Being stuck outside in the Norwegian winter with no contact to the outside world and little food might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it’s an excellent way to get to know someone.
At least that’s what Hannah Barnes found when she joined her new Uno-X squad for a recent team building exercise.
“We got a message about a month before and they told us to get a -20º sleeping bag,” the former British national road and time trial champion tells us. “We got there and within an hour we had to hand our phones in, which was actually really cool because no one had their heads in their phones.
“We did a track day, which was really fun, had a nice three course meal and that was pretty much the last time we ate for the next 36 hours. I think we had an hour and a half of sleep in our sleeping bags next to a bonfire we’d made, but we all came away thinking that we’d known everyone for the last two or three years, so I’m looking forward to the next year.”
The bonding exercise certainly sounds unique, and extreme as it sounds, welfare was clearly maintained as a priority – we noticed new teammate Elinor Barker, who is currently pregnant, commented on Instagram that the event included: “A 24-hour hike with obstacles on limited food and sleep (except for me, pregnancy perks).”
Barnes’s move from Canyon-SRAM, where she has spent six seasons, came as a surprise, but while she is clearly looking forward with optimism, when we spoke she admitted it comes on the back of a difficult period. “I was ready for a change. I think I’m at the point in my career where it was either try something new or stop,” she explains a little ruefully. “When they approached me I really liked the sound of it, I liked the role they were going to give me. There’s a lot of young riders and they’ve brought me in to help them and to be a mentor, but also with some leadership roles.
“I’ve shown that I can do pretty well in the spring races, but I think it’s about me being happy and finding confidence again, because there was a point where I didn’t really feel like I belonged in the peloton, I just would be there and not be in it. What I really need to do is find my footing again.”
Barnes’s time with Canyon-SRAM has not been without success. She won both her national jerseys while in the German squad’s striking colours, took GC victory at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, and in 2017 won a stage of the Giro Rosa.
There was squad success too, the team winning the final Team Time Trial world title in 2018. However, despite some podium finishes in top races, including notably finishing a close second to Marianne Vos in a stage of the 2020 Giro, 28 year-old Barnes has been feeling out of sorts.
“I have no idea [what happened] a lot of people have asked me. I have talent and I don’t seem to be able to do it,” she continues. “I’ve had an injury this year, but I think a lot of it was mental so I just really need work on that and find the Hannah that was in 2017, find her somewhere again.
“I really struggle with letting people down, I know I can do a good job when I’m a team player but not always when I’m trying to finish the job off. At the Giro last year I felt no pressure, the team said just try, there’s nothing to lose, and I don’t know why I don’t always think like that, not everyone can win the race so I need to think like that more.”
Aggressive racing from the men’s team means we’ve seen a lot of Uno-X’s bight yellow kit in recent seasons, but the women’s squad is new for 2022. A change in the UCI’s regulations allowed them to join the peloton as a top tier WorldTeam, one up from the men, but Barnes expects a similar style.
“When I signed everyone was saying how impressed they were with the way the men raced. Within the team they have their own values and one of those is sticking together and racing like you’re one, which when you’re watching them on the telly that’s not hard to miss.
“It’s the same management, the same staff, it’s like one huge family. All the races we do next year when the men are there we’ll be in the same hotel with the same chef and whatnot, we’ll use all the same resources. They’ve made that very clear, everything the men have we’ll have.”
Barnes won’t be the only Brit on the squad. Though Elinor Barker is currently pregnant and unlikely to race in 2022, we can expect Jos Lowden to continue the form that brought her victories and the hour record last season.
Like Barnes, Dane Julie Leth will also provide a huge amount of experience, but the Brit is expecting big things from 23 year-old sprinter, Susanne Andersen.
“When she was at DSM she was leadout for Lorena [Wiebes] but I reckon when she’s got a full team behind her then she can win races next year. But I’ve realised over the years it’s not always the strongest team that wins, it’s about riders with the same ambition and ethos to look after each other.
“We got on really well, we pushed each other and supported each other, and we can be there.”