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‘I was slightly star-struck for the first few months’: Harry Tanfield on the WorldTour

Joe Robinson
27 Jan 2020

The British pro on stepping up to WorldTour level, dealing with personal tragedy and racing a home World Championships

Cyclist: You won bronze in the inaugural Mixed Relay Team Time-Trial at the World Championships in Yorkshire. How was that considering the personal tragedy just weeks before the race?

Harry Tanfield: My mum died four weeks before the Worlds but I was never going to turn down the chance to race a home Worlds in Yorkshire. Even after everything that happened, I just knew I couldn’t let the guys down. I’d committed to them, they needed me and if I wasn’t there they wouldn’t have got that medal.

We got the second-quickest time of the men’s teams. We did everything we could and I struggle to think where we could have made up time. Maybe I could have saved more energy by going faster in the corners, but I hadn’t raced the circuit in the wet. I wish I’d ridden it the morning of the race.

You never know whether you will race a home Worlds again, so to come away with a medal couldn’t be any better as we never expected it. When we looked at the start list we reckoned fifth or maybe fourth was achievable. Honestly, getting third felt like winning.

Cyc: The race got a lot of criticism for replacing the trade team time-trial. Was that justified, and would you make any changes to the event?

HT: With the old trade team time-trial, you’d have 15 teams turning up to get hammered by the five or so favourites. It cost teams so much money to go, whereas the relay was something new and interesting that had teams who wanted to race on the start ramp.

In terms of changes, I wouldn’t make any because I think this edition was perfect. If they extended it from 14km to, say, 40km each for both parties, it would detract from the event. Time-trials are boring anyway but the fact they made it 14km meant it was short, intense and the gaps weren’t too big.

Running three men and three women keeps it open and I don’t think you need a fourth rider because it would make things messy. Keep the length, keep the format, and don’t put a big climb on the course like they keep doing in Grand Tours because that’s not a TT, that’s a hill climb.

Cyc: When you spoke to Cyclist in 2018, your aim was to ride ProContinental this year. You ended riding in the WorldTour for Katusha-Alpecin. How was that first year at the top?

HT: It’s been a shock from the start. It’s such a step up. I did the opening weekend of the spring Classics and thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’ In February I raced the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and that was such a massive shock. I got the young rider’s white jersey in the Stage 1 time-trial but after that it was just crazy. I kept looking at Ian Stannard [Ineos] thinking, ‘How on Earth is he able to do this?’

I struggled to find my 2018 level and I kept worrying the whole time. I kept thinking, ‘Why am I so shit? Why are my legs not as good as last year?’ It wasn’t until the Tour de Yorkshire that I found my form and in the second half of the year I started to feel a bit more like my old self. It was a big step up but I don’t regret it because I had to get my foot in the door. I’m already 24. It’s not like I was a teenager, so I had to make that jump.

Cyc: Going straight to WorldTour level, did you ever find yourself in awe of who you were riding with?

HT: I was slightly star-struck for the first few months. At the Classics I’d be riding along with Edvald Boasson Hagen or someone like Michael Valgren thinking, ‘Why are you at the back with me?’ They’re all nice, though, and I got to have a good chat with them.

I also got to speak to a lot of the experienced domestiques, too. I’m aspiring to be a good domestique in the future so it was really good to chat with the guys doing that job now.

Cyc: What are the biggest things you’ve learned from racing in the WorldTour this year?

HT: I’ve learned the importance of sleep, body economy and my threshold. Riding the WorldTour is all threshold and watts per kilo, whereas before I was always just about threshold.

In the UK, it’s not relevant to have the watts per kilo part because it’s all just power climbs, but racing abroad it’s so important to have a baseline economy to ride with endurance and the watts per kilo part for the long, constant climbs.

I’ve been going out to Andorra to train to help that. I have been using Jack Haig’s [Mitchelton-Scott] flat and training out there on the big climbs. It’s nice and quiet there and you can do loops down into Spain and France.

I also go to Calpe in Spain to train, too. It’s like Zwift out there with the amount of pros you see on every ride in the off-season. I’ve only been to Mallorca once and didn’t like it. It’s like Calpe just colder with worse roads and more traffic.

In terms of sleep, I bought a really thick eye mask and a Whoop fitness band, which tracks my heart rate, how much I sleep and how good the quality of sleep is. It’s not fully accurate because I’m more efficient than the usual human, but it really showed me how strenuous some things are. Like, packing a car or cleaning my room is more stress on my body than riding zone two on the bike.

I’ve been trying to get nine hours of sleep a night. It’s really difficult. I need to be sleeping 11pm till 8.30am minimum to get sufficient recovery. I should go to bed earlier but I never do. I’ve also tried small stuff like turning notifications off on my phone to not get distracted. You have to ring me to get hold of me now, which annoys people, but it works.

Cyc: Your first year at the WorldTour seemed incredibly hard, but were there moments you enjoyed?

HT: Oh yeah, like at the Tour of Britain, there wasn’t an evening that went by where I wasn’t crying with laughter at dinner. There was this moment on the bike that was really funny when my teammate Nils Politt threw a bottle at our soigneur.

He was on the side of the road taking a nature break and Nils threw a half empty bottle that hit him in the foot and he fell over into a bush. Everyone burst into laughter when he dropped into this verge. He had to go to the medical car because he could barely walk after the stage. I laughed so hard at that race.

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