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. ( )

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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In Conversation with Camille McMillan

I first came across the work of Camille McMillan when I saw Le Metier, the book of ex-Team Sky rider Michael Barry. A full season in the world of a pro-cyclist. The images stood out to me, as it wasn’t your usual ‘sports photography’. How the pro’s prepare, behind the scenes images, have always interested me. It's as close as some will get to being on the 'inside' of the sport and images of this ilk I've always found interesting and inspiring

There was something different about the details and aura of the images that Camille captures that were different to what I’d seen before. Not just your standard reportage you find in the weekly magazines, something altogether more stylish, more artistic. 

Me and Camille chatted over email about some bike-related things and his new project ‘The Circus’.

Firstly, what's go you into cycling and cycling photography?

When I was a young lad my old man used to take me to the 6 days in London. Trips over to Belgium on the Hovercraft. I am a second generation cyclist.There is that old expression, “once you have raced your a racer for life”. Or is it “Once a bike rider always a bike ride”. Something like that.  

So, did you race? What did you take from that?

My first race was at 8, cyclo cross. I started at the top of a hill straight down through a river. The old man put me in a Junior event! Good work! I cried. What did I take from being a bike racer? The body has no memory of the pain, only the emotions surrounding it.  I don't stop until I literally can't move. As long as I breath, I attack etc.

Since your so close to the ‘pro-scene’, is there anything that surprises you? Or should I re-phrase that? What have you been most surprised by?

Just how transitory everything is, nothing is fixed. One reason for the name ' The Circus’. Also, there are ring masters.

I'm glad you've mentioned your book 'The Circus'. Perhaps you could say a bit more about that and what is your criteria for a photo 'making-the-cut' lets say?

Just because its ‘a name’ in the picture doesn’t mean it makes the cut. A picture has to have something other. A moment, a story, an insight.. a ‘what-the-fuck!’. I like a WTF picture best.

Do you have any cycling pet hates, or photography ones for that matter?

Cycling pet hates. The usual, half wheelers, stems under 110cm and nodders. Photography. In the context of reportage and cycling, I hate faux reportage, selective sharpening, a long list. Shooting into the sun, exposing for the highlights, de-saturating. Would you like the full rant?

What's the best context for your work? Do you find that the social media sites such as Instagam and Twitter hinder or help the way in which your work is seen? 

Best context for my work is book or on the wall. Social media is fun, it can help for sure, but Instagram is mostly ‘not’ about photography.

What challenges does a sports photographer face?

Challenges for sports photographers hmmm, I don't see myself as one actually. I'm a photographer / artist that is obsessed with cycling.  I would imagine the hardest part of being a sports photographer is dealing with the boredom of it. Can you imagine being a finish line photographer?! Also, most cycling and sports photographers are looking not just for a moment, but brands to flog their images to.

You say you don't see yourself as a sports-photographer, more an artist. How do you feel your work fits into the art-context? More-so, what posses you to photograph bike-racing?

Art context, hmm.  I'm into finding things, exploring. Why bike racing? Bike racing set me off on my path in life. I left school at 16 and went and raced. That was it. I went back to school to study Art at 22 years old. Bike racing never leaves you. The thing is it’s ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.

Whats your process? Do you like to wing-it? or is there a set-plan for every race? Are you in the team cars or just roaming like a spectator?

I'm on the back of moto's, on my own moto, in team cars, with mechanics, hitch-hiking. Whatever way to get the things I want. I always go with an idea. I focus just on that, just that. I’m an Artist you see.

What is your most memorable moment on the bike or involved with cycling?
On a bicycle, winning a race with a bunch sprint for the first time. Involved through cycling,  back of a moto in the Tour of Missouri. 100+ going down to the Mississippi, balmy heat, just jeans, short-sleeve shirt and a Leica, here is a photo from that day.


When were/are you most happy?
Most happy, when I think 'I must get that picture' and I have shot it the moment before I thought it. Or, when I'm dancing with my children. 


If you would like to pledge funds to the Kickstart project of 'The Circus', please follow the link below.

Photographs by Camille McMillan. 

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For a British rider, racing the Tour of Britain is always great. There is a familiarity, an ease almost, you get when racing at home that you just can’t find anywhere else, no matter how well, or how far you go to adopt another country as your homeland.

Growing up in the UK as a racing cyclist, until very recently, meant that from an early age all eyes had to be focused on other countries. The races here meant nothing. Europe was where the teams were, it was where the riders were, and it was where the races all happened. Your whole concept of racing bikes was based on a European dream. It might well have been a dream that you loved, but it is one that you could never know as well as the people who really truly belonged there.

The real difference was that the European guys don’t start by seeing the roads of the Tour of Flanders or the Tour of Lombardy as part of a race; they start by seeing them as a route to school, or the best way to a friend’s house. Those races, the roads and the landscape are simply part of those riders.


For the British rider racing abroad, those places couldn’t exist without cycling; you’d arrive on a foreign shore and see the world through the eyes of a bike rider and you can only ever understand so much when you only have one angle to look from.

It gives the home riders, the Europeans who own the rights to all the really big races, an advantage that no amount of wind tunnels can replicate, and no amount of GPS files can account for. It allows them to understand the area they are racing in so intrinsically that they always have the upper hand.

The same is true for the British riders when the pro peloton comes to them. The tables are turned at the Tour of Britain, and it makes for one occasion in the year when you really feel at home, and you start to see things the way the Italians do at the Giro, or the French do at the Tour.

It’s not just where the road is going to go, or when climbs might arrive. It is knowing that the weather is about to change, or that there will be parked cars in the next town. It is about knowing how heavy the road surface in the country is, and how hard you can hit it. It is about understanding Dartmoor and how tight a squeeze it’ll be through the lanes of Devon or Somerset. It’s about knowing where the topof Haytor is…


You understand your roads like no one else because you’ve lived on them. Every road sign, every mile marker, and each painted line – all markings that make clear and perfect sense.

And yet it goes further still, a bike race isn’t just about the four hours of the day you spend racing from one line to the next. It also includes the logistics of getting from one place to another, eating dinner, finding your way around another hotel, and getting some rest.

Knowing where you are, knowing that you don’t have to think twice when you check in, or go to ask how the Wi-Fi works, nor not having to worry about the roaming charges on your mobile phone, makes the whole thing so much easier.

There are the fans too. The fans here are your friends, people you know and who know you. Having a few people from your club come to the start to wish you luck is a thousand times better than the experience of having a demanding autograph hunter thrust six pictures of you in your face and saying “SIGN!”

I used to think that being a British rider at the Tour of Britain was like having the party at your house instead of going to a party at friends: You could enjoy the plaudits for being the host. But it’s not; it is better than that, because when the party is at your place you always have that worry that someone is defacing a painting, or defecating in the garden.

There is none of that stress when the Tour comes to your country. There is no worry that the place will get trashed, because fortunately you know that someone else has it all in hand, and you can just enjoy the rare privilege of racing at home.



Tom Southam

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