Photography: Andy Bokanev | Interview: Harry Dowdney

‘I had to learn how to ride a bike again’

An interview with Hannah Barnes

The CANYON//SRAM rider talks about recovering from last year’s season-ending crash, returning home to race in the Aviva Women’s Tour (15 – 19 June) and why her younger sister Alice has got her looking over her shoulder.

I broke my ankle in August and spent 19 weeks on crutches. The bone I broke was the talus – the weight-bearing bone in the ankle. If I’d put weight on it too soon it could have crumbled.

Initially I was told it would be three months until I could race but after each doctor’s visit the wait got longer and longer. I had a CT scan every six weeks, and each time I’d be really nervous – if it wasn’t healing, I knew I’d have to wait another six weeks until the next one. It was driving me insane.

I taught myself to knit whilst I waited for it to heal. I watched a lot of TV, drank a lot of chocolate milk and took Spanish lessons. I live in Girona and everyone I know is a cyclist. At 10.30am they go out training and five hours later they come back, so I had all that time on my own.

When I first went to Europe, it took me seven attempts to finish my first race. Aged 18 I went to Holland to live and race for a year. I didn’t enjoy it and I was very close to stopping cycling. I actually broke my collarbone that season and was happy that I could go back to England for a bit. I didn’t tell anyone because I felt that it was a weakness and I was giving up. This injury has been hard but not as hard as that time in my life.

My first ride back was in trainers. I was so nervous. I felt like I’d never ridden a bike before. I was scared of being on the road, scared of stopping at traffic lights, and I was really slow. I was on my team bike (Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0) with my Zipp 404 wheels, all decked out in Rapha. It looked like someone had bought me a fancy bike and was making me ride it!

I had to learn how to descend again after my accident. In my first race back I managed to make the break but that was luck – I was following Alexis [Ryan], looked around after 5km and I was the last rider of 16! I had to work on relearning everything.

Joining a new team when you’re injured is hard. I went to the team camp in Mallorca in December and every morning I watched the girls go off for a ride. I had thought that I’d be riding by then but I still wasn’t on the bike. I was also worried that I’d join the team and be a bit left out but it wasn’t like that at all.

By April I’d started racing again, but longer training rides would still knock me out. I’m pretty happy with how I’m feeling now though.

Realistically I’m not sure I’ll be selected for The Olympics, in Rio. The games had been my main goal but I’ve had to change my focus. I’d like to do well at the Aviva Women’s Tour and at the National Championships, especially the time trial because I love this Canyon TT bike – as soon as you get on it you feel fast.

My biggest win to date was the final stage of the 2015 Aviva Women’s Tour. This year will be different because I’m in a better team but I’m not the leader, so I’ll have a different role to play. I’m learning lots from Lisa [Brennauer, the 2015 race winner] she’s been doing this for ages and has so much to share. Everyone loves to win but a team win is just as special as an individual win.

I’m a little scared of my sister. She’s going really well at the moment and it has been great to watch [Alice emulated Hannah by winning the Elite Women’s Criterium at the London Nocturne]. We’re not very competitive but I can’t get outridden by my little sister, can I?