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Q&A: Harry and Charlie Tanfield

Mark Bailey
29 Jun 2018

The Yorkshire brothers tell Cyclist about their successes, self-funding their racing dreams and shaking up British Cycling

Brothers Simon and Adam Yates are starting to realise their potential on the WorldTour stage, but in Harry and Charlie Tanfield there's another set of British cycling siblings starting to cause some waves of their own.

At the British National Championships this week, Charlie took the honours in the under-23 time-trial, then Harry arguably did even better by finishing second behind Geraint Thomas in the senior men's time-trial. 

Clearly the Yorkshire duo have a bright future ahead of them, and Cyclist caught up with the pair recently for a chat... 

Cyclist: Charlie, you won pursuit gold and team pursuit silver on the track at the Commonwealth Games. How did the locals of Great Ayton in Yorkshire react?

Charlie Tanfield: When we came home there were signs, posters and banners in the town. A member of the Cleveland Wheelers drew a chalk picture of us on a wall. And friends had put gold and silver plates and bunting up at our house.

Lots of people stayed up to watch the race. It was a bit overwhelming.

Cyc: Harry, you won time-trial silver at the Commonwealth Games and won the first stage of the Tour de Yorkshire. Which did you celebrate more?

Harry Tanfield: I enjoyed it more after my win in Darlington. Dad was 300m from the finish but couldn’t see so he went into someone’s house and watched it on the TV. He told the guy, ‘That’s my son.’

Our breakaway worked well. I just wanted to win the combativity jersey, but when we got 3km from the end and the peloton was still 25 seconds away, I said, ‘Lads, we can do this!’

In the last few hundred metres I hit them - I just stayed in the saddle and time-trialled it home. I was gobsmacked – the first English rider to win a Yorkshire stage.

Cyc: How did you both get into cycling?

HT: We all ride – me [23], Charlie [21] and Toby [18], our youngest brother. We started in nearby Middlesbrough in 2005 at this local kids’ league, just racing our mountain bikes.

I was under-12s, Charlie was under-10s, and Toby was only five. By 2006 we were doing national series races. The first national race I did was at a Barnsley go-karting track.

CT: I remember Lucy Garner [now of Wiggle High5] and Jon Dibben [now of Team Sky] were there. We’ve been at it for a long time and it’s always been a joint family venture. We don’t train together as much now as I’m at university in Derby, but we do when we can.

Cyc: Who were your idols?

HT: I just followed the older local riders, who were 18 to 21 when we were 12 or 13. I remember watching Floyd Landis at the Tour in 2006. But when I raced Junior Paris-Roubaix I didn’t even know who the pro race winner Johan Vansummeren was.

CT: When I was younger I’d do every sport. On Mondays I’d do League 2000 [Cleveland Wheelers’ junior race series], Tuesday was football, and I also did swimming but I enjoyed cycling most. 

Cyc: Last year you and your mates formed your own track cycling team called KGF, using credit cards and student loans and sticking to a £10,000 budget. But you were soon beating British and international teams. How did it start?

CT: With the British Cycling programme maybe your face doesn’t fit and people don’t select you. But if you perform at the top level they can’t ignore you and eventually they’ll have to make a choice.

That was the thinking behind starting KGF with three friends in Derby. It was our passion. Nothing has been given to us. We train at the Derby Velodrome when we can and we want to see what we can do.

HT: I spent £2,000 on a track bike because they were pestering me to join KGF. We’re a stronger unit with five, especially when you have three rounds of the team pursuit on a night.

I was driving to Derby to do track sessions with them once or twice a week. Dan [Bigham] runs an aerodynamics business. Tippers [Jacob Tipper] works as a coach and studies sports science. Jonny [Wale] has a degree in psychology and has worked as a chef.

I studied civil engineering and Charlie is studying mechanical engineering. So everyone has skills relevant for cycling. 

Cyc: What was the reaction when you started racing in World Cups and the British National Track Championships?

CT: The first year [2017] we did the national team pursuit everyone was looking at us thinking, ‘Who are these idiots?’ At the time the GB boys were maybe a bit naive and we turned up and beat them by a second in the team pursuit and it shook things up a bit.

We were ecstatic. In training we were doing 4.22s and in the race we did 4.04s, which is a ridiculous progression.

HT: I enjoyed winning the team pursuit at the Minsk World Cup in January more than winning my medal at the Commonwealth Games. I thought that was mega.

I’d only been riding track two months and we were beating Belgium and Russia and all these other countries with millions of pounds of support. And we were just a bunch of lads from Derby with ten grand between us. 

Cyc: And British Cycling took notice?

CT: Yeah, I raced for GB at the World Championships earlier this year when we won gold in the team pursuit. But they’ve been helping to fly or drive our bikes to other races and stuff like that. We don’t have enough money to get stuff out there, so they have helped.

Cyc: You glue your own tyres and book your own flights. Does this experience make you more rounded athletes?

CT: You definitely learn more about yourself. If you’re in the GB system you have things done for you. It’s not the same. At the Commonwealth Games the bikes arrived in bits and the others were used to mechanics building them.

I said, ‘It’s alright, I’ll build it.’ They just looked at me, like, ‘You’re going to build a bike? How do you do that?’ 

Cyc: How have you balanced your cycling training and university studies?

HT: I was at uni for four years and it

was a struggle in my second year because I joined the JLT road team and did Normandy, the Tour of Yorkshire, Rutland and the Tour Series.

But I did my last year part time over two years, which helped. My dissertation was a hassle, but you fit it in. I’ve had to suspend doing my Masters though – let’s call it a DNF.

CT: You work it around your timetable, but it is a struggle. I love engineering. These days you have to be a switched-on athlete and I love that nitty gritty of aerodynamics.

Any kit we use at KGF is the best on the market. Some is designed by Dan himself and sold on his WattShop online store. And we don’t bin kit. We know how to repair it. 

Cyc: Mitchelton-Scott riders Simon and Adam Yates prove there are different ways to the top, with Simon first doing the British Cycling track programme and Adam racing in France instead. Does that inspire your own journeys?

CT: Yeah, I think the pathway is a lot more open now. There are a lot more ways to get where you want to be if you’re prepared to try.

HT: If you are at a high level by 23, they can’t ignore you. It’s just a matter of how you get there. We both race for the road team Canyon-Eisberg as well, and it’s a good bunch of lads so we enjoy racing for them and learning.

Cyc: Charlie, you set a Commonwealth Games record in qualification for the individual pursuit, finishing less than a second behind Jack Bobridge’s world record. Can you break it?

CT: I’m getting closer and I hope I’ll get there soon. I saw guys like Alex Dowsett recognised my individual pursuit time in Minsk too, which was nice. Some of the boys from Sky have given me a look on Instagram too, which I appreciate.

Cyc: What are your future ambitions?

CT: For me it’s about trying to win the team pursuit at the Olympics. I’ve got to be consistent to gain selection. But once you’ve been a World Champion, you want to go for the best. The individual pursuit isn’t so much of an aim, but I want to be strong.

At some point maybe me and the KGF boys might head up to altitude in Colombia and try to set some world records. I’d also like to set a benchmark for the under-23 Hour record.

It’s hard with the Europeans coming up but I’ll definitely give the Hour a go in the future. I do have ambitions on the road but team pursuit is the aim.

HT: For me the national time-trial title is the big target but I’ve got to race Alex Dowsett and Steve Cummings! [In the end, Harry ended up beating both]. I’d like to do the road time-trial at the Europeans too. But I want to get to ProContinental level and move on in the road scene. 

Cyc: Is cycling your long-term future?

CT: I’ve always wanted to be involved in cycling and if I could go into something on the engineering front that would be a dream job. But for the moment I’m just enjoying seeing where I can go.

HT: A lot of riders don’t even finish A-Levels so I think we’re in a good place. I never thought I’d work in sport, just do it to a certain level and then get back to the real world.

But that’s changed a bit now and I’d like to stay in cycling, whether by using my engineering degree or by coaching or racing. All my mates are working. One is on a graduate scheme at Morrisons.

One has a physics job in Manchester. Another works for Jacobs. They do nine-to-five jobs so I just want to put that off for as long as possible. 

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