Special agent Barnes: A retiring rider's passion to support female athletes
Hannah Barnes hung up her wheels in October and has already found her next calling as a rider agent with huge promise and potential
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Hannah Barnes put an end to her racing career in 2023
Retirement can be a tricky phase in an athlete’s career, but for Hannah Barnes, the transition has been almost seamless with the former rider hanging up her wheels in October and almost immediately taking up a full-time role as a rider agent at SEG Cycling.
The 30-year-old raced competitively as a professional for over a decade, winning over a dozen races and forming a reputation as one of the most hardworking, down-to-earth and respected teammates in the Women’s WorldTour.
Some might view Barnes’ retirement as a loss to professional cycling but her skills and experience could arguably make her an elite agent in the years to come. That’s because there’s a perception - in sport and not just cycling - that agents can be cold, calculating and financially driven. In truth, every trade on the planet has that demographic but Barnes, like all the best rider agents, wants to put the rider’s needs first and foremost. She wants to be a shield, a mentor and to a great extent, an ally.
“A good agent is someone who cares,” she told GCN over the phone in a recent conversation.
“They’re someone that you can trust and someone that, as a rider, you know has your back. Being a good agent is about taking time with people and looking after them. It’s great to help someone during the good times but as a former rider I know that there are going to be times when there’s struggle or hardship, and I want the riders I work with to know that there’s someone who will always be there for them.”
Barnes will head up the women’s cycling portfolio at SEG. The agency has around a dozen female cyclists on their books but the plan is to carefully grow that number over the coming years. Barnes will be integral to those business plans, using her contacts within the peloton to sit down with riders and propose how she can enhance their careers.
At the same time, it’s not just about growth. Most of the current crop of riders at SEG have longstanding contracts that go behind 2024, and the 30-year-old wants to spend the immediate future building up relationships.
“At the moment it’s about being there if they have any questions, figuring things out if they don’t have the race calendar that they were looking for and helping them focus. I just want to be someone that they feel comfortable with and then help them through their careers,” she said.
Transitioning out of the peloton
Barnes knew that her career in the bunch was likely to end in 2023. When she signed her most recent contract with Uno-X at the start of 2022 she accepted that it could be her last and in the summer she began to seek out options for what would be the next chapter in her life.
The role of a sports director could have been an option but it didn’t feel like the most natural pathway and having dipped her toes into the coaching arena this year she knew that working with young athletes was a passion worth pursuing.
“There were some rumours around July that SEG was looking for someone, so I emailed them and explained that I was stopping with racing and that if there was an opportunity to work for the agency I’d like to talk. They were keen too, so I did my last race in Belgium and then the next day I had an interview in Amsterdam at the SEG headquarters. It all moved pretty quickly,” Barnes said.
“This year I’ve liked that mentoring role and I enjoyed the idea of working with young athletes who might need some guidance during their career. Even when riders change teams during their careers, I think it’s important to have a constant presence, and that’s what attracted me to the role at SEG.”
Of course, there’s a personal transition that comes with leaving the world of professional competition and working a more stable 9-5 career. For the last decade, Barnes has lived the life of an athlete with team support and a set schedule handed to her. These days there’s a lot more flexibility but also more responsibility. Barnes is more than content with her choice, though, and is glad she dived straight into a new role rather than taking time away.
“It’s very different. I’ve got to be a lot more organised now and have a diary. I can’t just go on TrainingPeaks and see what training I have to do that day. I’ve got to be a lot more organised, and I can’t just decide that at 11 o’clock I’ll go for a ride. I like that level of regimentation. It does feel a bit strange now because it was the off-season and now everyone is starting to train again, so it’s kicking in that I’m no longer a professional. I’m really happy though. A few people have said that I should have taken some time to adjust but I’m not that kind of person, and I like to have things to do. I like a purpose and a role,” she said.
That purpose will almost certainly incorporate long-term goals too. It’s only the start of her journey as a rider agent but Barnes is looking down the track and already has the right mindset when it comes to the definition of success, for both her and the riders she represents.
“I knew I wanted to be in cycling and in this role, I can empathise with riders if something goes wrong, or if they’ve had a crash. I know those emotions, so I think that gives me good experience. I want to work with young riders, and I want to be with them during their entire careers. Hopefully, in eight years' time, I can sit down with a rider and look back at their career and see that they’ve been really happy. The female riders deserve time and someone to look out for them. We want to build a portfolio and a great network for riders to be in.”
Any rider would be lucky to have that level of support and commitment but the immediate future for Barnes will be spent getting to know her riders and building those relationships.
“I’d like to go to a few races. I’m lucky enough to be able to watch most races on TV now but I’d like to attend a few events and let the riders know that I’m there, that I’m watching and that I’m there for them.”