Great Britain’s Alice Barnes is hoping to continue her run of late-season form at the final round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Meribel, France from 21-24 August.
The first-year British Cycling Olympic Academy Programme rider has produced an impressive string of results through July and August, finishing fifth in an elite field at the Commonwealth Games before recording a career-best sixth place in the under-23 women’s event at the last round of the world cup in Windham, USA.
Predictions of top-ten finishes might have seemed optimistic back in February, when the 18-year-old suffered a collarbone break that forced her to miss the early rounds of the series.
However, Barnes’ injury may have proved to be a blessing in disguise, with the Towcester-born rider hitting form in time for the world championships in Norway at the start of September.
“It gave me a bit of time to do some more work on the turbo and get in some good strength training,” said Barnes of her injury-enforced break from competition.
"But it's my first year on the academy, my first year being a full-time bike rider so I think I was going to gradually get better anyway with a different lifestyle and learning more how to live out of the racing."
Since the injury, the scale and speed of progress has been a surprise to Barnes, particularly her sixth place in Windham. Barnes’ first world cup outing came in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic in May, when she finished an impressive 18th against riders up to four years her senior. However, since then, her improvements have been exponential.
"It's been quite unexpected,” she said. “I didn't really know how well I was going to do in the Commonwealth Games and in Windham - because Windham was quite a hilly course for me.
"But with all the training that I've been doing recently in Morzine and at the Pickering camp, I've got quite good form off the back of that so I was really happy with those two results.
Barnes’ performance at the hilly Windham venue is testament to the more structured training and lifestyle of the full-time academy athlete, which Barnes’ became at the beginning of 2014 after graduating from the British Cycling Olympic Development Programme at the end of 2013.
"With being on the Academy with a detailed training programme, doing a bit of everything has really helped me."
"I think a lot of it has been more training through the year and spending time on camps with Annie (Last).
“You get a lot of experience and you can see what they do and you just have to get better at a few aspects of diet, nutrition and lifestyle.
"And also technical and physical aspects of mountain biking - if you get better at both of them then you're going to get a lot better quicker."
The cumulative effects of training and lifestyle changes are further boosted by Barnes’ ever-improving gridding, in turn a knock-on-effect of her finishing positions.
Her sixth place at Windham came after a dauntless battle through the field from 25th on the grid. Barnes, now Great Britain’s highest ranked under-23 woman, will start further toward the business end of the race in Meribel, a huge advantage on single-track courses where passing is difficult.
However, Barnes acknowledged that the stronger field that a Europe-based world cup attracts will make a repeat of her Windham result difficult.
Yet she remains confident, having beaten a cold to secure second place at the final round of the British Cycling MTB Cross-Country Series at Cannock last weekend, and now feels ready for her final 2014 world cup test.
"Hopefully I can repeat or do better than it (sixth) but it's a European round so there's a lot more riders there. It's going to be a tough one but I'll give it my best and see how it goes."