Local Rides Q&A - Jonathan Tiernan-Locke

This is a long overdue entry to the Local Rides Q&A as me and Jonathan exchanged these email nearly a year ago, so my apologies to Jon for the wait on completing this. There are also a few more Q&A's to go up on this journal over the next couple of weeks too so keep your eyes-peeled. 

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke's major breakthrough as a professtional cyclist came from winning four stages during the 2012 UCI Europe Tour, including the Tour of Britain while riding for Endura Racing. He has also rode for Rapha-Condor Sharp (2011) and Team Sky (2013-2014). 

Now JTL is riding for a team he co-founded, inspired by the patron saint of tin-miners and Cornwall - Saint Piran. ( http://saintpiran.cc )

Saint Piran was apparently tied to a mill-stone by the heathen Irish and pushed over a cliff into rough seas. The sea then became calm and the saint floated back to the beach in Perranzabuloe, the place where is was buried. 


As a racing cyclist, which results are you most proud of and why?

Pride comes before a fall and I’ve always felt more relief than anything else when I’ve won.  It’s funny but I see guys screaming when they’ve won a race and I’ve just never felt like that. It’s more like, “Thank fuck that’s over, and I won… And didn’t crash!”.

Which are your favourite stretches of road to ride on locally and what is it that you like about them?

Anything on Dartmoor or the South Devon coast line.  It’s all so incredibly beautiful at any time of year. I love the contrast of stringing together the moonscape of the moor with the picturesque scenes of Salcombe and Dartmouth.

The same question for roads anywhere in the world?

The Pyrenees, without doubt.

What is your most memorable moment on the bike or involved with cycling?

Getting drunk under the table in a Korean nightclub by Estonian hardman and cycling legend Jaan Kirsipuu.

Has racing affected your relationship with the bike? If so, how?

For a time it did: when I starved myself, stared at a power meter and dreaded training camps and shit races. I was trying to change the sort of rider I was, chasing something else. But now it’s back how it used to be; just going out and enjoying cycling for the sake of it. Taking an interest in the equipment again and training how I want.

Do you agree with Mickey Goldmill's advice to Rocky that 'women weaken legs'?

Sorry Mick, you’re wrong!

We are in the midst of a well publicised boom in cycling in the UK at the moment. Has it affected you? Do you have any thoughts about why it has happened and whether it will continue? Do you see any negatives to the increase in popularity?

We are, but I see it as cycling just growing up. The friction between disciplines has all but disappeared and it has become a more mainstream sport.  The anglicisation of the sport at World Tour level has attracted proper sponsors and the guys at the top are household names. Participation is higher at grassroots level and a UK based pro can now earn a reasonable living if he’s handy.  Women’s cycling is going in the right direction too, albeit more slowly. Perhaps we’re on the crest of a wave and there will be some tailing off, but I see no negatives from cycling’s new found popularity.

All cyclists, whether they race or not, seem to obsess over the weight of their bikes. Why do you think this is?

In the past I’ve been guilty of this. It’s easy to get caught up in a numbers game, and some will find it easier to shave weight off their bike than to lay off the cakes.

Do you approach riding, or ride your bike, differently now to when you first got into cycling? 

Of course. As a kid I wasn’t a cyclist! I was a mountain biker who did rad jumps!  There was no training, no SPD pedals or helmets. We’d watch MTB videos to get all fired up before going out and taking lumps out of our shins with bear-trap pedals.  Now it’s much more gentile - with training rides - although I like to get out to the local DH centre on the MTB when I can.  

Who has been your favourite pro riders over the years and why?

In my early days it was guys like Martin Ashton, riding trials.  Racing XC as a junior it was Nick Craig and Roland Green.  Then Lance came back and he was the coolest guy ever. I even started pedaling faster! Despite what has happened with the guy I still think he was the best. It was the era, and no amount of PC bullshit will change that.  In the classics Bettini was the man!

What was you favourite era of professional bike racing?

The 90’s and early 2000’s without doubt.  So many characters.  I started learning about the sport in about 2003, watching old VHS tapes that Colin Lewis lent me and reading some books. I was both enchanted and inspired.

What is your favorite piece of cycling kit (either something you currently own or have in the past)?

A Castelli Gabba jacket…so versatile.  

What do you think about Strava?

I actually like it.  I mean sometimes it pisses me off seeing these downhill segments through a local town or whatever, where some guy has basically been a menace without regard for anyone’s safety…just to put his time out of reach.  But as a harmless bit of competition I think it’s good fun. I’ll push myself harder in training to beat my own times as well, so it has a benefit.

What do you think about Sportive rides?

I used to think they were a bit pointless: to the anti social guys who are basically time trialling, I say go and do a real race.  But as a social thing, with the camaraderie of riding with a huge group, and a big event feel, I think they’re great.  It’s a date in the diary that gives people a training focus and is helping the cycling trade no end.

Do you have any cycling pet hates?

Half wheeling, poorly maintained bikes, scabby kit. 

Are there any cycling traditions that you think have been, or are being, lost as a result of changing attitudes and behaviour? And are we better off or worse off as a consequence?

There are many, but one of the most lamentable is the decline of the cycling club and the culture that went with that.  As a young rider getting into the sport I was helped immeasurably by the Mid Devon cycling club.  Getting a kicking on the club run a few times gave me something to aim for and taught me cycling etiquette and how to ride safely in a bunch.  Things I took for granted until I first rode with a newer generation of cyclist. They’ll happily half wheel you, totally oblivious.  Also the sense of entitlement that many very average cyclists have when it comes to getting support or sponsorship, expecting to be given free kit for getting round a premier calendar in the bunch.

Cotton cap or helmet?

Until about two years ago I would never dream of training in a helmet.  I guess I started feeling the pressure and was taking so much sh*t for riding without that I wore one for an easy life.  I can’t stand pro-helmet crusaders though.

The benefits of spinning a low gear compared to mashing a high gear is often discussed. Putting aside the serious, physiological and mechanical aspects, what cadence you think looks right?


What do you like to talk about when you are on a ride with friends/team/club mates? Do you prefer to keep the subjects lightweight or get your teeth into something contentious or controversial?

Totally depends on who I’m with, but it’s mostly piss-taking and stories!

Which three words best describe you?

Wilful. Thoughtful. Youthful.

Did you used to listen to music before a race? If so, did you have a favourite tune or playlist?

I often did, but it would always change and depend on my mood. My music taste is all over the place, so it could be something uplifting, or something like Joy Division.  Either way, it wouldn’t affect the outcome.

When were/are you most happy?

Goes without saying really, but when I have no stress and a goal to work at. Now is a pretty good example of such a time.

Who would be your guests at your perfect dinner party (dead or alive)?

Churchill, Ali G, Michael McIntyre, Di Nero. They could bring their other halves to even out the gender ratio.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

On the assumption I could return to present day? It would have to achieve something, so maybe I’d avert some great tragedy, but that wouldn’t be fair on all the others.  Perhaps I’d go back to a couple of years before Facebook came out. 

When was the last time you cried?

Probably watching some sad film, wildlife documentary or at a funeral last year.

When did you laugh the hardest?

Impossible to say!  I laugh a lot every day.

Are you the type of person who likes to have a plan? Or do you prefer to wing it?

A bit of both: I like to have the outline of a plan there and ‘wing’ the detail!

If you could edit your past, what would you change? 

I don’t believe in changing the past as it would have as yet unknown future consequences.  I’m totally happy with my life’s trajectory and wouldn’t want to alter that.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life? 

Right now?  Fish and chips and a few beers.

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