race craft, one of the overriding memories I have of watching you race was the time in Woking when you crashed heavily. You picked yourself up, chased back on and took the bunch sprint to win the race before receiving any medical treatment. 9 stitches to the face, I believe. And I thought that spoke volumes about your drive and determination.
I didn’t really appreciate how bad it was [laughs]. Going on to win the race, it’s quite astonishing what adrenaline can do. But as soon as I crossed the line it suddenly hit me. They had to delay the podium because I was sitting feeling faint in the little tent they have behind the finish.
Your teammate Christa Riffel is pictured in her new kit but with a broken foot and this made me think back to 2015 when you broke your ankle and attended the January 2016 pre-season camp on crutches. Have you been able to help Christa get through this temporary set back?
We’ve had quite a few injuries on this team so we definitely reassured her and told her not to panic or be worried. Because even though she won’t be racing until the middle of April, the season is long and she’ll be able to feel the benefits of this later start in August and September when everyone’s pretty tired and she’s still really motivated and got some energy left.
And feeling fresh?
Well, fresher [laughs].
Because 12 months on from that 2016 pre-season camp you posted a picture on Instagram showing how the muscle mass had reduced after you had your plaster cast removed. So I was wondering what sustained you emotionally as you worked back to full fitness?
I think coming back from the injury in some way mirrors the drop in fitness you have in any off-season when you’ve been completely off the bike. Just more exaggerated because you’re starting from ground zero and there’s just further for you to go. But you put in the work and every day you see, not massive steps forward, but a gradual improvement that’s motivating in itself.
Your team has seen a number of new signings through the Zwift Academy competition and I know that you benefited from support from the Rayner Foundation [formally the Dave Rayner Foundation] when you were starting out. How did this support help and what are your memories of the Foundation from that time?
It really helped because, back when I was 19, I was living in Holland but wasn’t getting a wage. So I had to work through the winter at a hotel. Six in the morning to three in the afternoon before getting home, changed and out again on my bike. Long days and not that enjoyable but I needed to save up as much as I could ready for the start of the season. And there were times such as when I’d raced and won the Smithfield Nocturne when I had to email the organisers to ask if they’d please give me my prize money early as I needed to book a ferry home to go to the Nationals. Really hard times and the financial support I received from the Rayner Foundation was so very important in allowing me to carry on racing.
Going back to talking about training, are you happy to get out rain or shine?
It depends on what mood I’m in on the day [laughs]. And I moved to Spain so they’re fewer days when it’s too miserable to ride outside. It also helps that we’ve got a really good relationship with Zwift if I do decide to stay indoors.
So as a professional cyclist, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions from the outside looking in about the life that you lead?
That it’s glamorous [laughs]. Because that’s not always the case at all. And people think that being able to ride your bike every day must be so much fun but there are days when it’s a job. Though I still wouldn’t change it for the world.
Racing, training or off-season; what does it mean to ride your bike?
When I’m at the airport, people will see the bike box and ask what it is. So maybe I take for granted that wherever I go, the bike goes too. And, for me, that suggests a certain sense of independence that a bike gives you. I can remember my Dad saying when we were little that a bike is fast enough to get you somewhere but slow enough for you to see everything on the way. With Canyon-SRAM we’re all riding our bikes for a living and there’s days when I do wonder how I’ve got myself into this situation; how cool it is [laughs]. My bike has taken me to some pretty crazy places and allowed me to meet some really amazing people. So what does it mean to ride my bike? Freedom, I guess.
All images by Ana Cuba with kind permission of Rapha UK.