There is no shortage of heroes in history books of British women’s cycling.
From the dominance of Beryl Burton in the 1960s, to Olympic champion Nicole Cooke and and Yorkshire’s own Lizzie Deignan, there is plenty of inspiration for any young riders looking for a pathway to a career as a pro.
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Hannah Barnes, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, is one rider who made the dream a reality.
Indoor training at 2,000m
From lockdown at her home in Andorra, 2,000 metres above sea level, Barnes spoke to Cycling Weekly to talk us through her start in cycling, and share some tips on training during the coronavirus era.
With only one race day in her legs this year, the women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February where she finished 16th, Barnes has been forced to reset with no return to racing in sight.
“I’m finding [lockdown] okay,” said the former British champion, who races for German squad Canyon-SRAM.
“It was hard at first getting your head around it, but then races were slowly getting cancelled, then the Olympics.
“You have to look at the bigger picture and realise that health comes first.”
Barnes and her partner Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Ineos) have set up base in the cycling haven of Andorra, the sixth smallest nation in Europe with a population of 77,000 and home to dozens of pro cyclists, like Australia’s Jack Haig.
But the picturesque climbs are currently off limits to the pros, as the nation has taken strict steps to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
“I’ve just been trying to stay fit,” said Barnes, while talking us through her new training regime.
“For me, I’m just treating it like it’s November-time [end of the season] and really trying to take a step back.
“It makes the days go a bit quicker when you do a bit of exercise, so I’m just trying to stay on top of the fitness and as soon as there’s an end goal to be ready for I think it’ll be pretty easy to build on what you already have, if you haven’t let yourself relax too much.
“Those first races coming back are going to be a bit of a lottery, seeing who’s done the right thing.”
Like much of the cycling world, Barnes has been forced to turn to the turbo trainer during these strange times, but she admits she wouldn’t normally include much indoor riding in her training plan.
But the change of circumstances have forced the 26-year-old to adapt: “I don’t I don’t include turbo much in my training normally and so I didn’t have like a go-to session. We’re at 2000 metres here so it’s quite hard up here do proper intervals.
“I’ve been doing the kind of efforts that aren’t too hard but then make the time, a little bit quicker. So I’ve been doing five minutes on, five minutes off at the moment – just four of those that at zone three, they make the make the time go pretty quick. Over the last couple of days I’ve actually done more Zwift rides, they make the rides go pretty quickly too.”
While Barnes may not be able to ride outside, she does have some advice for people in the UK who still have the privilege of exercising outside, even if only for a short time: “I would just go as hard as you can for an hour.
“I couldn’t imagine really being somewhere where you’re kind of allowed to ride but it’s frowned on a little bit. I can imagine it’s pretty difficult.
“I think if you’ve just got an hour try and get as much intensity as you can, just enjoy it and get some fresh air.”
The new normal of lockdown in Andorra must seem a leap away from Barnes’s introduction to bike racing, watching her parents race 24-hour mountain bike marathons in the UK, climbing trees at 2am to spot riders with her sister Alice, the reigning double British champion.
Barnes’s first bike was a prototype bike built by her uncle’s company, which lasted seven seasons from 11 to 18, before she upgraded to a black and pink Pinarello Quatro.
On the switch from riding for fun, to considering it a career, Barnes said: “I would say I was probably 17 or 18, when I was in the last two years of school.
“I was riding my bike as much as I could and just trying to get by with my schoolwork. That’s when I realised I was willing to do this as a career.
“I’d say it was probably the Olympics 2012 was when I really took notice of watching [bike racing]. Then it’s gone from there.”
The Dave Rayner Foundation
Barnes joined British squad Team Ibis Cycles in 2012 with Olympic track star Laura Kenny, leaving the junior ranks for the elites and quickly finding herself facing superstars like Marianne Vos and Lizzie Deignan.
It was also that year that Barnes applied for funding from the Dave Rayner Fund, now the Dave Rayner Foundation, a long-standing initiative to financially support young riders trying to make their careers in Europe (which also recently benefitted from a funding boost thanks to Rapha).
“I don’t know how I came across [the fund],” Barnes said, “But I applied for it and I got it.
“It was quite a relief because I was working all winter to fund my summer seasons, so that bit of extra money over the year was going to help a lot.”
The Dave Rayner Foundation is also involved in our CW5000 challenge for 2020.
Meanwhile, her sister Alice followed a different path, riding mountain bikes before swapping to road.
Hannah said: “[Dave Rayner] helps those riders that are trying to stand on their own two feet, but for her she was pretty lucky to be able to stay in Britain and near the velodrome, which was really helpful for her.
“For me, it was really helpful to have people [at Dave Rayner] that can guide you and point you in the right direction to what you need to do to become a professional and be the best you can be.”
The move to Canyon-SRAM
After two years of racing for the UnitedHealthCare team in the US in 2014-15, taking her first victory in Argentina and following up with a collection of impressive stage wins, Barnes then made the leap to a top-tier team, joining Canyon-SRAM in 2016.
The move appeared to have come at the right time, as she went on to win the British National Championships road race in June 2016, then a stage of the prestigious Giro Rosa the following year, and taking the time trial national title in 2018.
Despite following different pathways, Barnes was joined at Canyon-SRAM by her sister Alice in 2018. Alice then won both the time trial and the road race at the 2019 British Nationals.
Hannah, the older sister by two years, says the sibling rivalry never boils over and the pair regularly share hotel rooms during team camps and races.
An uncertain season
While the 2020 season may look very different from how she imagined it, Barnes is maintaining a sense of perspective after her main targets vanished from the calendar: “It’s quite weird thinking about when you were planning your season, how it’s changed a lot now. I think one of the main goals was being selected for Tokyo, and that was probably a lot of people’s main goals for the year. But I guess that’s just going to have to be next year for the goal now.
“I haven’t really spoken to my team about anything because we don’t know when it’s going to start again. It would be nice to focus on the Worlds now I guess and those races in October now, that might be rescheduled to then.”
While the next Women’s WorldTour event still scheduled to run is the Vargarda Team Time Trial in Sweden in August, no one can say for sure when we might see Barnes and her fellow competitors out on the roads.
As a pro rider banned from riding outside and without any races to focus her attention, what are Barnes’s words of wisdom for any amateur riders struggling for motivation?
“Don’t worry,” she said, “Because everyone’s in the same boat. When you have an injury, you have that date or that race that you’re preparing for, but now it’s completely out of your hands.
“There’s nothing you can do about it so just try and make the best of it.”