Last month, Hannah Barnes once again headed to Mallorca for a training camp with the Canyon-SRAM team, but the young Briton found herself in a very different place than she did 12 months ago.
For a start, she was wearing the white gilet of British national road champion, with its blue and red stripes, but more significant was the fact that she was able to kit up in the first place.
“I was on camp for 12 days last year and didn’t ride a bike once,” Barnes told Cyclingnews in Mallorca last month, referring to the ankle break she sustained in August 2015 that hampered her new start with her new team.
“I did ask if I could possibly not do the whole camp because I thought I’d just be sitting around in the hotel, but I think Ronny [Lauke] and Beth [Duryea] wanted me to be there to get integrated into the team even if I wasn’t riding.”
On crutches and unable even to do the rounds at the buffet without assistance, her fellow riders took it in turns to load up her plate, which made light work of the integration process. But the overriding feeling was one of frustration; she should have been riding – only the ankle was taking far longer to heal than expected.
“I knew from the start it was a pretty serious injury and it was going to take a long time to heal, but I didn’t think it would take as long as it did,” says Barnes.
“I had five CT scans and each time they came back that it wasn’t healing, that it hadn’t even started to knit yet, so each of those was a quite a knock-back. I was expecting to come to camp last year and be able to ride but I had a CT scan just before and they said it still hadn’t healed and I had another six weeks to wait, so that was pretty hard to take.”
Barnes got the green light to start riding again in mid-January, and at first she was limited to 10-minute outings three times a day - wearing trainers as she didn't feel comfortable clipping in and out of pedals - as her calf had reduced in diameter by a staggering six centimetres. She started racing again in April at the Salverda Omloop van de IJsseldelta, and was soon back in the cut and thrust of the WorldTour at Flèche Wallonne and the Tour of California.
"I beat myself up a bit in those races, because I knew where I had been and I’d had to kind of start from zero. I was taking it a lot harder than I should have done," says the 23-year-old.
“There were always some doubts. For me it was ‘am I going to be able to get back to where I was?’ The rehab and the physio were pretty hard and the and a lot of it was going to be down to me and how determined I was.”
The doubts were all allayed in Stockton at the British national road race at the end of June, where Barnes rounded the final bend and unleashed a sprint that no one could match.
“That was a big relief. Everyone wants to win a race but after something like that it was pretty unexpected, but it was really nice. Just for my confidence more than anything."
Barnes went on to rack up a further 20 race days, finishing second with Canyon-SRAM in the World Championships team time trial and an encouraging 14th in the individual time trial.
“This season, considering I missed five months of pretty vital time in the year, it was pretty good, so I can go into next season pretty positive," she concluded.
Barnes could have chosen to head to Australia this month to kick off her 2017 season, but she has opted to give herself an extra month of gym work and preparation to ensure she’s fully prepared for the campaign. She told Cyclingnews that her first race would be the Tour of Qatar but it was soon announced that the Middle East race would not be held this year due to a shortfall in sponsorship.
In any case, the ambition is to be hitting her top form by the spring.
“The Classics, everyone wants to do well there, so I’d really like to go into Strade Bianche or Flanders as a really good team player. I don’t think I’ll be the leader there but I‘d love to play a part in the races," she said.
“Probably May or June will be when I can get some good results, at Californaia and the Tour of Britain.”
As her training regime swaps base miles out for focused efforts over the course of this month, she will still be spending plenty of time in the gym to ensure the leg returns to full health.
"I still have problems now if I walk too much, or if I trip over or something, it’s still quite sore. But I’ve been doing gym two to three times a week, that British Cycling have sorted out. I go to the veldorome every six weeks and they see where I am and put together a gym programme. From the word go, they were just there, with almost everything organised."
Assuming there are no further complications with the injury, Barnes is hoping to capitalise on her time trial performance at the Worlds, and also build on that kick that landed her the national champion's jersey.
“The time trial at Worlds was my first major international competition in a time trial. Time trialling is something I’ll try and improve on over the winter and next season. And I just want to get my sprint back. I felt that after the injury it wasn't what it used to be, so I'll be working on that and trying to get my strength back.”
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