British rider Hannah Barnes has had a tough year. The 22-year-old spent the latter half of the 2015 season and much of the winter off the bike, having broken a complex supporting bone in her ankle.
We spoke to Barnes in December – then struggling to come to terms with the torture of being surrounded by new team mates, in new kit, riding shiny new bikes whilst she hopped on crutches to and from hotel rooms with the injury boot firmly strapped on.
At the time, Barnes had been off the bike since the crash in August and though she was doing an incredible job of remaining positive, it was clearly taking quite an effort.
With the season getting underway, the frustration is finally over – Barnes will race with team mates Barbara Guarischi, Alexis Ryan and Mieke Kröger at the Omloop van de IJsseldelta – a 134k road race in Zwolle, the Netherlands.
"Anything I am lacking in fitness I can make up for in determination."
Speaking of the upcoming race, Barnes continues with her enviably positive attitude – saying: “I am really excited to get on the start line with the team and hopefully anything I am lacking in fitness I can make up for in determination."
The time away from the bike totaled to five months, and it's been almost eight months since Barnes' last race. That's been tough, she admits: “I missed my bike a lot while I was injured and the fact that I wasn't able to do anything physical was hard to comprehend. I guess that when you have something taken away from you, you never take it for granted again. I have a whole new love for cycling now and that kept me motivated everyday."
Describing how she dealt with the long break, Barnes said: “I have a lot of friends within cycling that have come back from injuries that were more severe and resulted in more time away. I looked at them for inspiration and believed that if they were able to come back, then it wouldn’t be any different for me. I love the sport far too much to have let it end my career."
The time off meant that Barnes lost a lot of muscle mass and flexibility in the injured right leg – she says: “I was on crutches for 21 weeks, and my right side was essentially getting a free ride for the duration of that time. I’ve had to focus on building that all back up again. Also there was a lot of stiffness in my ankle from being stuck in the same position for five months. It took a while for it to loosen up again. Luckily you don't need a great deal of ankle mobility whilst cycling so that's not been an issue on the bike for me."
Returning to fitness was always going to take time – and involved daily physio, 30 minute turbo sessions, swimming, hydrotherapy and lots of massages to regain flexibility.
"I went out on the road and found it difficult to ride for just 45 minutes"
Sometimes steady training can be just as mentally tough as no training – Barnes says: “The first month or so was hard, both mentally and physically. I was riding on the indoor trainer for the first three weeks. After that I went out on the road and found it difficult to ride for just 45 minutes, something that before I would have found so easy. But then it didn't take long before I was able to ride longer distances and ride that little bit faster. I am now able to train like normal and include all the efforts and climbs that I need to be doing. A month ago that would not have been possible."
After a successful rehabilitation process, Barnes understandably just wants to get stuck into the race season once again. This weekend’s race will be her first with the newly formed Canyon//SRAM team since she joined them, having transferred from United Healthcare. She says: “I may have missed out on some of the most exciting races of the season but for me, this year, every race will be exciting. And I will hopefully have plenty more years to get stuck into the early Spring races."
She added:“I don't really know how my first race is going to go. I have been including some hard intervals into my training that mimic a race situation. I am hoping all the training and hard work I have been putting into the last three months shows and I don't struggle too much. The main factor is probably my ability to go hard for a long time. I am really excited to get on the start line with the team and hopefully anything I am lacking in fitness I can make up for in determination."
Follow Saturday's racing action of Barnes and the team on twitter with @WMNcycling and #OmloopIJsseldelta