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Jonathan Tiernan-Locke Interview
Photos by Emily Maye & Graham Watson
Reigning Tour of Britain champion Jonathan Tiernan-Locke began his pro career with Rapha-Condor-Sharp. Following a stellar 2012 with Endura it was only a matter of time before Team Sky came calling. In this exclusive interview with Rapha, JTL reflects on old-school training, making the transition to the ProTour and returning to form after a difficult year.
Whereabouts are you at the moment and are you training today?
I’m on the Devon-Cornwall border. Just going out on the mountain bike for an hour or so.
That’s how you started out racing, do you still love MTB?
Get out on it whenever I can. It breaks up the day-to-day road stuff.
Nice to have the option to mix it up. It’s good in winter when it’s icy, the trails are safe and you stay warmer, out of the wind.
I read you’re quite old school in your training methods, i.e. no power meter. Has that changed at all now you’re at Team Sky?
Not really, I’ve tried different methods to adapt my physiology, longer climbs and such. I’m not intentionally old school, my approach to training is about enjoying it. I like to just go out and ride, and if you’re not enjoying it then it seems pointless. It’s not about ticking boxes. We don’t have a say in using SRMs at Sky but in the past I haven’t used one.
I just look down at the clock or a watch and see how long I’ve been out on my bike.
Do you ride by yourself a lot?
99% of the time I train by myself but there are a few full-time riders who I go out with occasionally.
I suppose there aren’t many people who have the legs to keep up?
But it’s not about going out and trying to kick everyone’s heads in. I like to ride to my own schedule.
How have you found your first season at Sky; your injury/fatigue problems were well reported?
My constitution has gone downhill this year and I’ve also had a few mechanical problems like knee issues, which I’ve never had before. In hindsight, there has been more intensity than before, which has probably been responsible. I think I was pressuring myself to keep going.
That said, before Vattenfall Cyclassic I rested, took some time off the bike and raced and felt good; I’m feeling like I’m coming back into form, feeling fresh feeling good.
After such a successful season last year with a number of impressive wins, has taking a different role been difficult?
Last year, the races were smaller which magnified my ability. I was supported by the team and could take it easy until I had to perform, so even if I wasn’t flying, I could still ride OK.
But now, riding with the likes of, well, I don’t even need to name them… with the riders at Team Sky, I’m working harder all day. And it’s a challenge I’ve had to adapt to but I’m coming out of it stronger.
Also, on the mental side of things, whereas before I’d be looking to attack and race, now I’m policing, collecting bottles, riding into winds. It’s been a big season and a tough year, quite an extreme transition. It’s certainly the lowest I’ve been physically in any season.
You’ve had a few setbacks in your career but you always seem to battle through to get the result in the end.
There’s never been a grand masterplan to move up through the ranks. I’ve just been enjoying my racing and I’m motivated to keep improving, setting different milestones for myself to reach.
It’s well known that, at the start of your career, you were mentored by the British racing pioneer Colin Lewis.
Yeah that’s right, back in the day, Colin had a bike shop close to where I’m from and he took me to my first club and my first race.
And are you still based in the UK between races?
Yep, still in the Devon-Cornwall area, six miles from Dartmoor. It’s where I do a lot of my daily training.
Would you say riding for what was then Rapha Condor Sharp played a big part in your development?
Definitely. It was that lifeline given to me by [team manager] John Herety that enabled me to give cycling a proper go. If I hadn’t had that call, I’d be doing something else for a living by now. The team was well organised and a good group of guys. I’ve got lots of good memories from those two years. Plus the kit was cool.
What are the main differences between Pro Conti and World Tour?
It’s the overall speed. At times it’s like being in the draft of a truck. You think, “Who’s on the front now?” You’ve got so many teams with strength in depth, eight or nine guys who can really drive the pace.
Winning the Tour of the Med, Haut Var and Alsace last year suggests you like racing in France? Are you a Francophile?
No I’m not (laughs) but I’ve raced there a lot, and also raced for a couple of French teams. Those were races we targeted during my time at Endura and I managed to come out on top.
Your victory at the Tour of Britain last year was the first British win since 1993. Are you disappointed not to be riding this time round?
No, I was never scheduled to race there. I had been pencilled in for the Vuelta if I was going well enough but I’m happy to be feeling more rested now and I’m going to GP Ouest France and then two races in Canada. But I always like racing at the Tour of Britain.
I suppose it helps that you’ve won it already?
Yeah, I’ve ticked that one off.
What do you hope to target next season, something like Liège or Amstel?
I think it’s the Ardennes. I hadn’t ridden them before until this season but I’ve raced similar courses and gone well. But the training leading up to those races this season was counterproductive, I wasn’t at my best weight, I was far from optimum and didn’t have the freshness. Obviously the mental side is a big part of it but feeling fresh is important. When your legs are filling up as soon as you start an effort, that’s not how you want to be for those races. You want to be in the condition where you can’t even feel the pedals on the climbs.
That’s where you can do damage, on those shorter climbs?
Yes, and though I’m not a climber as such, I’d describe a climber as someone who can do an effort for 30 to 45 minutes. I’m more in the 10-minute range.
Another thing people seem to like about you is you don’t wear sunglasses when you race.
It’s not a hard-and-fast rule. I sometimes do but mainly not. I just hate looking through a haze. Once glasses get sweat or gel on them, it’s there for the duration. Trying to clean it just creates smears. In the rain, once the inside gets wet they tend to go in the pocket, too, so I don’t even start with them.
I read you have a product design degree. Do you take a particular interest in the kit and hardware you use for racing?
For me, the equipment is a big part of riding. When I was a kid that was half of it; upgrading parts on the mountain bike, often taking them apart on my duvet at night and having to figure out how they went back together. I’m interested in the clothing too; it’s nice to feel confident in your kit when heading out training in the worst weather.
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