Barnes Stormin’: Pro chat
Tom Owen meets Canyon SRAM Racing’s Hannah Barnes to discover the secret behind this year’s success
Hannah Barnes has had an absolute belter of a year on the bike. Her courageous performance at the World Championships in Bergen set Twitter on fire; she bagged a stage at the Giro this year, she won a podium spot in the GC at the Women’s Tour, and Lizzie Deignan has put her money on Hannah as a future world champion. So, what’s the secret to her banger of a year?
When I meet Hannah in Rapha’s Spitalfield cafe for a flat white, she’s in town for one night only to attend a corporate do, so I cut straight to the point. "What's the secret?"
“I didn’t train at all in winter 2015/2016, so I was on the back foot for the whole of that season. But this winter was really, really good. I didn’t get sick, which meant I didn’t have a single day where I couldn’t do what was set – and that’s really important. I also did gym work, which I’ve never done before. I didn’t really change my diet as such, but I was a lot more conscious about what I was eating.”
As incumbent British champion, Barnes wore the National Champ’s jersey throughout the first part of 2017, making her a marked woman in the 2017 championships.
The Nationals are historically a great leveller, with team allegiances much weaker than usual and every woman for herself. This makes it really exciting for riders.
As Hannah explains, “I really wanted to win it because it’s down to you and your own strength. To podium in that was amazing. From the statistics from my watts, it was the best I’ve ever gone.”
If the Nationals see riders gong hard for themselves, The Worlds provide a rare opportunity for riders of the same nationality to work together – and Britain, as one of the strongest teams in the women’s peloton, put on an impressive show in Bergen. Barnes was star performer, attacking, chasing down breaks and generally making a nuisance of herself throughout.
She says her role within the GB team has changed a lot since her Worlds debut at Ponferrada in 2014. “Back then I was there as a sort of workhorse, with the instruction to mainly stay in the peloton and do what I can for as long as I can.
“Going into Bergen with just three weeks to go, the plan was to support Lizzie [Deignan]. Then her appendix was removed [Deignan was hospitalised with appendicitis 23 days before the Championships] and that really threw the plan out.
“Everyone was a bit like, ‘uurrrmm?’. She was too. At the team talk the night before, the plan was still to work for Lizzie, but she was to be vocal about how she was feeling. You can never really know until you’re on the bike racing…”
At this point a smile plays across Barnes’ face, enjoying the memory. “It was a fun race. I did exactly what our DS (Directeur Sportif) said to do, which was to be up the road. Probably the first break was a bit too early, but it just happened. I looked round and we were away. The second one was perfect really. It was a shame about the three Dutch girls there, but that was always going to be the way.”
Barnes, after racing bullishly throughout, finished in 14th place. I ask if she felt that was a fair reflection of her performance. “Everyone was expecting me to be disappointed in the post-race interviews, but I was pretty happy with how it all went.”
Women’s racing is often said to be more dynamic than the modern men’s road cycling and Barnes agrees that it’s a strength of the women’s scene.
“I think it’s more dynamic and it’s also shorter. They keep saying they want to make the races longer. I don’t think that’s the best thing for us. It’s so aggressive and so exciting that they’re shorter.
“At every Worlds I’ve ever been at, everyone always says that the women’s race is the best race. I mean, the men’s [this year] was boring. I watched it in Bergen and it really dragged on. I can’t imagine how boring it must have been for the riders. I know some of the guys were saying they didn’t think it was ever going to end – I mean 280k on that circuit.”
(Note: Mark Cavendish actually went out on Twitter to say how much more exciting the women’s race was in Bergen.)
So, if not race lengths, what would she like to see change in women’s racing?
“I think it would be nice for us to make our own imprint, rather than just having a race alongside the men’s race. The progression at the moment is really good and it’s getting bigger each year.
“Next year there are a few calendar clashes, which isn’t ideal. They’ve had to move a few round which means some overlapping of races. It isn’t the best because we lose a lot of races already.”
Moving away from the national scene, we talk about Barnes’ plans with her pro team, Canyon SRAM Racing, in 2018.
“We’ve just had to give our goals for next year and pinpoint what races we want to do. I’ve never done Strade Bianche, so I’ve told them already that I’m doing that race. I’d love to do really well in that one.
“I think Gent Wevelgem will be a good one. I enjoyed that a lot this year. Then, of course, there’s the Women’s Tour. I would love to see if I can podium again or better that.”
It must be nice to have enough stature within the team to be reasonably sure she will go to the races she wants to target. For many pros it’s a case of ‘do as you’re told.’
“I’ve been on the team two years now. To begin with I was being put into races where they needed to see how I’d go. But as this season went on I was able to find my feet and have some input into what I’d like to do.”
Barnes has certainly planted a flag in the ground as far as demonstrating her ability to win on the highest stages. As well as her GC podium at the Women’s Tour she notched a first career stage win at the Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile – arguably the most highly-regarded women’s stage race.
Given the barnstorming show she put on at the Worlds, plus her other high-profile results this year, I ask if she feels she’s shown the world who she is as a racer? “Honestly, I don’t even think I knew what kind of a rider I was at the beginning of this year, and neither did the team. We’ve worked that out now, so that’s pretty good,” she adds, with a smile. I think the rest of us know, too.