Jonathan Tiernan-Locke video interview part 1: Sky's new signing looks back on outstanding 2012

Tour of Britain winner looks back with Daniel Lloyd on year that led to him securing switch to the top flight

by Simon_MacMichael   January 16, 2013  

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke GCN YouTube still

Amid Mark Cavendish’s departure and speculation over who will lead Team Sky in this year’s Tour de France, something its fans can look forward to is Jon Tiernan-Locke’s debut at the highest level. In part 1 of a video interview with GCN's Daniel Lloyd, the 28-year-old reflects on his standout moment of 2012, plus the experiences of winning the Tour of Britain and riding the world championships as Great Britain’s protected rider.

It’s been a meteoric rise, with the Devonian, who had shown early promise with French amateur teams that led to him winning a place in the Great Britain under-23 squad, spending three years away from the sport after contracting Epstein-Barr virus in 2005, which developed into glandular fever.

Devoting himself to his studies and working part-time in a bike shop, he seemed destined to join the legions of those who could have been a pro had life gone differently. Instead, he is now riding with the world’s number one team.

Getting there has been some journey. Even when Tiernan-Locke returned to racing in 2008 after that three-year-break, fate seemed determined to thwart his plans.

That year, he was knocked off his bike by a horse while competing in a Surrey League Race, his injuries including a broken nose and collarbone. He joined Plowman Craven for 2009, only for the team to fold mid-season.

His luck changed with a move to Rapha Condor Sharp in 2010. That year, he won a stage of the FBD Insurance Ras, and a bigger win came the following year with a stage of the Vuelta Ciclista a Leon. He ended the season with the king of the mountains jersey in the Tour of Britain and fifth place overall in the race.

Already being tipped as perhaps the rider who could become the first home winner of that race since it was relaunched in 2004 – indeed, the first in nearly two decades taking its previous formats into account – it was with Endura Racing last year that Tiernan-Locke really shot to international prominence.

Back-to-back wins in the Tour Méditerranéen and the Tour du Haut Var on successive weekends in February resulted in his being courted by several ProTeams, but he immediately made it clear that he would honour his contract with Endura.

After breaking his collarbone in the Lincoln Grand Prix in May, he was back to winning ways in July when he took the overall in the Tour d’Alsace. But with rumours persisting that he was headed to Team Sky at the end of the season, it was September that set the seal on his outstanding year.

With interest in the Tour of Britain higher than ever on the back of Wiggins’ Tour de France victory and the still-fresh memories of London 2012, Tiernan-Locke rewarded Endura’s faith in him by winning the overall.

A week later, with Cavendish and Wiggins among his supporting team, he was Great Britain’s protected rider in the world championships in Limburg, where he followed an attack by Alberto Contador on the Cauberg, got into what was ultimately a doomed break but still finished 19th in by far the longest race he had ever ridden.

Both those performances bode well for his future at WorldTour level, and his thoughts on stepping up to the top flight, as well as plans for the season ahead, will be covered in the part 2 of the interview, which we will show on Friday.

13 user comments

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You always have to wonder about seemingly healthy, fit pro cyclists who get completely knocked out for many months, even years, by viruses which are so common we nearly all carry them, and which are usually fairly innocuous. It's almost like their immune system has been damaged by something…

posted by Paul J [679 posts]
16th January 2013 - 10:26

5 Likes

Aye, pushing your body to the limits of endurance for a living can sometimes leave you vulnerable to illness. Or were you perhaps implying something else?

posted by samg123 [16 posts]
16th January 2013 - 11:06

6 Likes

Yeah, I had glandular fever and still went out training and everything. Liar

No hang on, that's not right... Thinking

What, you think that giving yourself such punishment that you get through 7000 calories a day doesn't take it's toll on the body?

Good luck JTL.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3471 posts]
16th January 2013 - 12:49

3 Likes

Our bodies have very good systems for preventing damage from over-exhaustion. It was crucial we evolved this. For these systems to fail naturally is unusual. Suppressing inflammation and other immune responses is however something which cortico-steroids do, and which can have long-term effects, and abuse of these has been almost the norm in cycling.

So yes, I am implying something. Though, we only have balance of probabilities to evaluate, no certainty.

(Boardman and his extremely unusual early onset, male osteoporosis is another similar example of where we should carefully consider the balance of probabilities).

posted by Paul J [679 posts]
16th January 2013 - 12:59

6 Likes

notfastenough: I've had glandular fever too. The vast majority of us carry the viruses responsible. It knocked me out for a week - not for a year though. (That it could degrade performance at the top-level for a year or so is quite plausible - but being floored by it for many months to years, less so).

posted by Paul J [679 posts]
16th January 2013 - 13:03

8 Likes

My wife was floored by it for nearly a year, before I met her.

Sorry, but I don't really see the point in getting into this debate. You're slinging mud at people without the relevant knowledge of their medical history or, presumably, the appropriate medical qualifications. You're really suggesting that, to Chris Boardman, winning was more important than his health and ending up with osteoporosis, and that your only evidence of this is that he has osteoporosis?

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3471 posts]
16th January 2013 - 14:30

5 Likes

Just STFU...

I swam competitively (18-20 hours a week) and there were people who got glandular fever and they were gone for months. I heard that training a lot leaves your immune system weakened. I gotta add that was in the teenage years so on the balance of probabilities... ¬¬

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posted by koko56 [334 posts]
16th January 2013 - 17:29

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I'm not a doctor, but I have access to medical research papers (well, greater access than the general public) and am used to reading papers. I can bring myself somewhat up to speed on things, once I know what to look for.

Further, I'm not slinging mud. I'm trying to make factual statements about probability. This inherently can not lead to any certain conclusion! If stating facts somehow reflects badly on a rider, then I'm not sure that it is the facts that deserve the blame. Further, even if the balance of probability suggests doping may have been a factor, that still needn't mean the rider was aware of it. See the other example below.

Your wife likely was floored in the "tired" sense, I'm guessing (based on probability). I.e. she had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Viruses such as Epstein-Barr possibly are a factor. However, while glandular fever is very common (most of us will get it at some stage) only a very small number of the population appear to go on to develop CFS, at least to such an extent they get it diagnosed. Figures vary a lot, from around 1% in high risk workforces (e.g. nurses), to 0.4% of the total population (NICE), though the odd study found higher incidences of up to 3%. CFS is thought to be a brain inflammation, and its effects do not come with other noticeable symptoms, other than lethargy and other apparently psychosomatic symptoms. Interestingly, exercise can help significantly alleviate these symptoms for some suffers, and also CFS is more likely to strike those with sedentary lifestyles.

JTL, based on the admittedly little detail there is in the public domain, suffered from rather more than just CFS. In his words:

“Then one day I started coming down with a cold. That turned into flu and then it became the worst strain of flu I’d ever had. It just got worse. Then my immune system broke down I had a skin disease. I was literally falling apart.”

The first bit does sound very much like glandular fever. Which may well, if he was unlucky, have led to CFS. If he had CFS, he had an extremely severe case, then it seems probable he was ALSO unlucky enough to contract other diseases. As he says, his "immune system broke down".

So the probabilities are:

* glandular fever: common
* CFS: 3% in some studies, but factor of 10 lower in many others. So unusual, but possible.
* Severe CFS: Some subset of the 3% to .4%
* Immune system dysfunction: don't know what he had, but this is generally uncommon (modulo things like HIV)

As the latter isn't, afaict, something associated with CFS, that likely means it was independently acquired from the CFS (in which case these 2 small probabilities multiply and become a dramatically /smaller/ probability rather than add-up), OR the bad glandular fever and CFS was acquired BECAUSE OF pre-existing immune system dysfunction or suppression.

Now, why would an aspiring cyclist have a suppressed immune system?

There's an interesting parallel with Greg Strock. He also got knocked out by a range of illnesses, as a young cyclist, including a very common, usually not very harmful virus, to a degree which a fit, young man just shouldn't suffer. He did an interview with velonews which is worth reading. To quote the bit that I thought back to after reading about JTLs' strange problems (added emphasis mine):

“Any physician who hears about my diagnosis would first say that it is quite rare to see such a symptomatic case of Parvovirus in an ordinarily healthy young Caucasian male. It’s almost unheard of to see the kind of symptoms that I suffered. In that population, it’s usually it’s a viral infection that is no big deal. This is consistent with an immunosupressed state.

I also suffered from thrush (an oral yeast infection), most often seen in those who are immunocompromised, and a very severe case of Bell’s palsy. Bell’s palsy is a facial paralysis that is not uncommon and is thought to be caused by a viral infection. 90 percent of those with it have full recovery; I didn’t. So you can see some common things affected me in uncommon ways, which is typical of an immunocompromised state such as induced by cortisone.”

Only when he left cycling and studied medicine, did he start to realise his symptoms and history had tallied very well with cortico-steroid abuse. Greg's coach had been regularly doping him, unbeknownst to him!

If you still think I'm slinging mud at JTL, then you misunderstand.

posted by Paul J [679 posts]
17th January 2013 - 10:56

10 Likes

I think you deserve some credit Paul J.

posted by redmeat [112 posts]
18th July 2014 - 7:07

2 Likes

redmeat wrote:
I think you deserve some credit Paul J.

I disagree.

Blood doping and cortisone abuse are actually different things, and the speculative link suggested is, as described simple mud slinging.

I have been wiped out with a virus, and I can assure you, nothing has been put in my system that shouldn't have been.

The simple fact is that CFS or whatever label you want to give it, is reasonably common in athletes. The reason being that they continue to stress the body when it is in a state of distress...

When I got sick (as a young healthy man) my other half got sick as well. It only felt like a bout of flu at first... and a few days later I was a bit better so got back to training. I wasn't right though, and my missus who got ill at the same time wasn't right either. She rested, I didn't.

I plugged on for nearly 8 weeks, feeling just about OK to train for a few days, too sick to train for a few days after that...

Long story short, my body eventually had enough and properly broke down... I was out for 6 months.

My other half was back up and running after 6 weeks.

My point is, looking at probabilities, its far, far more likely that the virus and side effects were a result stressing the body in a vulnerable state, rather than cortisone abuse.

Also, thinking back to that time, amphetamines and growth hormone were the french doping favourites. Cortisone was out of favour at that time.

If I remember back then, JTL's physical make up was atypical of someone that had been abusing the cortisone.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [352 posts]
18th July 2014 - 9:52

1 Like

I meant he deserved credit for recognising JTL's performances were a bit suss, not the minutae of whatever he was on.

posted by redmeat [112 posts]
18th July 2014 - 10:14

2 Likes

I disagree, when I suggested he was mud-slinging it wasn't really about whether JTL was doping (no matter who the rider, that would be foolish to bet on in this sport...), since only the individual concerned knows that. My point was that having so little to go on, in a subject area where not as much is known even by the doctors as would be ideal, it's not reasonable to equate a good rider with history of previous health issues with doping. That, especially on the web for everyone to see for ever, is mud slinging. It's like the online detectives that were trying to derive Wiggo's wattage (and ergo indicate doping) from weight/gradient etc, there are way too many factors outside our visibility.

I hoped JTL was clean, it looks like I'm to be disappointed. Although it wouldn't surprise me if we hadn't heard the end of this.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3471 posts]
18th July 2014 - 11:15

2 Likes

Jimmy Ray Will: You're asking me to weight your anecdote above the scientific data on rates of CFS, etc., which I gave a summary of.

I'm not saying your postulate that elite athletes are somehow different must be wrong. However, you don't exactly have strong evidence for it either.

posted by Paul J [679 posts]
18th July 2014 - 13:20

1 Like