Interview: Hannah Barnes – Moving On Up


Hannah Barnes is about to move up to the next phase of her career, racing as a full time pro bike rider for the biggest team in America, the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team

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Article from – Gordon Wiseman

After what appeared on occasions to be a domination of the UK racing scene in 2013, Hannah Barnes is about to move up to the next phase of her career, racing as a full time pro bike rider for the biggest team in America, the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team.


VeloUK spent an hour talking with Hannah over hot drinks at Twenty3c in Stony Stratford just before she flew to Argentina to join her UnitedHealthcare team-mates for this week’s Tour Femenino de San Luis where she told us about her first impressions of the Team UHC set up, how she’s approached the change to full time pro bike rider and highlighted a few targets for the year to come.

The Kent born 20 year old met up with her new team and team-mates for the first time at the start of December when she attended a ten day camp with for both the Men’s and Women’s teams at Scottsdale in Arizona. From the way a broad smile spread across Hannah’s face as she spoke about the camp, clearly she’s come away very impressed with the team and the whole Blue Train set-up.

“I turned up on day 1 and thought ‘oh my God’. It was nerve racking but everyone was really friendly and because of that it didn’t feel that it was ‘professional’, simply because everyone was SO friendly. Everyone was just getting used to their bikes and their kit.

Everything was really good. Especially riding with the men and listening to all their stories. It was really nice to get to know everyone.

“It’s serious but everyone had a good laugh even though some was at my expense. Everyone got along really well and it was just really nice to be there with them. The other “Brits”, Sharon (Laws, the 2012 National Road Race champion) and Rachel (Heal, Hannah’s Sports Director) were there so I didn’t stand out as the only Brit. But they all took the mickey out of my accent a little bit.

“We went bowling as a team bonding session which was really fun. They were really funny with the questions the guys kept asking me. I kept being asked ‘have you been bowling before? Do you know what this is?’ The girls all went out for dinner and we went to a Mexican because they wanted me to experience real Mexican food. And they took me to The Mall but that’s OK, I LOVE shopping”.

At one team meeting, the discussions got round to who would play what role in the team. “I’m the sprinter along with Coryn Rivera who I raced against at Woking (in the Johnson Health Tech Series) and Smithfield (the London Nocturne). We’ll be the team’s crit riders. That’s a big role but it’s inspiring to know that even though I’m a first year, 20 year-old pro rider, I know that the team will be told ‘right, we’re riding for Hannah today’”.

To some that might be a bit intimidating but Hannah was quick to deflect such a suggestion.


“It’s not intimidating, no. Perhaps a bit nerve racking but I think I quite thrive on pressure so I’m really going to enjoy that. I had quite a lot of pressure last year and the more and more races I won, the greater the pressure became. If I didn’t win people were then saying ‘oh what’s happening there’ and I started thinking ‘oh my God’. At the Westminster GP I wanted to finish my season with a win but with 5 laps to go there were two away but it was pretty much left to me to pull them back so to then get the win with that pressure, yeah that was good”


Rachel Heal (right) was a regular medallist in the British road race championships.

VeloUK also managed to catch up with Rachel Heal as she was finalising the team’s preparations for their debut race at San Luis. Rachel, herself an Olympian, former Worlds, Team GB and Commonwealth Games rider explained that the team are more than happy with the way Hannah is settling into the Team UHC way:

“It looks to me that she’s settled in really well already, it’s a new team, so everyone is new to each other, but they are all bonding well. Obviously, it’s more of a challenge for Hannah as she’s moving across the Atlantic to a completely new country so she has everything that comes along with that as well as with a new team, but she seems to be coping really well with it. She is very easy going and easy to get on with so I think she will fit in just fine”.

As well as the camp being a “get to know you” session, the team made sure Hannah’s Wilier Triestina was exactly the right fit for her.

“Everyone got a bike fit at Faster Arizona which is one of our sponsors” says Hannah. “I’d previously sent to the mechanics all my dimensions from the bike I had last year. Initially, when I got on the bike, the saddle was a touch too high but otherwise it was pretty much ready to go. I’d decided I needed to lower the saddle slightly as the first time I rode it I got pains in my knees but once I lowered the saddle it was fine. From then onwards it felt really good”.

And the rest of the equipment? Here Hannah admitted with a little embarrassment that she’s not exactly a bike techie as some riders seem to be.

“We’ve got Dura-Ace for the race bikes which is great but I’ve had my bike for four weeks now and I only found out we were riding 11 speed two days ago. Someone said ‘oh your riding 11-speed’ and I said ‘oh am I?”

The facilities and terrain at Scottsdale also let an impression.


Despite a fall at Woking, Hannah still managed to win in the Women’s Tour Series.

“Where we were staying was like a massive holiday resort. But with everyone staying there, about 55 riders and staff, it had to be big. The roads out there were really quite busy and there weren’t any really big climbs just gradients of, say, 2%. But there was one 9 mile climb that went up at 3%. It was awful. We did that about 4 times. It was awful because you kept thinking you were at the top but you weren’t. And it was straight up, no real bends so that wasn’t great either.

“But it was really warm there (the average temperature in Dec. is nearly 70 F) so I was wearing my shorts and jersey in December so that was really great. And that means I’m already getting the tan lines so I can’t complain”.

Although Hannah spent 2012 riding for the Dutch Ibis Cycles outfit, 2014 is her first full year as a fully professional rider.

“This will be the first time I’ve properly moved away from home. When I was racing in Holland in 2012 I broke my collar bone so I was back home for that spell and I also came back home on any weekend when I wasn’t racing. I’d sort of moved out of home but at the same time I hadn’t really. This will be completely different.

“I’ll no longer be working to start with. Even last year (when Hannah was riding for MG Maxifuel) I guess I was working 40 hours a week in the winter as a waitress. I tried to get the evening shifts so I when I got out in the morning I wasn’t really tired. But when I signed for Team UHC it was great to be able to say ‘yes this is my last shift’ because then I was a full time rider.

“I didn’t really have to change my mind-set because in the summer I’d pretty much been a full time rider, I’d only been doing two shifts a week, about 12 hours so I was always able to fit the rides in and if that sometimes meant I was late for work then I was late. I’d always let them know I was going to be late but they were really good. It really helped that they were all keen on cycling”.

The move from a top UK women’s team to the biggest bike racing team in America is bound to be a massive change but once she’d signed for UnitedHealthcare Hannah made sure she was ready to train properly once she got to her first training camp with the team.

“I knew there was interest in me at the Westminster GP crit and we pretty much had the contract sorted out two weeks after that. It was nice to have everything done and dusted so early.


“I’ve been to Girona for a week prior to the camp with my boyfriend Teo (Geoghegan Hart who rode for the Team GB Olympic Development Squad in 2013 and who this year will also be racing for an American based outfit, the Axel Merckx owned Bissell Development Team) so I’d got a lot of miles in there. We had a flat there for the week so it was good to also be able to spend some time with him and train. I got back from Girona on the 5th of December and flew to Scottsdale on the 7th so I literally only had time to change suitcases before I was away again. But that week’s training was really beneficial”.


Rachel Heal (above celebrating a medal ride in 2005 in Britain) offered some insight into why UnitedHealthcare signed Hannah to ride for them in 2014.

“For a young rider who has been racing on her own or on a smaller team, she has a lot of great results in the UK and ones that were hard fought. The Smithfield Nocturne was one that caught our eye, it was one that got a fair amount of press! To get the win was impressive but also the mature way in which she dealt with the controversy was something I noticed.”

“The team is a mixture of youth and experience and we want to develop younger riders. But even the younger riders have already proved themselves on the road and Hannah fits into that really well. And additionally for me personally, it’s great to have a couple of British riders on the team”.

Hannah’s programme, not surprisingly, includes a lot of crit racing but she starts her season with Team UHC at this week’s 5-day Tour Femenino de San Luis, the first race of the Women’s 2014 Elite racing calendar. She’ll then fly to the team’s base at Asheville, North Carolina where she’ll have roughly a 6 week period to acclimatise to the American way of life before her next race in El Salvador in the middle of March ( the 6-day Vuelta a El Salvador) and from there it’s pretty much full on.

Hannah appreciates the way her programme has been laid out for her by the team, giving her time to settle into a new country as well as hitting the racing season running.

“A lot of the riders are based at Asheville so that time will enable me to get to know everyone better. I can use those weeks to settle into things away from the racing. We’ve got the team house but it won’t be ready when I first get there so I’ll be staying with Rachel. I’ll be sharing that with Sharon and two Columbians. I think at times it’ll be people coming and going.

“But some of my teammates live in California so they’ve said I can go out there to train as well. It’s a bit of a way to go but there’ll be plenty of sun and I’ll clock up lots of air miles! I also want to go to Colorado for a couple of weeks before the Nationals and the Giro. That’ll be good training and I just want to go there so this is really going to broaden my horizons!

Women’s Tour Uncertain for team

After El Salvador the season really kicks off with the team’s and Hannah’s main targets up to the end of June being the Tour of Gila, the Giro d’Italia Femminile and the Nationals. But her participation in one major UK race is still not 100% certain.

“I’ve got my whole schedule until September but some of the events will depend on how things are going. I might do this or that race. A lot of the programme will be racing in the States. The Tour of Britain is still only 50/50, the team didn’t know for sure if we’d be doing that when I asked them. May is already a very busy month for the whole team as the men will have the Giro that month as well so that’d leave us short of team cars and a team bus but I don’t think that’s the end of the World.

“For the women, we’ve got the Tour of Gila and as that doesn’t finish until 4 May that’ll be a bit of a mad rush for the Tour of Britain (that runs from 7 to 11 May this year). But when I flew back from the camp in Arizona after the camp I didn’t get jetlag at all, I slept for 12 hours, so I can do that.

“I’ve heard that Team GB might be putting in a team so perhaps I can do that. It’ll be my home race, stage 1 (to Northampton) is literally on my doorstep, to win the first ever stage of the Women’s Tour of Britain, it’d all be great publicity for me and for SweetSpot and I know having spoken with them they’d like me to race as well. It’d be just perfect for me.”

“And after that I’ve got quite a big gap in May when I’m not scheduled to be doing much so I might be able to stay over for a bit. I’m still hoping to do the Smithfield but at the moment that’s doubtful. That’d be quite good fun to come back and do that.

“The Giro (previously known as the Giro Donne) is definitely on my programme. As I say I’ll be doing some training in Colorado but the team may also be doing a training camp because we’ve got Mara Abbott in the team and she won the Giro last year (and in 2010. And Mara is also a multiple stage winner at the Giro) and at the moment that’s the team’s Big Goal for the year so we really need to be flying for that”.

Rachel Heal confirmed that the Team GB option is a possibility for the Tour of Britain IF they enter a team and IF Hannah is selected. But she didn’t rule out the possibility of UnitedHealthcare entering their own team.


“There is a possibility that we will ride Tour of Britain as a team but Tour of the Gila, which is a big race for us in the US, finishes just 3 days before it which makes it something of a challenge. We do have several of the US riders who race with the US national team, so it’s certainly a possibility for Hannah to ride with Team GB”.

The step up to the ranks of a full time, professional bike rider will, in Hannah’s case, mean more than her moving to the other side of the Atlantic to ply her trade. She’s also had to consider what else she can do as a rider to repay her employers and one step she’s taken to do this is to start using the services of a coach.

“This wasn’t something the team insisted on, it was something I thought I should do to sort myself out. I’m working with Roy Chamberlain (well known Milton Keynes rider). It’s possibly going to be hard working with me in America and Roy in the UK but that’s one reason I’ve got to get a power meter so he knows what I’m doing. But I’m quite good and if he says I’ve got to go tempo I’ll go tempo. I chose Roy because I knew riders who’d worked with him and he’s always been so helpful to me in the past.


Roy (above) has been at the top of the UK racing elite for more years than he’d care to remember and over the past few years has been developing a stable of riders he’s been training and passing on his years of experience.

“It’s obvious that Hannah has tons of class as a rider, there’s just so much ability to be working with. We’ve been working on her strengths and her sprint is obviously at the top of that list but there’s always ways of building on that. But we’ve not been neglecting those areas that need to be brought on and that perhaps includes dealing with the longer climbs.

“Hannah’s got a huge year in front of her but we’re already thinking beyond this year and I think a place in the Rio Olympic squad has to be one of her targets and with her sprint, well who knows what she might pull off if she gets there”.

Whilst Rio is more than two seasons away, Hannah does have her eye on another massive multi-sport event that’s taking place this year, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Again Hannah’s huge smile lit up her face as she spoke about competing in Glasgow.

“I’d love to take part. I did the junior Commonwealths on the Isle of Man (in 2011) and racing in the England kit, that was really cool. So do compete at the senior level, that’d be great. I’d like to do both the road race and time trial. I enjoy time trials, it’s just you to race against the clock. And I’ve raced on the road course in Glasgow at last year’s Nationals so that’d help. Lots of people said that the course is just a big crit but it wasn’t like that. It was really hard and it gave me an indication that it’ll be a great course for the Commonwealths.

“And then later in the year there’s the chance to race at my first senior champs at the international level. I might be down for the TTT for UHC and if I can then I’d like to do the Worlds road race as well. I’d really like to make my Team GB at senior level this year”.

There is however one subject that can irk, the suggestion that she’s “just” a crit rider. “Some people think I can just do an hour long crit. But look at something like the Ras na mBan (Ireland’s premier bike race, sponsored by An Post) I did in September last year.”

“It was five days racing and this year was in awful weather. I won three stages, the sprints and the mountains jerseys and that was against some top women riders. And some of the climbs, especially on the last day, were really tough. I got the pink jersey after stage 1 but on stage two I lost time because I was freezing cold. But on the last day, it felt that I was just floating, a great feeling.”

“I know some have said ‘she can win a crit but can she win a sprint after 4 hours’. I think winning the Ras went some way to proving them wrong but I’ve got to do that this year and that’s something I’m determined to do. I also won some tough three hour road races this year. I won the Curlew Cup (55 miles in Northumberland), I won at Ryedale (41 miles in North Yorkshire) and the course at Ryedale is quite something so I think that puts me more as an all-rounder than “just” a crit rider.”

“I know that this year I’ve got to train more. It’s nice to know some think I won’t be able to last more than an hour and then I can go on to prove them wrong. And I’ve now got a great team behind me and that gives me even more determination”.

Rachel Heal doesn’t think it’ll be that long before Hannah’s determination starts to produce results. After one of the team’s final warm-up rides before racing in San Luis begins she told VeloUK: “Hannah is riding well and is well motivated and I think a lot of the stages in San Luis will suit her”.

“I’d like to see the team come away with some stage wins and I see Hannah either taking a stage win herself or being very instrumental in a stage win for a team mate”.

VeloUK hopes we will be speaking to Hannah again very soon, especially if the determined young lady continues in the winning ways she so repeatedly demonstrated last year.

 Thanks to Gordon for the article and good luck to Hannah & Rachel in 2014.


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