Interview: Hannah Barnes, pro-cyclist with MG Maxifuel

At the end of a tumultuous week, Hannah Barnes sounds cheerful and upbeat.

Her voice comes clearly over the telephone line in a series of considered but honest answers to questions largely concerning a seven day period that has included as many highs and lows as an elite professional cyclist might expect to experience in an entire career.

Hannah Barnes after one of her many victories in the Johnson Health Tech GP Series.

On Saturday 8th June, Barnes was denied a fifth victory at the IG London Nocturne on a technicality. Two days later, she crashed heavily at the Woking round of the Johnson Health Tech Series, but climbed back on to win. Two days after that, she clinched overall victory in the series for herself and for her MG Maxifuel team.

To add to her growing victories, over the weekend she was officially declared the Nocturne winner, reinstated after growing media-pressure.

I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t a cyclist to be honest, it takes up my whole life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Barnes has suffered set backs through events beyond her control, not least the collapse of her former squad, Team Ibis, which has, temporarily at least, cost her a place in cycling’s elite UCI women’s road world cup, but by her own efforts she has experienced little other than success in a glittering career that has brought her the red, white and blue stripes of national junior road race champion, and countless more domestic honours.

Barnes was thrust into the spotlight earlier last week, unwillingly one suspects, for there is nothing of the braggart in her straightforward answers, when it emerged that she had been denied victory at the IG London Nocturne in a belated ruling from the race commissaires.

The race had ended in a two-up sprint between Barnes and Wiggle-Honda’s Laura Trott. A delay in announcing the result testified to the closeness of the finish, but Trott was declared the winner and the men’s race ensued.

Laura Trott being interviewed after it was announced she had won the IG London Nocturne.

Four days later, in response to a media enquiry, the organisers issued a statement declaring that they had referred the matter to British Cycling’s commissaires after footage obtained from broadcaster Channel 4 revealed that Barnes had crossed the line first.

In a decision widely considered unsatisfactory, the commissaires ruled that by removing both hands from the bars in celebration, a routine occurrence in professional cycling, Barnes had been guilty of dangerous riding. By relegating her one place, the original result was allowed to stand. Over the weekend however, it has been changed.

Barnes is satisfied that the official record will show a fifth victory, but seems more pleased that the matter can finally be put to rest. When we speak she has only recently heard that the commissaires have “moderated” their decision from “relegation” to “reprimand”. She has received the news by Twitter half-an-hour before we speak with her, while fulfilling a sponsor commitment. “I wasn’t that fussed if it was going to be changed,” she says.

There is little doubting the authenticity of her comment. A day earlier, when we discussed the issue in greater detail, Barnes spoke in the same wearied tone. She is a rider used to resolving matters on the bike and, one suspects, would rather continue to do so.

I knew it was close on the line. I did not think it was ever going to turn out like this. The amount of times I’ve celebrated with both hands off the bars. Everyone in the Tour de France celebrates with both hands off the bar. It’s crazy, but it’s one of those rules that’s written down and they’re just there to catch you out.

There had been talk in the week that the 2013 Nocturne would be her last, but a race she had then won four times officially and once unofficially was always likely to hold a special place in her affections. “I love it too much not to,” she said. Barnes is unlikely to allow matters to fall into the hands of the commissaries next year.

Barnes had moved on long before the judges . She was forced to wait two full days before winning again, picking up, in every sense, in Woking where she left off in Smithfield. A nasty crash did not prevent her from winning the fourth round of the Johnson Health Tech series. Hospital treatment took a back seat to victory, though she insists she is recovering well and faster than the medics had predicted. “I get my stitches out Tuesday in Glasgow,” she says breezily, the most convenient centre to the national championships in East Ayrshire next week, perhaps.

Even after crashing mid race, Barnes managed to win the Woking stage of the Johnson Health Tech series.

On Thursday, Barnes returned to the podium, this time for a triple celebration: overall victory in the team, individual, and sprints categories of the Johnson Health Tech Series.

We really wanted to win the team competition overall. It was quite a big aim for us. It was nice to take the sprint and the overall as well. It’s not just the riders – it’s all the mechanics as well, the swannies [soigneurs], and the managers who are there to help us. We’re a close knit unit.

Barnes is looking forward to the nationals, a race to be held on a 15km loop which she estimates contains about 30 corners and describes as a “big crit circuit”. Despite her prowess in such conditions, Barnes does not expect to be counted among the favourites, a label she believes will be reserved for Lizzie Armitstead, silver medalist in the Olympic road race, and former world time trial champion, Emma Pooley.

Barnes had followed both of them into the UCI women’s road world cup, and it is her aim to return to the top tier of women’s cycling next season. Only the dissolution of her team last season forced her to return to racing in the UK. Still only 20, she spent last season living in Holland, though admits to returning home frequently to a family in which cycling is ingrained. “My family is bikes,” she laughs.

I might get a phone call from grandma and it’s always regarding a bike race.

She has made the most of her enforced return and says she has enjoyed her time and success with MG Maxifuel. The team is one of the latest to run a men’s and women’s squad and to enjoy significant backing. On a more practical level,  Maxifuel’s sponsorship means she is never short of bars and gels to carry with her during a race, she says, and “not cramp up and ‘bonk’ as they say, and hit the wall.”

Barnes does not regard September’s world road race championships as a realistic goal this season, despite her blistering form in crit races. She describes the course in Florence as one of the hilliest ever for a world championships, and so far from suited to her talents as a sprinter. Selectors are likely to choose riders who have already ridden this season against their likely competitors in Italy, she adds, implying those from the women’s world cup.

Barnes is crowned individual and sprints champion of the 2013 Johnson Health Tech Series.

Next season, however, will offer a fresh opportunity to return to the level her talents deserve. She talks of building a strong CV to send to the UCI world cup teams and overall victory in the Johnson Health Tech series, and a belatedly recognised victory against world cup opposition in the IG Nocturne, should do much to help her cause.

Barnes readily agrees, however, that we are living through a golden age for British women’s road racing, and believes the rise in quality applies to the domestic scene as much as to the handful of British riders competing internationally, such as Armitstead, Emma Trott, Lucy Garner, and those on the Wiggle Honda team.

Of her own progression, she seems less certain. “I don’t know what the future holds at the moment,” she admits, but with a career of almost unbroken success, it is likely to be bright. Barnes is too modest to say so herself, but the outpouring of support generated by the Nocturne debacle shows she is a rider whose talents are cherished by followers of British cycle sport. Their support is likely to follow her to the next chapter of an already impressive career.

Hannah Barnes was interviewed originally for RoadCyclingUK.



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