Jonathan Tiernan-Locke has confirmed his growing ambition on the international stage as he aims to make the final selection of an Ardennes Classic in 2013 – but contrasts confidence with diffidence when recounting his moments riding as team leader for Great Britain at the road world championships.
Describing the week as “surreal and utter madness”, the experience began after climbing aboard the Team Sky bus alongside the defending champion and the winner of the Tour de France, who were both instructed on their supporting roles of Tiernan-Locke by Powerpoint presentation.
And although on the road the medium of communication was more rudimentary – whiteboards with written instructions held by team staff – the message on the closing laps was just as resounding: ‘all for Jon.’
That decision was vindicated as he finished highest Briton; 19th in a group sprinting for third, but earlier in the race his position was less than assured, underlined in the form of a tongue-lashing from Mark Cavendish after an ill-timed racing incident.
“I took a nature break with Ben Swift, which would lead to us chasing for around 20km” Tiernan-Locke told, describing the moments that led to his reprimand.
“Firstly, Mark is defending champion so for him to be riding on the front for you is something quite special and also piles on a lot of extra pressure. After we stopped it took us a lap and a half to get back on to the front because the roads were so narrow. Unfortunately, as we were making our way back up, there was Cav, coming to the back having done his work – he saw us. Having been on the front all day he thinks we’ve just been sat at the back, leaving him to do all the work on his own. He started having a go at us – it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.”
From minor embarrassment to immediate redemption, Tiernan-Locke then found himself in the move that defined the race, attacking alongside Alberto Contador. But the experience – the conclusion of an eight year journey that started as an under-23 at the 2004 world championships, was interrupted by a three year break due to Epstein Barr virus and was followed with a two-year winning streak – is something he has not allowed to change his outlook.
“I haven’t really reflected on it much but it must make quite a story when I think about it. It’s definitely not your traditional route. In 2004 it was an understatement to say I was clueless, I literally didn’t know what I was doing. It was a race to forget. Then, I was close to quitting a few times, before last year when I properly pulled my finger out, but never did I think I would get close to the top of the sport. Just to be part of that is madness. It’s better late than never and the best thing I did to return to it.
“Obviously this (world championships) was a big step up, but I believe there’s only so strong you can be on a bike. It wasn’t a case of seeing Contador and getting starstruck, I don’t use it as motivation; I just treat it as any other bike race. I’m confident in my own abilities now and I’ve raced at a fairly decent level for the last couple of years. The only question marks were over the distance and the speed of the race, and were from myself.”
With those questions emphatically answered – despite no specific training completed for the event, Tiernan-Locke now looks forward to a 2013 season which could feature his presence a the biggest one-day races on the calendar, although he stops short of viewing himself as capable of repeating the British Grand Tour successes seen in 2012.
“The world championships have given me confidence. If I look to conserve every bit of energy that I can, come out of the winter well, continue to work hard, I think I can scale up my ambitions to being up there in the final of one of the Ardennes classics.
“I’d love to ride a Grand Tour but I’m not sure yet if I’ve got the physical attributes for that. The guys like Froome and Wiggins have totally different physiques, a different sort of rider, really strong in the time trial and build like sticks. I have some work to do but I’d certainly like to go there, I’ve improved my climbing from just being able to rider ten minute climbs to going alright on a longer climb. To do that I’ve changed a few things and I’d definitely like to see where I can go with that. I suppose with a bit more success comes a bit more ambition.”