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Riding home for Christmas: How pros approach the festive period

Maria David
24 Dec 2019

Riders reflect on their racing season and tell us how they spend Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner and after team presentations and training camps riders can look forward to relaxing with their families before starting the next racing season.

Apart from those hardy souls who race cyclocross over the Christmas holidays, many pro riders use the festive week to let their hair down just a little. Some liquid refreshments will be enjoyed – and we’re not talking energy drinks. There will be turkey, Christmas pudding, mince pies, chocolates, cheese...

Even when there is celebrating, the pedals still keep turning, and the pros will be out on their bikes – whether it’s on long rides to see family, local social rides or even the Festive 500.

Team Sunweb's Nicolas Roche and Canyon-Sram's Alice and Hannah Barnes took time out of their training camps to speak to Cyclist and reflect on their season, as well as share how they spend the festive season.

Hannah Barnes. Photo: Tino Pohlmann/Canyon-Sram

Hannah Barnes

Cyclist: How is Christmas for you?

Hannah Barnes: For me, Christmas is about family and a cheeseboard. They are my favourite things. I don’t go to see my family much so it’s really nice to see them. It’s an intense five or six days, but I like it.

Cyc: And between yourselves do you talk about cycling when you catch up?

HB: My granddad likes to know what’s going on. He’s a big Tao [Geoghegan Hart] fan so he just goes straight to 'How’s Tao doing?' Apart from that we just occasionally talk about cycling and move swiftly on to other things.

Cyc: Do you ride your bike during that time?

HB: Yes. I like to earn my food a little bit. We usually do the Festive 500 and hope to do it this year. Last year was pretty easy because me and Tao did a lot of riding to and from family and so we covered a lot of kilometres over those days. We started off in London and then rode to the Cotswolds and back to London. We had to get up very early and hope that there was no ice on the roads.

Cyc: And tell us about the cheese board?

HB: One year I asked my mum and dad for a cheese board - and that was a pretty good present. Bringing out the cheeseboard is the highlight of Christmas for me as all the family gets involved. My dad’s favourite are the smelly blue cheeses and Alice’s favourites are Brie and Camembert. I love all cheeses.

Cyc: How has your season been?

HB: Overall as a team we’ve had some pretty big wins and I’m happy with that, but I’m not thrilled with my personal performance. My role in a lot of races is to be the helper, but there’s a few times when I did have the chance to be a leader and I wasn’t able to really deliver.

I was really good at the Women’s Tour and then the week between the Women’s Tour and the Nationals I didn’t recover as much as I could have and I definitely felt that in the time trial. I had focused on that discipline a lot, and the result I got [3rd] led to me not being selected for the World Championships time trial.

Cyc: What were your high points?

HB: In the road race at the National Championships, me and Alice had a pretty good plan and I think that we executed it really well [Alice won]. Also, at the Giro Rosa we won the team time trial and that was really special.

Cyc: What are you targeting for next year?

HB: I like Strade Bianche. If I have good legs on that day I can be super helpful for the lead rider, so that’s one of my early season goals. Then there’s the Tokyo Olympics. I went to see the course in July to get an idea of what the weather and the humidity will be like around that time. It would be a dream if I could race there, though I think everyone is going to be fighting for those spots.

Cyc: What do you think of the fact that Great Britain only has two slots?

HB: I think we struggled this year – especially with Dani Rowe retiring and Lizzie Deignan not doing many races – so it was probably hard for us to score points.

We’ll have a small peloton of less than 70 riders, which is a shame as it is definitely a course where you could do with a few more riders. But I guess you just have to be tactically clever and prepare really well for it as the course is super hard. I think with two riders you could still be in with a chance.

Alice Barnes (centre) after this year's Etape du Tour. Photo: Dan Glasser/Rapha

Alice Barnes

Cyclist: What do you do for Christmas?

Alice Barnes: I’ll be back at my parents’ place in Norfolk. Christmas is a time when you know all of your competitors are relaxing so you can relax a bit more, drink a little bit and be a normal person for three days. I really enjoy that time of year.
Christmas Eve is our parents’ Christmas, so me, my boyfriend, Hannah’s boyfriend and my brother’s girlfriend all get together in Norfolk. Then on Christmas day we’ll go to our other halves’ families.

Cyc: Do you do family bike rides at Christmas?

AB: Yes, me, Hannah, Tao and Ollie [Wood], do a ride out to see my grandma and celebrate with her, so I’m looking forward to it.

Cyc: How has your year been?

AB: It’s been a good year, and an improvement on last year. I won the National Championships [time trial and road race], which was a massive highlight for me, but I didn’t get a win abroad, which I would have liked.

I had some close races but I never got on the top step. In Norway I was the lead rider in the race and we had a really strong team, but I felt the pressure and let it get to me a little bit. I didn’t deliver and so now I am learning to not get overwhelmed, so I can execute a good race.

Cyc: What are you targeting for next year?

AB: I tend to be good at the Classics in colder weather, so I am aiming to be on the podium in those. I think the Women’s Tour is always quite a big one for me, with it being a home race. Then I also hope to have good legs for the National Championships again.

Nicolas Roche. Photo: Trinity Sports Management

Nicolas Roche

Cyclist: How will you spend Christmas?

Nicolas Roche: I haven’t made my mind up yet. Last year I spent 24th in Spain with my partner’s family and we took a flight on the morning of 25th to Nice and went directly from the airport for Christmas lunch with my mum in Nice. Trying to keep everyone happy is not always easy. In Spain they celebrate King’s Day on the 6th or 7th January as well, which is like their Christmas so even if I missed my partner’s family on the 25th I’ll get a second chance to be with them.

Cyc: Do you see your cousin Dan Martin at Christmas?

NR: No, hardly ever. It’s quite complicated for everyone to go to Ireland or to find a common place. He lives in Andorra, his parents are in Girona, our grandparents are in Dublin, my dad’s in Hungary, my mum’s in Nice, my partner’s in Spain and I’m living in Monaco ….. Christmas is only two days!

So yeah, in a perfect world it’s always cool to have the whole family together, but with about 40 of us in total including about 26 cousins it’s complicated.

Cyc: Do you cycle much over Christmas?

NR: Oh, all the time! That’s the good thing at least about having the options of Christmas in Nice or in Madrid – I can always stay on the bike and not miss any cycling days.

Cyc: And do you indulge in extra turkey or drink?

NR: Well that’s the thing – to be able to enjoy more turkey I just enjoy more time on the bike. Every year my aunty makes me Christmas pudding, which is made with Guinness. I use it as my training cake and I have a slice wrapped in aluminium foil in my back pocket – and that keeps me going all day.

When I’m with my mum we have a French Christmas meal with turkey, though I never go a Christmas without finishing my meal with an Irish Whisky. That wouldn’t be right.

Cyc: How has the season been for you?

NR: I planned to go all the way till Il Lombardia so crashing out of La Vuelta was quite a blow especially as things had gone well a couple of days beforehand when I took the red jersey. I had been happy to be back at that level and prove that I was a part of the top guys.

Cyc: How’s the knee?

NR: It’s 100% good now. Once I had the green light from the doctors in early October, I started training and made sure to not go out and do anything crazy.

Cyc: Aside from the red jersey in the Vuelta, what have been the other high points?

NR: My focus is always on the second part of the year, so I had a chance at the Tour de Suisse and I finished 10th. In the Tour I rode in support of Michael Matthews for the first part, and then when we got into the mountains I had the freedom to go into the breakaways and I did pretty well.

Cyc: What are you looking forward to next season?

NR: If I am confirmed for the Tour de France, I am really going to enjoy it and make the most of it, given that I live in Monaco and we will start with two days in Nice. The Col du Turini is a fabulous climb. It’s not one that we do often in training because it’s a bit of loop to get there, but when we can – especially in the summer we do it.

My first Tour de France in 2009 was in Monaco, so it would be great to do another Tour and go through Nice. Most of my family still lives down there.

Also, I’m really looking forward to the Olympics and hope I can get there. It will be my fourth time and it’s something I have in the back of my mind. So I want to prepare well for that, though I don’t know what stage I am now with the federation. I think we have four places which gives me quite a big chance.