Sometimes it’s hard to know how much you love something until it’s almost taken away from you. That’s what happened to Hannah Barnes just over two years ago when a big crash left her with a broken ankle.
The injuries were such that she couldn’t ride her bike for five months and it would be eight before she could race - particularly frustrating given she’d signed a contract with the nascent Canyon-SRAM squad for the 2016 season.
At times, Barnes wonders if the crash brought her to where she is today, but one thing is for sure, it gave her renewed passion for her sport.
"Even though I’ve got a few difficulties now, I wouldn’t change what happened because I definitely found a new love for the sport after it," she told Cyclingnews at Canyon-SRAM’s training camp at the start of February.
"I always wonder if I’d still be doing it if it hadn’t happened just because I was in such a no man’s land back then. For me, it definitely focused me a lot more and made me want it a lot more."
Since the crash in 2015, Barnes has undergone hours of rehab, gym work and more in order to get herself back to full working order. Try as she might, she’s had to accept that her ankle will never be quite the same. Thankfully, she says, the troubles are off the bike rather than on it.
"I think I’m always going to have something," she said. "There are six or seven centimetres difference between my left and my right in terms of movement. I think that’s just how it is now. I’ve done so much rehab, physio and gym work to correct it. On the bike, I have no niggles but when I have a massage at the end of the day it is noticeable when you have someone digging into those knots. I can definitely tell that my right quad is taking a lot of strain."
Growing in confidence
While Barnes, who is still just 24, plays down some of her achievements prior to breaking her ankle, there was plenty of promise from her with a stage win at the Women’s Tour in 2015 and multiple stage wins at the Tour de San Luis and one at the Tour of the Gila. Since the crash, she has become a national road race champion and taken silver with Canyon-SRAM in the team time trial at the 2016 World Championships.
Last season started off solidly enough but it was the second part of the season where things really began to take off for Barnes. After second and third respectively at the time trial and road race at the national championships, she went on to win a stage of the Giro Rosa in July, beating Lotta Lepisto and Kirsten Wild in a sprint. The year was capped off with a strong showing at the World Championships in Bergen, where she finished fourth in the team time trial, breached the top 10 for the first time in the individual chrono, and took 14th in the road race after multiple attacks.
Following the road race, former world champion and teammate Lizzie Deignan went as far as calling her a future world champion. There was just one win during the season, but it helped to build Barnes’ confidence immeasurably.
"I started  pretty slowly," Barnes explained. "Nobody really knew what to expect from me and I gained confidence and found my footing a bit within the team and within the peloton. I guess that I’m a rider that lacks a lot of confidence. For a long time, I have had people nagging me to believe in myself a bit more and the team definitely do but I need to push myself to know that I can perform at the highest level.
"Bergen, for me, was a really good race. I didn’t hold back. A lot of people have said to me that you never know until you try and I just thought that that race was the perfect opportunity for me to have a go and see what I can do. I think that I can really go into a lot of races like that with the mentality that I can be there at the front of the race and not hold back."
That growth in confidence has borne fruit already this season with the first overall title of her career at the Setmana Valenciana at the end of February. She claimed two stage wins along the way, making it possibly the best start to the season for the Briton.
Barnes will try to keep the good form going at her debut Strade Bianche on Saturday, where she will likely play a support role, before she heads to the Classics – both Flemish and Ardennes. Most of her biggest targets for 2018 come on home soil, with the World Championships in Austria something to focus on at the end of the season.
"I do Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem and then Flèche and Liège and then the Tour of Yorkshire and the Women’s Tour, which are two big goals for me," said Barnes. "I’d love to better a third place overall at the Women’s Tour - that would be really cool and then hopefully the Europeans as well, with them being in Britain. That would be a really cool race to do well at.
"Also, the team time trial is a big goal for the team so we’ll go to Innsbruck with that as a focus. With the training of the team time trial, I tend to do quite well off that. I’m looking forward to Innsbruck. This year, I’m another year older and I hope another year wiser so, hopefully, I can use that."