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In the build up to this year’s Rapha Women’s 100, we spoke to three female riders who sit on different branches of the cycling tree. All of them featured in the recent Rapha shoot in the Cévennes: Polly Farrington, a novice rider who came into the sport from running; Gem Atkinson, an enthusiast who has been in love with the sport for almost a decade; and Hannah Barnes, a first year professional racer, already making waves with her team in America. We asked each about their goals in 2014, what the sport means to them, and who their biggest influences are.
Hannah Barnes – Racer
How did you get into the sport in the first place?
Dad had always enjoyed riding his bike. He has never done it competitively but it was just something he loved doing at the weekend with friends. Instead of us all having different hobbies, he got us all bikes and we were soon joining him on his weekend adventures. Me and my siblings all loved it and that was it, we were hooked.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I have always enjoyed sports. At school I was on most of the school sports teams. I did my exams but never had any intention of going to university. I set my sights firmly on my dream of becoming professional cyclist. In 2011 I got myself a job as a waitress to fund the season, so a lot of my winter was spent on the bike or in a bow tie and waistcoat. I enjoy spending time with my friends and family. As a cyclist you are on the road a lot of the year so it’s a nice treat when you’re home to go and grab something to eat and have a catch up.
Why do you think cycling appeals to you?
There are a lot of things that I enjoy about the sport. The highs and lows are a big part of cycling. You can go from having the race of your life and taking the biggest win of your career and the weekend after having the worst race. I think that’s what I love, the roller coaster of emotions throughout the season. I love the thrill of racing. Being in the peloton with 120 other riders all going for the same finish line is a huge buzz that you can’t get from sitting in an office behind a computer.
It seems to me that women can suffer just as well (if not better) than the boys. What do you think?
Cycling is all about having the ability to suffer, not just in a race but during training as well. No matter who you are, if you have the determination and put 100% into riding your bike as fast as you can then you’re going to improve and succeed.
What are your main goals for this season?
My main aim this year is to have a great debut season as a professional cyclist. I can’t wait for the opportunity to race the best female cyclists in the world with such a great team. The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team is great and I am privileged to be part of it and hopefully I’ll have a season to remember with them.
Apart from obvious riding ambitions, what helps motivate you?
Ever since I have been riding my bike and competing I have had the best support system behind me, my family. They have put so much time and money into it. I am sure they would have preferred to do something else than drive me around the country every weekend to a bike race. Cycling is something that I love to do so going out every morning on my bike is something I wouldn’t change for the world. And, of course, winning is awesome…
How would you describe yourself as a rider?
I’m a sprinter. If I am there at the finish then I stand a good chance of doing well. I will also do anything for my team. Cycling is a huge team sport and my team will help me out in a race and I will always do the same.
How would you like to be known as a rider?
I would love to be a role model for other female cyclists. I have already had young girls message me that are getting into cycling and they see me as a role model, which is really touching. To know that I have inspired someone to pick up a bike and race is amazing. I would also like to be known as a happy and friendly cyclist. Whether it’s to the press, spectators or other riders.
Who has been your biggest influence on the bike?
My family. They have been a huge influence to my cycling. Couldn’t have done it without them.
What so far has been your greatest achievement with riding your road bike?
Last year was a great year for me and I thoroughly enjoyed racing back in Britain. I was particularly happy with winning the National Criterium Championships. It’s always amazing winning a national jersey and to be able to wear it for the 2014 season is going to be great.
How about the fondest racing memory?
I have a lot of fond moments when racing. The Woking Tour Series in 2013, it wasn’t really the race but the overwhelming response from the public afterwards. Also Westminster GP: My whole family, cousins, aunties, uncles, and grandparents came to watch and it was great to cross the line first with them all there.
What’s the best lesson you can give to anyone wishing to start racing?
I always say to anyone that’s just starting out in cycling to enjoy it. There’s no point doing something you don’t enjoy. Cycling is a great way to meet people. I started cycling in a small club and met some great people who gave me some great advice and have helped me get to where I am. There’s no rush to start racing so take your time and learn the basic skills of riding with people and in a group and once you feel you’re ready, sign up. Winning doesn’t happen overnight so be patient and keep going and you’ll soon see improvements.
Where do you hope to be as a rider this time next year?
This year I am in America riding for UnitedHealthcare, which is one of the best professional UCI women’s teams. This is going to be a huge experience and I can’t wait to get stuck in. Cycling is such an unpredictable sport but if I am in the same position next year, that would be incredible.