'My body is letting me down': Hannah Barnes to retire at end at of 2023

Former British champion on ending her career, support from Uno-X, and witnessing the sea change in women's pro cycling

Hannah Barnes
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The thing Hannah Barnes will miss the most about being a professional cyclist is the vibe just before one of the biggest events of the year.

"I will miss being in a team, just sat in a bus before a big race, like [Paris-]Roubaix or [the Tour of] Flanders," she told Cycling Weekly on Tuesday morning. "Everyone was so excited. The music was loud. I'm going to miss that. Even now I've not been at a race for five or six weeks and I already feel like I'm not in a team."

The 30-year-old announced on Monday evening that 2023 will be her last year as a pro rider after a decade in the sport, a decade which saw her win stages of the Giro d'Italia Donne and The Women's Tour, as well as the British national championships road race and time trial. 

Barnes turned pro with UnitedHealthcare in 2014, before spending six years at Canyon-SRAM, and then moving to Uno-X for the final two seasons of her career.

While the news was broken by Barnes via her Instagram page this week, she explained that it was not a sudden decision. 

"I've known for quite a long time," she said. "I've had these injuries... the team have been amazing. I've spent a lot of time in MRI machines, with doctors trying to work it out, but we couldn't. It's just got to the point where it's just so painful to race now. Training hasn't been too fun either. I've known for a while that I'm coming to the end.

"I'm sad that it has been forced on me because my body is letting me down, but I'm happy with what I've done in my career. I'm really lucky that I'm the one who has decided I want to stop rather than trying to get a contract and not being able to. I'm really happy that it was me who made the decision. It's weird, this is all I've done, I'm 30, it's all I really know. It's a bit daunting going into something new."

Those injuries include long-term problems with her hip and her back, which stop her from being able to pedal fast - something crucial for a professional cyclist.

Barnes has raced 21 times this season, but ten of those have resulted in DNFs, something she referenced in her Instagram post, writing that she had been "struggling mentally to accept that I am no longer part of the race but just making up the numbers".

"I've been pretty vocal about it with my team, they know exactly where I stand and they've supported me so well," she said. "I feel no pressure really, when I'm doing a race. My value to the team is in meetings, being with the girls, guiding them, and giving them an insight into races. I've not raced over the last six weeks because they're stage races and I can't actually do them. "

However, despite her value coming in the advice and wisdom she can impart to her Uno-X teammates, it left her feeling "disappointed" in her own place in the squad.

"I'm just disappointed that I haven't been able to contribute to the racing side," she said. "Uno-X signed me off the fifth place I got at Omloop [het Nieuwsblad] in 2021. They saw me as a rider who could help the next generation, could help the riders coming through, but also I'd get opportunities for myself. I'm upset that I wasn't able to do that for them, but every race I go to for them they tell me my value is helping the other girls learn. They've been so good.

"Last year I was already struggling and there was talk of me stepping back from being a rider and going more into being director/tactics role, but I wasn't quite ready for that. Looking back, maybe I should have taken it, but I've never found myself in that role, I've liked teaching people while also still doing cycling."

Hannah Barnes

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Despite being saddened by the way her career has ended, thanks to injury, Barnes is still proud to have played a big role in the sport over the last decade. Riding the inaugural Tour de France Femmes in 2022 was a life goal realised, something she will be able to treasure.

"I had a boring phone call the other day about insurance, and the guy asked my profession and I said cyclist," she said. "His immediate go to was 'have you done the Tour de France?' I could say yes to that answer now, after years of not being able to. I'm really happy that that is something I could tick off and do. This year it was huge, so I'm happy that one day I could tell my grandkids that I've done the Tour de France."

Women's cycling has taken huge strides in development over the decade that Barnes has been a professional rider, from the existence of the Women's WorldTour to the birth of races like the Tour and Paris-Roubaix. It is a long way from her first foray into the sport.

"I think I'd be lucky if I was coming into the sport now," she explained. "But I'm really happy that I've seen the change. When I first headed over to Europe in 2012 there was nothing. We were just riding around, no one knew anything about it, there was no prize money, barely anyone in the peloton was getting a salary. Now, it's the majority of riders. 

"I've been really lucky with the teams I've been in, and with Uno-X now it's above and beyond anything I've experienced. They look after us - there's a nutritionist, a kitchen truck with a chef - they make sure the women get exactly what the men get or better."

As for now, Barnes is dabbling in cycling coaching and has headed back into education to study marketing, although it is unlikely she will be too far away from races, with her sister Alice still riding for Human Powered Health and her partner Sam Bewley a sports director with Israel-Premier Tech. 

With the Instagram post now published and the news out in the world, there are still races to come, ending with the Tour of Guangxi, and a lot of messages to reply to.

"It has been pretty nice, just on Instagram with the comments and stuff," Barnes said. "Alice said she was reading them yesterday and started crying but I haven't got to that point yet."

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.