Interview: We speak to Andy Tennant ahead of Great Britain's Olympic track campaign
Team pursuit star talks about preparations for London... and why being in the squad is like being in a boy band
After the euphoria brought about by Bradley Wiggins' time trial victory yesterday, attention today switches to the track, with the men's and women's team sprint finals taking place at the Velodrome today. This afternoon's session also sees Great Britain's men's team pursuiters get their campaigns going - both the men's and women's squads set world best times while winning the world championship in Melbourne in April, and big things are expected in both events here in London.
Earlier this week, we caught up with Olympic debutant Andy Tennant for a one-on-one chat at Team GB House next to the Olympic Park to talk about the preparations he and the rest of the men's team pursuit squad - fellow first-timer Peter Kennaugh plus Geraint Thomas, Ed Clancy and Steven Burke who were part of the team pursuit squad that took gold at Beijing - were making for the defence of that title.
Q: Looking at the programme that the squad’s been following, obviously we had Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh in the Giro and yourself and Ed Clancy as well as Steven Burke in the Halfords Tour Series, what’s the importance of that time away from the track and how does it help with the preparation for London?
A: “We’ve tried to build a big aerobic base, obviously the Giro is better than the Tour Series to do that, that’s inevitable, but that’s the idea.
“We went away from the track, we’d done a lot of track work coming up to Melbourne in April, it was a bit of a head-freshener as well, we’d had to do an intensive conditioning block and we use the road a lot to do that, and bike racing’s a bit better than just training as such.
"So you try and utilise that, and obviously we try and keep our road teams that we’ve signed up for happy as well so we compete for races for them – the Halfords Tour Series for myself, Ed and Steven, while Pete and G went into the Giro for their team.
Q: Looking at the Team Sky guys [Thomas and Kennaugh], with the overlap with British Cycling it’s been very easy for them to tailor their programmes this year, and for yourself and Ed, it seems Rapha Condor Sharp and John Herety have been very supportive and accommodating with what you’re doing?
“I can’t thank Rapha Condor Sharp and John Herety enough and I think Ed will repeat the same. They’ve been fantastic to us, pretty much the same as Sky with British Cycling, we’ve had great help from them.
“John got us onto the team and said, ‘The simple answer is, we’ll give you what you want – if you want to race, you can race, if you don’t want to race, we’re not going to trouble you. We’ll leave you alone. If you want something from us, if we can do anything for you, then we’ll do it,’ and that was it.
“It’s been fantastic and we owe a lot of thanks to them. John understands the team and how British Cycling works, obviously he used to work for British Cycling which makes life easier.
“There have been difficulties in teams beforehand with not understanding track racing, we’d get entered for a race and we’d say, ‘We’re not doing that because we want to do this and this’ and they weren’t happy and it gets quite difficult.
“But the understanding that John has is great and with Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton and a lot of staff being involved in Sky it’s an easy thing for them, they can say, ‘Right, we want to do the Olympics,’ and the whole thing’s built around them. I think that’s integral to a great performance."
Q: To an outsider looking at the team pursuit squad, you see two first-time Olympians alongside three who competed at Beijing, but when you drill down deeper, you’ve all raced together before coming up through the age groups, at under-23 and European level for instance. When you came together to train towards the Olympics, how much did that previous experience of racing together benefit you, how quickly did it gel?
A: “That’s one of the things that the [British Cycling] Academy was started for, I think they believed that they needed a unity within the team, and I’ve either lived with or raced with every single one of those riders from junior or under-23 level, so we’ve spent lots and lots of time together – bickering, arguing, all the normal things.
“But we’ve got fantastic unity, we’re all good mates, like five guys in a boy band really, we all mess around, we’re all idiots, we’re all stupid, we’re all immature – like big kids, that’s probably the thing.
“We don’t take it too seriously and it could be so easy to take it so seriously and put pressure on ourselves and at the end of the day the simple answer is, we’re going to go out there, we’re going to give our best, and what will be will be. That’s it.
“I think it’s a great thing that we’ve been able to unite as a squad beforehand, we can almost drop into team pursuit camps a couple of weeks beforehand and we know what each rider’s going to do, we know what they’re like, we know when they’re tired, we know when they’re fresh.
“You learn so much about each other and I think that’s all thanks to UK Sport obviously putting the funding in and being able to let British Cycling fund that sort of development and project and that’s what the AIS in Australia did before us and we’ve sort of copied them really.”
Q: The two public open sessions at Newport last week [where the Great Britain track squad has been finalising its Olympic preparations], is the fact that those were opened up to the fans a sign that Team GB is ready for London?
“I think so. It was fantastic to see the fans. We train in Manchester in December and there’s one man and his… well, there’s no dogs there, obviously… but there’s a couple of people running around and there’s nothing happening there really, it’s dead and it gets a bit lonely there sometimes, especially when there’s hardly anyone on the track.
“To get Newport full, I’ve never seen it full in my life, I’ve done a few championships there and it’s never had a full crowd. So to see so much support and to have little kids asking for your autograph at the end of a training session is quite surreal.
“It was a fantastic experience to get clapped as you’re warming up, it’s like ‘This is a bit odd,’ but it was great. It was nice to see that people would come and watch us as well, obviously a lot of people wanted to see the cycling and couldn’t get tickets, there’s only so many tickets available and it was great for them to get another chance to see the likes of Chris Hoy.”
Q: If you look back 15 months to the world championships in the Netherlands, the way Great Britain came out of that, a lot of people were nervous looking forward to London, but Dave Brailsford was saying, ‘Look, we’re actually getting medals in the Olympic events.’ Then in Melbourne there was obviously a much stronger performance there, and it’s fair to say that in all ten track events we have a realistic medal chance, so is there growing confidence in the team?
“I’d say so, I think everything’s been going well, I’m going to speak directly from team pursuit because that’s what I’m involved in. We only missed out on the world championship the year before  in Copenhagen by a thousandth of a second to the Aussies, we qualified fastest.
“The next year in Apeldoorn in Holland didn’t go so well but at the end of the day we had an ill Ed Clancy, by his own admission Ed was next to useless but we still managed to secure a bronze medal.
“It wasn’t our best performance but we had a lot of factors that weren’t giving us that so we did the best we could and looking at things from training sessions in the last couple of weeks, I think everyone’s ready, everyone’s excited, the times are good from every discipline and it should be an exciting Games.”
Q: You came to cycling relatively late, you were 14, then three, four years later you’ve got an age group rainbow jersey. Can you tell us about that journey?
A: “I started cycling after a heart operation which I had at 14 for supraventricular tachycardia [a condition that makes the heart at times beat faster than normal] and I started cycling just to enjoy the club runs, going to a café, eating a bacon butty, that sort of thing.
“I was a little fat kid, I wasn’t your epitome of an Olympic athlete, let’s put it that way, if you’d seen me at 14 you wouldn’t have said, ‘That guy’s going to be in the Olympics.’
“I joined the local club which was Wolverhampton Wheelers at the time, and slowly got into cycling more, I had a bloke who looked after me called Rob Murphy who gave me a bit more coaching and at 16 I started winning a few things.
“I got a silver medal at the nationals in my age group, I got second in an international youth tour and it started progressing from there. As a first-year junior I started to progress, I won a few bike races and then managed to get myself on the GB Olympic Development Programme in the year that I turned 18 and it all spiralled from there really.
“I won the Europeans and the World and I then won my first national title after I was world champion, it was all a bit of a whirlwind. Then I got put on the academy and I’ve been a fully-funded athlete since then, I’m super enjoying it, it’s a great experience and I’m honoured to represent the country and have the privilege of doing that."
Q: Obviously Bradley Wiggins getting the maillot jaune has given everyone a huge boost, there was a great team performance in the men’s road race on Saturday but a crazy minute or two when the race slipped away, then Lizzie Armitstead’s performance in the women’s road race was a boost too?
“I think Cav’s performance [on Saturday] gave a boost, the performance of the Great Britain team there was fantastic, they all rode for Sky [other than Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar], it was described as a dream team, everyone in there was a Tour de France stage winner plus Ian Stannard of course just won the nationals and there’s not many teams that would unite like that.
"At the end of the day there were 150 bike riders wanting to not take Cav to the line and it was always going to be a difficult task. I think they did a fantastic job.
“Then the women with Lizzie Armitstead won a medal the next day, I know she was very happy with that, one of the soigneurs was telling us that she was coming over the line crying with tears of happiness and joy which is fantastic to hear.
“Everyone was watching the road race, we were actually in the velodrome at the time, it was on the big screen, and when she got silver we were all cheering, not quite as loudly as the Dutchies were, but it was fantastic to see. I’m really happy for her.”