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Jonathan Tiernan-Locke: “I’ve gained a lot of experience this year”

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke was one of the revelations of last season. Riding for Endura Racing, a Continental team, he won no less than four stage races: Tour Méditerranéen, Tour du Haut-Var, Tour Alsace and Tour of Britain. Thanks to this impressive results, he got selected for the World Championships, in Valkenburg, where he finished in 19th place, just five seconds behind the winner. Then, at the end of the season, before his 28th birthday, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke signed a contract with Sky until 2014.

How was his first season here? What did go right and what did go wrong? Will he ride the Vuelta? Jonathan took some time to answer all these questions, in an interview I’ve made with the help of his management company, Trinity Sports Management.

– Jonathan, how would you describe your season so far?

It hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped to be honest, and that has been down to adapting to new training methods. I have raced some big races though, and contributed to some big wins, so I am proud of that and I have learned a lot. I’m very critical of myself and expected to improve upon last year, but I also have to adapt to the level of World Tour racing.

– What were your plans at the start of the year? 

At the start of the year I wanted to focus on the Ardennes Classics as those are the type of races that suit me. I had some ongoing minor health issues throughout the spring and so I was nowhere near 100% during that time. I was able to play a support role, but not be present in the final of the races.

– What improvements do you feel you’ve made since coming to Sky? 

While I may not have improved physically so far, I have learned a great deal about riding in support of a leader. And often a leader who has gone on to win! So that has made me study every detail of how best to do the job, and to think ahead and use my initiative. In that respect I’ve gained a lot of experience this year. It’s different to previous seasons where I would be thinking of how to win the race…now I’m thinking of how best to support the team.

– In an interview we’ve had last year, you’ve said that your favourite races are the Ardennes Classics. How was your first encounter with these races? 

They were awesome! Obviously they were very challenging too, but to take part in them after having watched them on TV was very special. For each race my role was the same; cover the early escapes and then look after the leaders for the next 200km. Not so easy going back for water and rain jackets all the time when the roads are so narrow and the speed is high!

– Unfortunately, you didn’t finish a couple of races this season. Did you have health problems? 

Yes I did. Nothing major, but there was always something coming up every few weeks. In the past few years I’ve been quite healthy, but I think because of the extra fatigue and stress this year, my body didn’t cope very well.

– Are you still hoping to ride the Vuelta? 

No, not any longer. A few weeks ago I had a discussion with my coaches and we decided that I needed a break and a different approach to training, as I was tired. Since joining Team Sky I had trained in a new way, but also more volume and intensity. In the past I have always been a rider who has believed in training less, and being fresher at races, and this season I had just done too much. I’ve recently had a complete break and I am now preparing for the last part of the season.

– Should we expect to see you at the World Championships? 

I hope so. Obviously Britain has a lot of good riders to choose from these days, but I’m sure I could play an important part in the team if I was selected.

– What’s your opinion on the profile of the road race?

Very hard…for the pure climbers I think. Probably too hard for a punchy rider like me to be there in the final, but I think I can be useful for most of it.

– After the wins of British riders in the last years, how is cycling regarded in the UK?

Cycling in the UK has really taken off in the last couple of years. The results now regularly make the sports news headlines and everybody knows the names of the top riders. The Tour of Britain was very popular last year, and I see many more people out cycling on the roads these days…it’s a great time to be a professional!

– Do you think more and more races will appear now, as was the case with the RideLondon Classic? 

Perhaps, and of course with the Tour de France visiting Britain next year I hope that will lead to more races like the RideLondon Classic. We are still in difficult economic times, however. It seems that the popularity of non-competitive cycling events – such as sportives – has surpassed that of the races. With more and more people taking up cycling and looking for a new challenge, these events are great; well organised and accessible to all. For example, the charity 100 mile ride at RideLondon was a high success.

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