British Riders of 2012: Numbers 6-4

Number 6: Jonathan Tiernan-Locke

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke is perhaps the most explosive climbing talent to emerge in Britain since Robert Millar.

The similarities don’t end there, either, because there is a maverick edge to the Devonian just as there was to the brilliant Glaswegian before him.

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One of the most fascinating theoretical questions following Bradley Wiggins’s Tour de France victory is whether the often irascible Scot would have thrived or even survived in the controlled environment of Team Sky. We may gather a few clues when Tiernan-Locke starts racing with his new Sky team in the new year.

New star in the Sky
Tiernan-Locke has enjoyed a brilliant season with Endura Racing, delivering a string of top victories that many WorldTour level riders would be proud of. But it is his racing style that really makes people sit up and watch. Tiernan-Locke can be so explosive on the climbs, particularly the shorter, steep ones. Just when it looks like everyone is on the limit, he lifts it another notch and dances clear.

He’s not a youngster who’s come from nowhere, though. He’ll be 28 on Boxing Day, but he’s got a young engine, with very few miles on the clock. Thankfully, Tiernan-Locke can look forward to five or six seasons at the top level.

The 2012 campaign started in blistering fashion. He won the Tour of the Mediterranean and the Tour du Haut Var in February. The way he attacked on the final climb at Haut Var had the French commentators saying “ooh-la-la”. Later in the spring he was second at the Tour of Murcia.
In May, he cracked his collarbone at the Lincoln Grand Prix but the short enforced lay-off may have helped him. In July he won the Tour Alsace.

But the big goal was always the Tour of Britain. Having finished sixth in 2011, and with a route that looked to his liking, Tiernan-Locke went into the race as one of the favourites.

Both he and his Endura team rose to the challenge brilliantly, helping Sky shape the race on stage one and keeping their man in contention until the hilly stages in Wales and Devon. It was on Caerphilly mountain that Tiernan-Locke put his stamp on the race and he made certain in Devon as the race covered roads he knew like the back of his hand.

It was the biggest win of his career but the finest performance was still to come.

Tiernan-Locke was chosen to ride the World Championships in Valkenburg. He was tipped to do well but no one could have imagined quite how well.

At the crucial point, he found himself in a large break with many of the best riders in the world, and it was only on the final ascent of the Cauberg climb that he faltered slightly. He finished 19th, in the main group with Alejandro Valverde, Thomas Voeckler, Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire, Simon Gerrans and Peter Sagan.

It remains to be seen what sort of role Sky have in mind for JTL. Hopefully they will let him to play to his strengths – he could be a Classics or World Championship contender.

Number 5: Jason Kenny

Arguably the toughest challenge for Jason Kenny in 2012 was getting the nod ahead of Sir Chris Hoy for Britain’s sprint place at the Olympic Games.

Ever since the International Olympic Committee and Union Cycliste Internationale changed the rules so that there could be only one entrant per nation in the Olympic track events, there had been speculation about how British Cycling’s coaches would decide.

In Beijing four years ago, Chris Hoy won three gold medals. Kenny, then only 20, was runner-up to his team-mate in the sprint.

For the past 18 months, Hoy and Kenny have been locked in a battle to decide the places in the sprint and keirin.

It always looked likely that Hoy would take the keirin place and that if Kenny would get a shot at an individual medal it would be in the sprint. At times it looked like Hoy would defend all three of his titles, at others Kenny looked the smart choice.

Paradoxically, there was a dilemma. Kenny had the beating of Hoy but could not get the better of Grégory Baugé. There was always a sneaking feeling that Hoy, with his power, might be a better match for the giant Frenchman.

The 2012 season started in slightly surreal fashion for the 24 year old from Bolton. In the 2011 World Championships, Kenny was brushed aside by Baugé in the sprint final only for the French rider to be stripped of his title because he missed some out-of-competition drug tests.

Kenny v Baugé
Kenny was presented with the rainbow jersey and gold medal at the World Cup meeting in London in February but the presentation took place in an office room deep inside the velodrome, away from the public. It was a somewhat unsatisfying way to be crowned world champion.

Kenny’s form that weekend was questionable too. The British trio lost the bronze medal to Australia, Kenny qualified only sixth fastest in the sprint and was knocked out in the quarter-finals by Germany’s Maximilian Levy while Hoy stormed through to win the final.

Advantage Hoy.

At the World Championships in Melbourne, the two British riders were on a collision course to meet in the semi-finals of the sprint. Both races were close but Kenny won 2-0, although he again slipped to defeat against Baugé.

Advantage Kenny.

In the end, Hoy was picked for the keirin and Kenny was selected for the sprint.

By the time the Olympics arrived, Kenny was red-hot. Together with Hoy and Philip Hindes, they broke the team sprint world record and won the gold medal.
Then he breezed through the sprint competition. He put daylight between himself and Baugé in qualifying, beating the Frenchman by more than two-tenths of a second.

That earned Kenny a bye to the second knock-out round, where he beat South Africa’s Bernard Esterhuizen before seeing of Azizulhasni Awang of Malaysia in the quarter-finals. Nijsane Philip of Trinidad and Tobago was the competition’s surprise package but he was no match in the semi-finals.

In the final, the ease with which Baugé was made to look a shadow of his usual self was testimony to Kenny’s power and ability to turn it on when it mattered most.

At 24, Kenny has three Olympic gold medals to his name. However, you could not meet a more unassuming man. Once his races were over, it became public knowledge that he was in a relationship with Laura Trott. Suddenly, they were British sport’s golden couple, testimony to cycling’s sky-high media profile.

Number 4: Chris Froome

Chris Froome produced Britain’s second greatest Tour de France result of all time. It’s slightly unfortunate for him that his Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins became the first British Tour champion at the same time.

Froome was the revelation of this year’s Tour. With Alberto Contador absent, Froome was clearly the most aggressive and explosive climber in the race. At times it appeared he was struggling to stick to the script – attacking at La Toussuire in the Alps and putting his team-mate and race leader Wiggins in difficulty at Peyragudes in the Pyrenees.

The time trial is nicknamed ‘the race of truth’ and there was no escaping the fact that Wiggins was the strongest. Nevertheless, Froome’s lively style in the mountains posed a fascinating question – could he have won the Tour had he been on a rival team?

In a Tour that was short on drama, the rivalry between Wiggins and Froome was blown up to fill the vacuum. For a while, the media and public fantasised about an internal battle to match that between Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond in 1986.

Tour of strength
Froome is quietly spoken and polite but the nice-guy exterior clearly masks a fierce ambition. Had he not punctured towards the end of the opening road stage to Seraing, losing 1-25 to Wiggins, he would have been even more of a thorn in his leader’s side.

A week into the race, Froome took a brilliant victory at La Planche des Belles Filles. The French television pictures of the finish that day were among the most iconic images of the race – Froome’s head and shoulders rising above the level of the road as he sprinted to the stage win.

After the Tour, Froome won a bronze medal in the time trial at the Olympic Games – although again it was Wiggins on the top step of the podium.

At the Tour of Spain, Froome was given the opportunity to lead the Sky team and for much of the opening week, he looked the man most likely to emerge victorious in Madrid.

He attacked with vigour and put the other three contenders – Joaquin Rodriguez, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde in difficulty.

After 11 stages, Froome was 16 seconds behind Rodriguez. Over the second half of the race he lost 10 minutes and slipped to fourth place overall. It was a brave effort but, ultimately, it was expecting too much to think Froome could go from the Tour to take on the Spaniards on their home turf.

However, things could be different in 2013. Sky have already indicated that Froome will lead the team at the Tour de France, where he is likely to face Contador at Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez.

Any rider who can finish second in the Tour and fourth in the Vuelta in the same summer should be able to step up to win a Grand Tour.

Froome is already rivalling Robert Millar to be thought of as the most consistent Grand Tour rider Britain has ever had.

British Riders of 2012
Number 1 – Bradley Wiggins
Number 2 – Laura Trott
Number 3 – Sir Chris Hoy
Numbers 6-4 – Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, Jason Kenny and Chris Froome
Numbers 10-7 – Sarah Storey, Ed Clancy, Mark Cavendish, Victoria Pendleton
Numbers 12-11 – Lizzie Armitstead and Geraint Thomas
Numbers 14-13 – Joanna Rowsell and Dani King
Numbers 16-15 – Philip Hindes and Elinor Barker

Numbers 18-17 – Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh
Numbers 20-19 – David Millar and Lucy Garner
Numbers 22-12 – Steve Cummings and Ben Swift
Numbers 24-23 – Ian Stannard and Helen Wyman
Numbers 26-25 – Annie Last and Scott Thwaites
Numbers 28-27 – Mark Colbourne and Alex Dowsett
Numbers 32-29 – Sharon Laws, Liam Killeen, Neil Fachie, Rachel Atherton
Number 33 – David Stone
Number 34 – Emma Pooley
Numbers 36-35 – Nikki Harris and Russell Downing
Numbers 38-37 – Anthony Kappes and Andy Fenn
Numbers 40-39 – Josh Edmondson and Matt Bottrill
Numbers 42-41 – Luke Rowe and Michael Hutchinson
Numbers 44-43 – Sam Lowe and Jon Dibben
Numbers 46-45 – Rebecca James and Jessica Varnish 
Numbers 50-47 – Alex Peters, Kristian House, Richard Handley and Wendy Houvenaghel