Ethan Vernon: The ups and downs and the patience required en route to the promised land of WorldTour stardom

Part of the Tokyo TP squad before winning a stage of the Tour de l'Avenir, Ethan Vernon's time is nearly here

Ethan Vernon
(Image credit: Getty)

Quick question: how many notable Ethans can you name?

For film buffs, Ethans Coen and Hawke may spring to mind, but for cycling and sport fans it's been like waiting ages for a very particular fast, lycra-clad bus before two come along at once.

Ethan Hayter may have properly announced himself on the road scene this year, his Tour of Britain performance a sign of things to come from the 23-year-old as he battled it out with Wout van Aert for the overall victory, but hot on his heels in forging a path into the professional peloton is his GB pursuit squad team-mate, Ethan Vernon.

Vernon is two years Hayter's junior but was fast-tracked through into the TP squad for Tokyo, a "once in a lifetime" experience, he says, and after the disruption of the pandemic has finally had his chance to show what he can do on the road too, winning a stage of this year's Tour de l'Avenir.

"I think it's pretty cool, to be honest, that we're both in the same TP squad," he tells Cycling Weekly of whether there's been any discussion if there's room for two British Ethans in cycling or if one of them is going to have to change their name. "He's a good mate of mine and we've spent the last year or so together, going to the Games, it's been pretty special for two Ethans, happy to share the name," he laughs.

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After only a year of training with the squad, "which was one thing", Vernon was chosen for the final four-man team to go to Tokyo at the age of 20. He trained really hard during lockdown, finding a focus amid the chaos of the outside world, and before he knew it he was in holding camp and then in Japan, getting to see some of the country during training rides on the road. "Obviously, it didn't go the way we wanted to event-wise but that's something that can come at future Olympics," they have youth on their side, so can afford to be patient.

Barely a few weeks later, Vernon was back in France at the prestigious Tour de l'Avenir, winning the bunch sprint on stage four, and is almost Cavendish-esque when recalling the detail of the final downhill run-in where the speed topped 90km/h. The bend that some overshot due to the intense pace, how he spotted the gap and could chase down those in front of him, really tasting the slingshot effect as he gained on them and squeezed through, how he knew when they hit that speed on the downhill absolutely no-one was going to come past.

"I'd got a decent gap by the end as well," he admits. "It was really special and off the back of the Olympics I'd only done three road rides between the Games and the Tour de l'Avenir so I didn't not much endurance. I knew I had the legs to win sprints but I didn't know if I had the legs at the end of a four-hour day out."

Ethan Vernon

(Image credit: Getty)

From there, he moved on to the Tour of Britain, where a crash on stage three left him climbing the Great Orme with half his jersey hanging off him.

"I did the day after because it was my home stage," Vernon says, before calling it a day after stage five, the cuts and knee pain he'd sustained not abating.

On the Monday after the race had finished, where Hayter was edged out by Van Aert in Scotland, Vernon got back on his bike, thinking his injuries were better but had to turn around after five minutes.

He only managed to go for a ride on the Saturday before the Worlds began, two days before he was supposed to hit the start ramp for the U23 time trial.

"It's pretty bad timing," he said the day before, downbeat. "This course really suits me tomorrow and I had good form so it's really disappointing but I'll see what I can do.

"I'd love to have come here in top shape but I think I would have been in a worse situation if I hadn't gone well in the Tour of Britain and I was still fighting for that result I needed. I think it could be worse."

What he could do was manage seventh, only 43 seconds down on Johan Price-Pejtersen.

"Even in my warm-up this morning my knee was hurting so I wasn't sure what was going to happen but as soon as I rolled off the start ramp the crowds and the other sort of [TT] pain started and I got on with it," he said after his effort. "I didn't do my best power I could have done but after a week off the bike it's a respectable result."

Vernon was debuting the Hope TT bike, of which there is only one in existence, admitting he was more nervous about keeping it safe and secure rather than getting a result in the event - waiting afterwards for someone to come and relieve him of it so he didn't have to worry anymore.

Going forward, Vernon is looking to continue combining the track and road, like others have before him, including Hayter, and the disappointment of not getting a result in Tokyo is clearly still fresh in the minds of the GB quartet - they are already hungry for Paris 2024.

"I'm enjoying my time trialling and sprinting at the moment which I think is fairly unique, I have my strong TT from the track but I've also had my sprint frome from when I used to do BMX and that came out at l'Avenir. I really enjoyed that lead-out process, so I don't want to specialise just yet, and I think time will tell which route I'm going to go down."

A rider he likes watching and takes inspiration from is Mathieu van der Poel, before it's pointed out that all he needs to figure out is how to climb like Wout van Aert to possess similar qualities to the Belgian star.

"I haven’t been training on the road with a full road programme," he says of any potentially untapped climbing ability. "I’m not heavy and my threshold is fairly high so it is something that could work, time will tell when I fully commit to the road."

Vernon trains with Hayter as well as Fred Wright and Jake Stewart, and seeing them progress and flourish in the WorldTour is all the encouragement and carrot he needs, and expects to see a big development when his time comes to make that step up.

"That's kind of all I've wanted since I started my road [career in] 2019," he says of his WorldTour aspirations.

He's grateful for the opportunity to be part of the GB road squad, competing in the races where he was afforded the opportunity to get noticed in his first season on the road.

"And then coronavirus took over, we didn't get too many races in 2020 or the start of this year so I was kind of training knowing that when I was a first year I was right up there with guys who are now WorldTour so I kind of knew I was in the ballpark but had no races to prove where I was," he explains. "To come to the Tour de l'Avenir was the first time I could really show myself since being a first year."

Knee pain notwithstanding, expect Vernon to show himself again in the U23 Worlds road race on Friday, and if that doesn't pan out, chances are he'll get another opportunity sooner rather than later.

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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.

Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).

I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.