Slapton Sands should be ringing with the happy sound of sand-castle building, crying gulls and the gentle lapping of waves. There should be dogs chasing sticks, queues at the ice-cream vans and surfers in the sea. Instead gale-force winds tear at the trees, unruly waves batter the beach, it’s raining sideways, and the birds in the Slapton Ley nature reserve have been grounded for the day.
But it doesn’t put off a few hardy souls, huddled in their cars as they peer through foggy windscreens at a storm-tossed English Channel, and it doesn’t put off Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. He’s been out of cycling too long to miss a single day, even one
Actually it’s not too cold, after all it is the end of May bank holiday Monday if you haven’t already guessed. “It is cold when you stop though,” Tiernan-Locke hints, so I stop talking and let him get on with it. He’s just back from winning the Tour of Crete, and his suntan says that he’s got used to much warmer weather than this.
The Lewis legacy
Tiernan-Locke is from the same Mid-Devon cycling club that produced Jeremy Hunt, Yanto Barker and a number of top road racers. It’s no coincidence that one of the club’s longest serving members is ex-Tour de France finisher and road racing legend, Colin Lewis. His influence runs through cycling in this area like the lettering through seaside rock.
“I started doing mountain bike races when I was 15,” Tiernan-Locke says. “Then at 18 I did my first road races and went from fourth to first category in a few months. After that Colin used his contacts to get me in the UV Aube in France. I didn’t know anything about tactics then, I was just strong. I ended up riding for Great Britain that year in the under-23 Worlds in Verona.”
Tiernan-Locke looked to be on the fast track to a pro contract. He came flying out of the blocks the following year with CC Etupes — one of the biggest clubs in France and one with a direct line into Tour de France teams — when he won the amateur Tour du Haut Var at the end of February.
But then disaster struck: “I went down with glandular fever, but what was worse was that I was in a constant state of fatigue even after I recovered from it. I’d sleep but wake up not refreshed. And if I did any exercise at all I got a cold or sore throat the next day.”
In all Tiernan-Locke was out for three years, but sensibly he switched his attention to studying and spent the time doing a degree at Bristol University. “Finally I had nine months when I felt better. I tried a few runs and didn’t go down with anything, so at the very end of last summer I thought I might be able to race again this year and started
training,” he says.
The ride Tiernan-Locke has picked is one he does regularly. “I use it for power training on the hills, or on a nice day the scenery on this ride is so great that you can just leave the heart rate monitor at home and enjoy it,” he says.
It can be started on the coast from Slapton, where there are plenty of car parks, or from inland towns like Kingsbridge and Totnes. It’s a ride of varying character — from the flat stretch through the nature reserve and the Kingsbridge Estuary, to the rolling countryside between Modbury and Totnes, and some fairly steep hills around Dartmouth.
Tiernan-Locke loves the area. “All along the top part of the route you look to your left and see Dartmoor. I really like riding up there. It’s great for training and very hard sometimes with nothing stopping the wind. You can be flat out and only doing 10 miles per hour. And the moor is so big that when you are on your own you feel like an ant in the middle of it all.”
Today there are no picture opportunities on the higher ground, the clouds are too low and the wind causes us to take a shortcut back to the coast. A front wheel puncture doesn’t help either. Even today, though, the English Riviera is very attractive. It’s full of sandy coves and luxurious vegetation that is probably the only thing benefiting from the copious watering today.
We return early to the Slapton car park where Tiernan-Locke outlines his thoughts on his future and of road racing in Britain. “I’m pleased about where I am at the moment. If someone had said before this season that I’d have seven wins by the end of May,
I wouldn’t have believed it possible.
“I can feel that I’ve made a big jump recently, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of this year, but I reckon that there is a lot of improvement left and after another good winter I can be better.
“I’ve put work to one side for cycling at the moment, but I don’t think I’ll be going to Europe again. I think we are getting to a point where there is the opportunity to be a pro in Britain. Cycling is definitely on the up here. We’ve got good exposure through the success of the track riders, a Tour of Britain and British road racing is getting better with some
good riders and teams. It’s all looking good.”
It is looking good. Colin Lewis was able to build a good career in Britain as a pro when the scene had one of its periodic upswings, now another Devon rider from the Lewis school looks like he’s going to be a force to reckon with in British racing in the very near future.
YOUR GUIDE: JONATHAN TIERNAN-LOCKE
* Age: 23, single, lives in Plymouth
* Just finished a degree course in product design
* Rides for the Mid-Devon Cycling Club
* Won the 2008 Tour of Crete
From Slapton Sands head south to Torcross on the A379 then east to Kingsbridge. Turn left (TL) on A381 and turn right (TR) on the B3179. TL on A379. Go through Modbury and TR on A3121. TR on unclassified at Kitterford Cross. TR in Totnes on A381. TL on A3122 at Halwell. TR on A379 in Dartmouth and back to Slapton Sands.