It’s no surprise that Endura Racing’s ‘man of the year’ Jonathan Tiernan-Locke has today signed for Team Sky. Anyone who thought that Englishman’s top six GC placing and King of the Mountains win back in the 2011 Tour of Britain was a freak result had their eyes opened this spring when the 27 year-old from Plymouth won the first stage, fourth stage and GC in this season’s Tour of the Mediterranean – a race dating back to 1974 and which boasts Eddy Merckx as one of its winners.
The latest step in the man from Plymouth’s meteoric rise through the professional rankings – in the August UCI European rankings he was in third spot behind Slovenian Marko Kump and Danilo Di Luca of Italy – continued with an excellent top 20 placing in a tough world road race championship around the Valkenburg circuit a couple of weeks ago.
Tiernan-Locke’s pro debut came with UK team Plowman Craven in 2009 with some strong UK results indicating that he was on the way back after a debilitating bout of Epstein Barr Virus which compromised his amateur career.
For 2010 he was with another UK team, Rapha Condor Sharp, winning a stage in Ireland’s Rás and taking tenth overall in the tough Mi Aout Bretonne stage race in France.
His second year with Rapha provided his breakthrough results – there was sixth place in the Tour of South Africa, fourth place in the Tour of Korea and a stage win and second on GC in the Vuelta Ciclista a Leon.
But it was his Tour of Britain results which had jaws dropping; top six on GC – in a field which contained many Pro Tour big guns – and victory in the King of the Mountains competition.
Transferring to Scottish Continental team Endura for 2012 the start to his season could hardly have been better with his Tour of the Mediterranean showing blowing away the other riders.
Within weeks there was cause to talk about the man from Devon once again, the subject being his fourth and fifth wins of the season – the second stage and the GC in the tough Tour Cycliste International Haut Var.
A broken collar bone and three broken ribs sustained in a crash during England’s Lincoln Grand Prix in May compromised his summer.
But he was back to form by the end of July, taking victory in two stages of the 2.2-ranked Tour de Alsace and winning on GC.
His fourth UCI stage race win of the season fell to him shortly before the world championships in the Tour of Britain – the race where he first burst onto the scene, last season.
In just over a year, the Englishman went from being ‘unknown’ to leading the GB team at the Limburg Worlds, with riders like Steve Cummings and Ian Stannard at his disposal – a remarkable rise.
If his progression continues, the height of the bar may yet be set very high for the climber whose name is being linked with Team Sky for 2013.
He took time to speak to VeloVeritas the day after his ride in the elite race where he finished an excellent 19th in his first race at this level and distance.
Your season has had three distinct peaks – the early Med/Haut Var weeks; Alsace then the Tour of Britain/Worlds.
“That was just the way it worked out; the Route du Sud took place during time I was out of action with the broken bones – that was a big goal for me and disappointing to miss.
“I worked hard to get back to fitness for Alsace and then confirmed that in the Tour of Britain.”
Was the Tour of Britain the main goal of your season?
“Not really, early season I didn’t really think about it; I didn’t know what was involved in it and what I’d need to do to prepare for it.
“I started to think about it after Alsace and we went to see a few of the stages.”
With the TOB being where you burst on to the scene, is it special for you?
“It was a nice shop window for me, last year.
“It was my intention to win it this season – but there’s a big difference between intending to win a race and actually winning it.”
The TOB field was perhaps more balance and therefore competitive, this year?
“For sure; Garmin were strong and were days when it was controlled, but our strategy was to keep it hard so that the sprinters didn’t take all the bonus seconds.
“My plan on stage six to Caerphilly was simply to take time.
“It would have been nice to win the stage but the NetApp rider (Leopold Koenig) who was away with me wouldn’t collaborate.
“If I hadn’t been riding for time and the GC I’d have gambled a bit with him but I wanted the jersey.
“It would have been nice to get the stage, too – I always think it’s good to win a stage on the way to a GC win because it shows you can win on the road, not just on time.”
When did you get the Worlds call?
“On the Friday, during the Tour of Britain.
“It was enough time; I’d have done the same preparation as I did for the Tour of Britain even if I’d known earlier.
“I had a week to recover but knew on the start line on Sunday that I didn’t have fresh legs.
“I lacked that feeling of freshness that you have when you’re good.”
What was the GB game plan?
“We only discussed that at 9:00 pm the night before the race.
“It wasn’t like Copenhagen where Cav’s win was discussed and planned for two years before.
“Cav and Alex Dowsett would cover the early moves; Steve Cummings was to go with any moves and Ian Stannard – who was very strong – was to keep me up front.”
I believe that Sunday was your first race over 200 kilometres?
“I’ve done a few at 200 or 206 but Sunday was 60 kilometres longer – that’s an hour-and-a-half.
“But it’s not just the duration, the pace is there all the time and it creeps up on you.
“The first 100 kilometres to the circuit was technical with lots of road furniture and corners; if you’re not up front you have to brake then accelerate back up to speed.”
Bradley Wiggins and Cav were out early.
“They just wanted to show themselves in the race, as Cav said, as a sign of respect.
“It’s been a long season for both of them and they must be tired.”
The course was deceptive.
“It was hard to make anything stick, not just because it was fast after the Cauberg but because of the level of guys you’re racing against.
“You’ve even got sprinters like Degenkolb who are there at the end.”
And you’d never ridden the Cauberg until the first time up in the race?
“The Espoirs race was on when we arrived so my first ascent was in the race.
“We dropped down a big descent, turned left and I thought, ‘Ah, this must be the Cauberg!’
“It was fast, there were guys pulling faces, I was hurting and thinking; ‘what’s the eleventh time going to be like?’”
You bridged up to the front group.
“I made two efforts that I shouldn’t have – Gilbert was always thereabouts but didn’t make any unnecessary efforts – on the second to last lap I went with Nibali, Valverde and Voeckler on the second to last time on the Cauberg, but didn’t have to.
“And I was in a move with Gesink, Contador, Flecha and Castroviejo.
“Gilbert kept his powder dry; the first 100 K was a wearing down and the 170 K on the circuit went past really fast but it was a wearing down process – I think there was only one spell of about ten minutes during the entire race where it wasn’t fast.”
Tell us about the finale.
“It was a bit of an anti climax for me – Ian Stannard got me into a good position right at the front on the approach to the Cauberg.
“I didn’t want to be right at the front, so I let six or seven past.
“Nibali went first but when I went to make a maximum effort it just wasn’t there – I shouldn’t have made those two earlier efforts.
“Over the top it was in threes and fours then it came together a bit for the sprint but there were guys leaning on each other and I got boxed in.
“I’m happy; I made the top 20, didn’t let the team down and think that a top ten was within my capabilities.
“But ‘ifs and buts’ don’t win races.”
I noticed a few weeks ago you weren’t on the NetApp-Endura roster for 2013…
“No. Now we know why!”