Tiernan-Locke: Henao our best option for Amstel Gold Race
Eurosport catches up with Team Sky's promising rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke ahead of the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.
Up until now you’ve had quite a stop-start career. How frustrating has that been, and was there any point when you thought it wasn’t going to happen for you?
Yeah definitely, I wasn’t so much frustrated because I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do. I didn’t have this big master plan, so I was lucky things just fell into place. So I wouldn’t really say I was frustrated but there were definitely times when cycling wasn’t at the forefront of my thinking and wasn’t a priority, but it became one again. I was happy for a couple of years riding at a lower level just because I couldn’t see any sort of clear route to follow. So I was happy to race domestically, although obviously I wanted to race at a higher level especially as you’ve got mates who are riding at the World Tour level and I wanted that to happen for me.
Unlike some of your current teammates you’re not a product of British Cycling, you’ve had to do it the hard way by winning races to catch the attention. Do you think this has benefited you in any way?
Yes and no. I think if I’d come up through British Cycling like a lot of the guys have then maybe I’d be further along in my development as a rider, and possibly I’d be a better athlete. But the way the team was last year, we had a few pure climbers and sprinters, but for the races that needed a punchy rider I was the only one really so I got a lot of opportunities last year so that definitely helped me. So once I’d proved myself at the start of the year, I was going into most races as the protected rider, and that gave me a lot of confidence and was able to gather momentum going into each race. I knew I had a team behind me and sometimes my weakness is my positioning in the bunch, but knowing I had guys who were good at that, they could always get me to the right place.
Because you haven’t come through an academy do you think your results have had to be better compared to other academy riders?
Yes I do agree with that, but it’s also an age thing. Back when I started cycling, it was still quite late compared to a lot of the guys who were racing youth and junior categories on the road. I think at that age you can show promise and get taken on just on that basis. But if you haven’t come up through a system plus you’ve come from relative obscurity especially racing in the UK for a Continental team people don’t really take notice of your results, you could be racing in Asia or Africa getting good results in good races but you’re not really on the radar. You have to be winning races, I became very aware of that last year especially.
Last year you made a name for yourself by winning the Tour of Britain, what was that like?
It was great, I mean just because of all the exposure it got and the attention I received, it helped with offers from teams. However people don’t really understand the difference between racing at that level and racing at World Tour level, I’ve had a lot of tweets since saying why I’m not a protected rider for Sky, and they don’t realise it’s a massive step up. The Tour of Britain’s not a bad race but it doesn’t have the strength in depth, I was only racing a handful of guys. On the climbing side I made the difference, but it was against guys who were known for their sprinting.
This prompted a call from Team Sky, what was it like to be approached by them?
Well I’d spoken to them throughout the year, I’d already signed a letter of intent around this time last year I think. Straight away I went on a training camp with them to Tenerife with a few of the guys. I worked with one of the coaches Tim Kerrison and he was checking my data, they weren’t leaving anything to chance making sure the results weren’t a fluke, but they were happy with the numbers so that gave me a lot of confidence, which was good. I knew there was interest from them, but I just wanted to concentrate on my races and make sure my results didn’t slip.
Shortly after that you were at the Road Race World Championships as a protected rider, what was that like compared to anything you’ve done before?
It was a lot longer and the biggest event I’d ever ridden. I was in great shape and had a week off after the Tour of Britain, I did a couple of recovery rides so I was super fresh. It was a great experience especially having the teammates I did there. It gave me confidence in stepping up to the World Tour level, as most of the riders there were on World Tour teams. I was happy with my performance, but with a bit more experience and maybe a few more races like that I could definitely do something.
How are you enjoying life at Team Sky this year?
Yeah I’m really enjoying it, I’ve been really impressed. The set-up is completely different to what I was used to, I know it’s a budget thing and that’s what you get with a World Tour team. I had a good welcome on my first training camp and all the guys were great. I haven’t been stuck on some B Race programme, which is good. I’m just enjoying doing what’s asked of me at the moment, it has been a bit hit and miss I think I have struggled to get going, I had to pull out of Paris-Nice with illness which was a shame. Also the level of racing I’m at now, I find myself one day doing everything that’s asked of me, and the next only doing half my job, so that will take some getting used to. But in terms with how the team has been with me, everything’s been great.
You mentioned you had to pull out of Paris-Nice through illness. How disappointing was that, especially given Richie Porte went on to win?
I was absolutely gutted. I knew I wasn’t feeling right, I wasn’t getting any food down and not before long I was being sick whilst on the bike. I wanted to be out there being one of the guys keeping a lid on the attacks to help Richie and doing everything I could, even if I couldn’t finish I wanted to go out fighting and do everything I could to help the cause. So it was disappointing, but I was also relieved that no one else got what I did.
One of the other races you’ll be at this year is this weekend’s Amstel Gold Race. How will you approach that and how do you see it going for you?
I don’t have as much experience as some of the guys, you’ve got someone like Sergio (Henao) who is absolutely flying right now, and in better form than me. The climbs are smaller so suit me better, I think the route is good for me, people seem to think I’m a climber, I’m not really, I just adapt quite well, I think I look like a climber compared to the sprinters! I prefer the punchier climbs, and I can win a sprint in a small group but when the road goes uphill for more than 10mins, I’m in trouble! I expect to go into it helping Sergio as he’s the guy in form and our best option.
Who do you see as main contenders from other teams?
For something like Amstel especially with the way the finish is, I think someone like Sagan, especially as he’s been so good this year. Gilbert also, although maybe this year he hasn’t been at his best so far, but in these races he’s always there or thereabouts. The route doesn’t have massive climbs which will suit him, and he’s a bigger guy than most the other climbers so for something like the Cauberg which is only around 1km long he’ll have no problem and won’t be afraid of that. Joaquim Rodriguez is another which you’d expect to be in contention at the end.
Looking ahead to later in the year, is there any chance of you making your Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana?
I hope so yeah, I’ve been pencilled in for it, but it’s so far away it depends on how the Giro and the Tour go, and who’s on form. Plus if something doesn’t go to plan in those, the Vuelta could be a chance to salvage something so might have an effect on who rides it. It’s too far away to say, but provisionally I’ve been told I’ll be doing it. Which is obviously fantastic, I’d love to do it, it’s just going to be such a challenge, three weeks on my bike when the longest race I’ve ever done before was half of that. Also it’s totally on another level, you know it’s a Grand Tour, but then again I look at guys, ex-teammates of mine who have got around in reasonable shape, so then I think I’ll be alright then!