Decaf’ JTL

Some things are not quite the same when you add an extra process, like decaffeinated coffee, skimmed milk & Sky’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. There’s a very good interview with him on Velonation HERE. It’s the first I’ve seen since he started riding with Sky in 2013, there have been plenty of rumours that he may not be happy, but nothing concrete, this interview fills in a few gaps & hopefully allows some insight into exactly what happened with the tricky transition to the big time.

Where did it go wrong?

Lets first look at 2012, his performances were Record, but his circumstances were Athena, he performed well above what would be expected from a lower level UCI Continental categorised rider, beating high quality riders from the top UCI World Tour teams. He won the tour of Alsace, the Tour Méditerranéen, Tour du Haut Var & the Tour of Britain, taking stages along the way, a winner through & through, performing in the best races he could start at the level the Endura team was riding at in 2012.

Roll-on 2013, now signed for the Sky team, things just didn’t come together for JTL, better explained in the Velonation piece linked above. Rather than following his successful self-trained approach of previous years, he was now doing things the Sky way. Some types of training just don’t suit every type of rider, you can imagine a rider stepping up to World Tour level, they are going to go along with what is asked of them by the sports scientists who prepared riders to finish in 1st & 2nd places in the Tour de France. It’s all very well any of us saying we’d have tried what worked for us previously, but you’re not going to argue with the guidance from a team of this stature, you just have to read Charlie Wegelius’ book to understand why you’d toe-the-line (read ‘Domestique’ by the way, it’s excellent). The method didn’t work.

Sports Science

Sky are experts at identifying a certain type of rider, well, not Sky as such, but the British Cycling system, where many of the Sky coaches have progressed from, they are very very good at this. But they missed Dan Martin, they almost missed Cav, & they originally missed JTL himself, so there is something not quite perfect with talent identification, the normal power ‘buckets’ they use to decide the talent of a rider require to have some other characteristics added so they don’t miss anybody else. So could this lead us to the view that if you’re not used to that type of rider (a more punchy aggressive style that a pursuit specialist or a long mountain climber), you probably don’t have too much experience of training their strengths correctly for road racing. This looks like what has happened with JTL, he’s obviously supremely talented, his 2012 results speak of that, he’s also presumably not thrown up any odd blood results, otherwise Sky’s alarm bells would have been ringing last year when they were in talks with him.

Where Now?

Sky’s method isn’t perfect, but it works a treat for some riders. We can safely assume that Tiernan-Locke has thrown up a good number of questions, questions which we know are being researched & answers formed methodically & with a clearly defined solution. My prediction, Sky have learnt loads from this experience, they can produce Grand Tour winners, they made a mistake with one rider in 2013, I think they’ll remedy that in 2014. The teams poor classics performance requires a rider such as the 2012 Jonathan Tiernan-Locke to spearhead it, so he’ll be taken off the original 2013 programme, to be turned into a mountain lead-out metronome, that’s not how he rides. They’ll play on his strengths next year, high short-term power output, but perhaps a rider not able to generate the Grand Tour winning aerobic power required for the long mountains, they’ve not had a rider like this before, it could be crucial. He’s got a very bright future as a classics rider, last years Worlds showed that we may see him again in that protected role at Pontferrada in 2014, but this time, he may have had a year of the correct & type of tuning for his physiology, something he’s not had up to now, even during 2012.

I expect bigger things next year, JTL’s been decaf’d this year, next year he’s getting it back, but it’s going to be a double espresso.

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