Jonathan Tiernan Locke feature: Returning to an old approach in order to get back to top form
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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Jonathan Tiernan Locke feature: Returning to an old approach in order to get back to top form

by Shane Stokes at 4:57 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
2012 Tour of Britain champion accepts that mistakes were made during first season with Team Sky

Jon Tiernan LockeAfter a long break from racing, Jonathan Tiernan Locke returned to competition on Sunday in the Vattenfalls Cyclassics, the first step in what he hopes will be a successful attempt to turn around a difficult season.

Tiernan Locke impressed last year while with the Endura Racing Team, and secured a WorldTour contract with the Sky team on the basis of his strong performances. Early on he won the Tour of the Mediterranean and the Tour du Haut Var, taking advantage of explosive power on short to medium length climbs. He then went on to take the Vuelta a la Region de Murcia.

Later in the year he had another flurry of good results, winning two stages plus the overall classification in the Tour Alsace and then scooping victory in his home race, the Tour of Britain.

The latter result was a clear indication to Sky that he had the ability to handle big competition, but his top level debut this year has been far quieter than he, the team or anyone else expected.

“It has been a bit more complicated, in terms of stepping up to the WorldTour. It’s been an issue with handling the training load, more than anything," he told VeloNation recently.

“Last year I had pretty much only myself to worry about and when we got to races, if it was a hilly race, I would get a free rein. This year I have been riding for guys of the calibre of Richie Porte and Chris Froome. So it has also been about learning, but also about trying to adapt to the different training and having a programme set out for me. In the past, I always just looked after my own training and came up my own plan.”

Essentially, he’s gone from riding on feel to this year training to a structured programme. It’s something that hasn’t worked out as hoped. “Before, if I was tired, I would just take the day off. So that has been different.”

The team’s training works well for other riders and so it’s relevant to determine why Tiernan Locke is different. Does he believe his physiology needs an alternative approach to some of the other riders, or is it the case that the step up to the WorldTour is what has posed the problem?

“I believe it is the former, to be honest,” he answered. “I got to mid July and I was just knackered. I saw my performances going down and down…I was getting progressively more fatigued.”

Initially, Tiernan Locke was going well. “I was doing my best power numbers and going well in the winter training camps. I obviously didn’t do much in the off season and had a lot of ground to make up but by the time I regained fitness, I was going really well in January. But after that I kept getting an illness here or some health issue there.

“At first I thought ‘this is unlucky,’ but then you realise it is not a coincidence. If your body is always getting sick or having little problems, it is probably because it is run down, you are just tired.

“People had said it is harder in the WorldTour and this and that, but the fact is that I did compete with WorldTour guys last year and did some pretty hard races. I was just a better bike rider then.

“Everything was less last year. I definitely trained less. I think my physiology responds to the ‘less is more’ school of training. I am in a team with a lot of guys who can time trial and do long climbs and from my experience in cycling, those sort of guys, riders with that physiology, they can take on a high workload in training. Those sort of guys have slow twitch muscle fibres and whatever else and they absorb a lot of training.

“Whereas myself, I find if I train too much it comes back at me. I have done it in the past, training myself and looking for a bit more…you always think, ‘I am going well now, so if I keep pushing and pushing I should build up,’ but I don’t respond well to that. Past a certain point, I seem to just go downhill and need to rest to come out of it.

Going back to working ‘by feel’

Jonathan Tiernan LockeTiernan Locke’s situation is one which will be understood by any ambitious rider, be they amateur or professional. You are at a certain level, you believe that you need to step things up and you ramp up the training as a result. That works to a point, but the body can only do so much. Cross the line, dig too deep, and the body’s ability to cope starts to waver.

In moving to a new team and wanting to chase higher ambitious, the problem is exacerbated. Team coaches don’t know the rider and will recommend certain things, different training plans and whatnot. The rider may also approach things differently than before, changing a system that worked to one which sometimes does not.

It’s part of trial and error, and explains why team moves are not always successful from the off.

Tiernan Locke believes that he and the team need to identify the right balance. “I have always coped pretty well with racing. Last year when I came back from a race before, say one that was a week or nine days long, I took a week off really easy. I started training again when I feel fresh.

“This year, though, I started training when the training plan or Cycling Peaks tells me to start training, and I have stuck to that. I think I have ignored a lot of signs that the body has given me, something that I wouldn’t have done in the past. I’d say, with what’s around the corner, I’ll train through this.

“Last year I did a lot less hours, a lot less interval sessions than a lot of people do. But obviously I am someone who needs a moderate training stimulus, not a big one.”

When Tiernan Locke spoke to VeloNation, he said that he would resume racing in the Vattenfall Cyclassics event. He did that today, although his break from racing saw him lose time. He felt that he would likely do the Grand Prix Plouay after that, then continue with whatever schedule the team had planned.

The most important thing is that a greater understanding has been reached about how to avoid the same overtraining issues that he experienced this year.

“I’ve spoken with the team coaches. I think there will just be a bit more input from myself going forward with the training and stuff. I think we have established what wasn’t working for me. It is about finding the balance.

“I know what previously worked for me. Some might argue that the WorldTour is a higher level, that I need to do more, but the fact is that being fresher last year meant that I was a better bike rider. That’s really what it’s all about. So what we will do now all about trying to get back to that.

“I feel like I am getting there now. My sensations have been good in training and I’m looking forward to building up the racing and getting sharper.”

Tour of Britain title defence looking unlikely:

Jonathan Tiernan LockeTiernan Locke is the defending champion at the Tour of Britain and, normally, a rider in that position will head back to the race. That’s not looking likely, though. He told VeloNation that he was a reserve for the event and while he could yet be picked if others on the team don’t take part, it was more likely that he would race elsewhere.

His programme will be finalised over time but he does expect to keep competing until the end of the year. “I know I will definitely be doing Beijing. That will be one of the last races this season so I hope to do something there, to finish strongly.

“I’d like to have something that indicates to me that I have turned the corner. I have had a difficult summer. I feel that I haven’t lived up to my own expectations. It would be nice to get some confirmation that I have recovered.”

He’d also like to do the worlds, providing he gets some results and is selected for the team. Last year he went to the race as one of Britain’s protected riders and while he suffered a little with the distance, he finished a solid nineteenth, just five seconds behind the winner Philippe Gilbert.

This year’s course is regarded as a more difficult one and Tour de France winner Chris Froome is expected to be targeting victory in the race. It means that if he does ride, he will have to play a support role.

That’s fine with him. “I would love to go there and be in great shape and help out someone like Chris or perhaps Geraint [Thomas]. To ride for someone else who would go better on a course as hard as that,” he said. “But I’d have to be in top shape just to do a job there. It has got way too much climbing for someone like me.”

Recognising limitations, pinpointing strengths:

Jonathan Tiernan LockeStating that the worlds course is too hard for him may be surprising to some. On the basis of last year’s form, he was very good on punchy courses. However this year’s Florence circuit has longer climbs, and he’s frank that he’s suited to a particular type of ascent.

“I have always said that my limits lie in three, four kilometre climbs. If you put me on a mountain, I don’t have the physiology,” he said. “I am very explosive…and I produce a lot of lactic acid. When I have done tests, it has always come out that I have a high VO2 so I can do a good five, ten, fifteen minute power. However the actual threshold numbers aren’t that good.”

Because of that, he rules out any push for a top finish in a three week race. “I think that is what riding Grand Tours is all about… You have just got to be able to hit a high wattage day after day, and do a good TT. I don’t see myself as that kind of rider.”

Instead, he’s clear that races such as the Ardennes Classics could be ideal for him. “Something like that is definitely more suited to me. Those style of races are the sort that I have enjoyed racing in the past. It’s because I have been good at the single day events. Also, the shorter stage races that don’t have a time trial, or don’t go up any ridiculous climbs…they are the ones that work for me.

“I think a one day with a climb at the end, something like that...that would suit me perfectly. I have shown in the past few years that I can do those style of races. I would like to be able to do that at this level as well.”

Tiernan Locke signed a two year deal with Sky last autumn and so while 2013 didn’t work out as he had hoped – thus far anyway – he has room to breathe. There’s no huge pressure on him to achieve certain results before the end of the season, even if he would like to clock up some high finishes for his morale.

While he intends to work hard, it’s more important that he and the team get things right over the winter and during next season. That means training in a way that’s best for him, and fitting that in with the right racing programme.

The big diesel engines may be able to absorb lots of slog, to soldier through repeated high-kilometre days of training or huge blocks of racing, but Tiernan Locke feels that his motor needs slightly different stimulation. Certainly, hard racing and training, but also periods of rest and recovery in order to keep the balance right for his own physiology.

“I guess some of what happened this year is my fault, in terms of not being more communicative with my coaches,” he admits, stating that if he had given more feedback the issue would have been pinpointed sooner.

“Still, I have learned a lot this season and I have definitely contributed to the team’s success. I’ve been a useful team member.

“Hopefully with a tweaked approach to things my form will be better next season and I can take a bit more responsibility. I feel I can still progress by looking at the way I trained in the past. I don’t need a radical change in approach to improve.”


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