Andy Tennant Back in the Fold
Story posted March 22, 2010; by Larry Hickmott
Making his debut at the 2010 Track Cycling World Championships will be a rider who won a Junior World title in 2005, Andy Tennant. The rider from Wolverhampton was the Junior Individual Pursuit champion in Austria and a great future was in the offing but the five years since then have been a roller coaster for him and his story is quite an inspiration.
Manchester World Cup 2009 and Andy Tennant (right) is back on the top step of the podium with help from some friends, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Geraint Thomas and Ben Swift (not pictured)
One look at the foursome in the Team Pursuit line up for the Manchester World Cup where they did a near World breaking ride of 3.54.3 and contrast the fortunes of Steven Burke and Andy Tennant. Both were in Austria back in 2005 for the Junior Worlds and Andy won the Individual title and Steven won Silver in the Team Pursuit along with Andy. Since then, neither had a lot of success in the academy in Italy but Steven did go on to win a bronze medal at the Olympics, ironically in Andy’s event, the Individual Pursuit, while Andy has struggled to keep his place in the GB team.
It was all change in 2009 though as Andy returned home to race here in Britain and in the space of a few months at the end of the year came out of obscurity and into the spotlight for team GB. Looking at him now, a very beautiful podium young lady as a girlfriend (Lauren) and a pathway to London 2012 opening up for him, life is good but it wasn’t always like that.
2005, Austria, and Andy Tennant was on top of the World.
Andy’s rollercoaster years
It has been an up and down road since 2005 says Andy. Back then, he surprised even himself by winning a World title which he says was definitely not an elevator to success. Nobody expects a young junior champion to suddenly be the toast of the world but Andy’s rise up the ladder stalled very early on.
He says “2006 was good when I was first in the European Team Pursuit and qualified second behind Mikhail Ignatiev (then Olympic Points champion) in the Individual Pursuit. But, after that things went downhill. I lost a lot of weight trying to become a road rider I’m not when based in Italy. At the time, I’d come to the conclusion that it was my weight that was holding me back”.
“I was in this bubble for a long time and it took me a long time to get out of it. The academy structure never really worked for me living out in Italy and it wasn’t for me if I’m honest. I’m a home boy and I like being home in Britain. Everyone says other places are better and when you’re there for a week, perhaps, but when you’re there for six months it soon becomes apparent that Britain is better than people say it is”.
Andy’s story is not an isolated one because there are other GB athletes who have felt it was necessary to go abroad to make it not just in Team GB, but on the road as well. And, like Andy, they have found out that success on the track can come when racing the road at home.
Andy says the key moment in his career came in 2008.
“It was after the Tour of Britain in 2008 when I went back out to Italy with the Academy. I got pulled into the team car after a race and I knew what was coming. Rod (Ellingworth) said to me ‘we’re keeping you on the squad but this time it will be different, you’re going home.’ It was something we had discussed and he’d said ‘you’re going to work with Matt Parker (Endurance coach at the time) and you’ll ride for Halfords’.”
“I knew it was crunch time in my cycling career.”
“I hadn’t had that many results and what had kept me on the GB programme was the time I’d done in the Junior Worlds (3.19). But, I didn’t let the pressure for results faze me which I had in the past. I just chilled out and thought ‘what happens, happens. If I give it 100 percent, that is all I can do’.”
“Matt Parker helped change my outlook of how I went about things and I have a lot to be thankful for having had Matt as my coach. He was a great coach and a major factor in my turnaround.”
Andy was also quick to thank Rod Ellingworth as well. “Rod Ellingworth made me into the bike rider I am today and gave me the discipline and structure that has helped me establish my place quickly. Things that would have taken a long time to learn if you were just shoved into the podium programme for example.”
“Rod gave us the fight you have to have to survive in the Academy and all these boys have it. The Academy was also key to being so technically good in the Team Pursuit after Rod had us doing drill after drill every winter and summer.”
Good times... Tour Series 2009. Andy is on the left of the Halfords lineup next to his Team Pursuit 'buddy' Ed Clancy.
A new start
Andy’s fight to survive in Italy had come to an end and in 2009, Andy was part of the ‘new’ Halfords men’s team. “That was a brilliant experience and I really started enjoying bike racing again” he says. “It was a great laugh last year and I made some great new friends”.
“I had for example never known Ian Wilkinson before but he was to become a great mate through out the year and working with Rob and Ed, they are both great characters too. Both different people to work with and it was just one long laugh all year. We were like eight best mates riding bikes together.”
After having been hidden away in Italy for many years, and while a team of academy lads were racing to fourth in the 2009 World Track Championships for the Team Pursuit, Andy was starting his climb up the ladder again with a victory in the 2009 Tour of Reservoir, a Premier Calendar event.. He’d spent the winter working with Matt Parker after his move from Italy late in 2008 and was in fine form.
“In the Tour of the Reservoir, (above) I was the strongest by far in that bike race” he says looking back on his victory there. “On the day I was feeling amazing. I was in every break. I was away with Briggsy (Graham Briggs) and Pete Williams and dropped them up the climb and was riding on the front all the time too. Then the opportunity came when I was away with Dale Appleby and he wasn’t working with me. He punctured and I thought, this is the opportunity to win this bike race and I just went and that was it.”
“Then, in the Girvan (three day stage race in Scotland that followed) I was second after messing up on the first day so it had been a good start to the year.”
The Tour Series followed for Andy and his Halfords team and except for some bad luck in the first round at Milton Keynes, Andy and the team had a great series and won it overall. “For Halfords to come back and dominate and win five rounds showed the class in not just the individual riders but the team. A lot of us had come from the GB academy structure and were used to working as a team and that showed in the races. Team work that took some teams a while to work out.”
As the year went on, Andy’s opportunity to get back into the GB fold was getting ever closer. Dan Hunt moved into the Endurance coach job when Matt Parker took on a more scientific role looking at marginal gains for the GB team.
“Dan and I had a meeting at the services on the M6 and he said ‘we want to invite you to train with us in Manchester leading up to the nationals and give you the best possible opportunity to stay on the programme’.”
“He asked me what my long term goal was and at the time I think the decision was being made to scrap the Individual Pursuit. I said my goal was to be in the Team Pursuit team in London and he said – ‘that is what I wanted to hear because that is where I believe you can be a good bike rider".
“We then discussed the track nationals and how it would be a performance goal and in the beginning I wasn’t actually given a time to go for as Matt had wanted me to stay relaxed. Then a few days before, Dan and I were just chatting and he knew I was capable of going fast so he didn’t put any pressure on me but a time was discussed.”
“At the nationals, I did a 1.04 kilo which was good for a more aerobic rider like me, and that was the point I knew I was going well. I think I had to go sub 27 for the Pursuit and went out on a ‘25’ schedule and ended up doing a 4.21. It was all on then for the Manchester World Cup.”
2009 Manchester World Cup (click here to read)
This event was a defining moment for Andy’s career so far, probably even more so than his Junior World title. That ride by the GB Team Pursuit squad in Manchester last October had the crowd buzzing so loud the atmosphere was about as good as it has ever been. Just to recap, Andy was brought into the team for the final and they did a 3.54.3, close to the World record.
Andy takes up the story behind that great ride (pictured above). “Going into the Manchester World Cup, I was selected as 5th man and knew I was going well, as well as I have ever done or better. Two hours before the final, we were all in the old GB coaching offices having some chicken and pasta and Shane (Sutton) came in with Dan (Hunt).”
“I was like, what is happening here and two minutes later it had been decided, Swifty was to be replaced by me in the final.”
“It wasn‘t a nice place to be at that time. I am a good mate with Swifty and to be told I’m replacing him was always going to be a hard thing to handle. For me it was a positive especially with what was to happen but I felt awful for Swifty because it wasn’t as if he hadn’t done his job well. I knew I was going to Melbourne too so I knew I was going get a place in a final but that was the only World Cup Swifty was doing.”
“But you have to take your opportunities although I didn’t think of that at the time. Shane just said think of it as another training session because they have all been going fantastic. ‘Just chill out and let it happen’ he said to me.”
“We went into that race and G (Geraint Thomas) and everyone were talking about going for the Manchester track record, a ‘56’, and I was thinking oh sh#&, this is 10 seconds faster than I have ever gone in my life.”
“I’d been training with Mark Christian, Andy Fenn and Jason Queally doing 14.8 laps rather than what these boys were looking at doing. They were going to be trying some new things as well so it was looking to be an interesting scenario! I just went into it, chilled out and it all ended up really working for me. I have never looked back since.”
“We all did a fantastic ride that night and it changed my outlook on myself. I believe in myself a lot more now. There have been a few defining moments that have backed it up like Melbourne where we were second and I was doing lap and half turns. That has helped me stay relaxed and that is the key thing. I used to put so much pressure on myself and almost set myself up to fail.”
“Now, I try to be much more relaxed about things.”
“Sure, this week I am a bit nervous but I’m more excited than anything. I’m ready to go. There is nothing better than that feeling. There is nothing worse than being on the start line and thinking I don’t want to be here which is something I have experienced. But riding with the likes of Ed, G and Burkey and that ride in Manchester has shown me I can do this and go as fast as we want to.”
Andy on the front during training at Manchester.
Juicy, Fruity and Jokes Aplenty
There is no doubt that the morale in the Men’s Team Pursuit team is high. During their first session on the track, the coaches were using terms like juicy and fruity to describe the men’s training efforts on the boards and there were plenty of smiles all round in the pit.
“We’re all taking the mickey out of each other” Andy says of their time in Ballerup so far. “We’re having a great time and you can’t beat a few jokes as we get on so well. We’re all going out here to do the best we can and what happens, happens.”
“We were getting a bit ‘fruity’ on Saturday during the track efforts and Ed was giving us a telling off. When you jump onto the track in a UCI training session, there is so much circulating air from the other teams it makes it difficult to gauge the effort. You’re also getting fresher every day with the taper and you’re getting excited to be racing. You just need to hold all that back though.”
“During the first few efforts, we were going way too quick. I don’t think it was sustainable and if it is, we’re going amazingly quick! On the last effort though we had all settled down and it was a lot more controlled. We were going well as a unit.”
Asked about the technical things he and the team have had to deal with, Andy explained “the track is quite different to Manchester with its long straights and shorter bankings. It’s like a big Gent six day track where the bankings really throw you out and its makes this concertina effect. You get a sling shot out of the banking and we have looked at ways to reduce that”.
“It is really unforgiving when you’re ‘in the line’ but forgiving in the changes where as at Manchester you really have to nail it because the transition between banking and straight is quite gentle. Here, it’s like coming off Alpe d'Huez, you just turn and are accelerating five or six k an hour…”
“We thought at first our changes were bad when we were doing them but having seen the video feedback, actually they’re okay. We were getting quite nit picky but that is what it takes to be the best. We had them dialled them really quickly which is good.”
Towards the end of the interview with Andy, the great man Jason Queally, some one Shane Sutton called the ‘warrior’ during our chat a few weeks ago, sat down opposite us waiting for his slot with the BBC.
Andy says of the Olympic Champion from Sydney “it’s great to have him in the team. After the Junior Worlds I was put on a ‘champions and challengers’ scheme and Jason was my mentor.”
“At the time he was a pure sprinter and it was novel experience for us and we have got on well ever since then. I’d see him occasionally down the track but now he’s part of the team we hear all the old stories from the sprint days that you wouldn’t hear being an endurance rider. It’s great because there is a lot of banter between him and Chris (Hoy) taking the mickey out of each other and he has added a new dimension to the team which has gone down well.”
Happy times in the GB pit at the 2010 Track Worlds with Lizzie Armitstead who was a teammate of Andy's in 2005 when she won her first World Championship medal as a Junior.
This week though, for Andy, Jason and the others in the Team Pursuit it’s crunch time. Time to let the legs do the talking. Andy is so up for it he wants the race to be now and is thankful of having guys like Ed (Clancy) in the team who can help him stay relaxed.
One of the positives to come out of having moved back to Britain is that he now gets to socialise a bit and that means he doesn’t mind being cooped up in a hotel for a week with nothing to do when not training. Andy admits winning the world title would be a dream come true and he knows the team are in good shape but as ever, it’s what the other teams do that counts and we won’t know the answer to that until Friday.
But the Track Worlds won’t be the end of his season either whatever happens. Rather, it will be just the start and after Denmark, he’s off to Scotland for the DoonHame, a three day stage race formally known as the Girvan. Just because he loves being at home in Britain doesn’t mean he has given up his dream up of being successful on the road.
“I can’t deny I wouldn’t love to be part of Sky” he says. “I don’t think any British rider would not want that and if they did say that they’d probably be lying! It’s a big team in the World and who knows, maybe after 2012, it may be possible. I am just happy having fun on the road right now. I don’t think I’ll ever win a Grand Tour where as in 2006, I was dreaming I could do so”.
“My dream now lies on the track and that is the path I want to pursue. People have a false perception of the road being easy in Britain -- it isn’t though. It is simply different.”
“In Italy, you don’t have to make the race as it is made by the terrain and all the riders taking part. In Britain though there are perhaps only 30 or so riders that are full time and the rest hold down a full time job which I admire but that doesn’t mean the races here are easy.”
“They are just different and that is shown by the national champs where the pros don’t have it all their own way. I’ve heard the stories from those coming back that the Premiers are easy and we’ll tear it up but then they find, actually we can’t, it isn’t that easy. It is a different style of racing that suits me. The crits are also helping me to work on my sprint endurance capacity which is what I have going for me”.
And that was the interview. We could have gone on and on as Andy has no trouble talking – he could talk for Britain -- but right now, he has something rather more important to do. He has to grasp this opportunity to make a niche for himself in the Team Pursuit squad much in the same way Paul Manning did for so many years. Good luck to Andy and the boys in the Team Pursuit. God speed!