Despite a tough start to his WorldTour career Jonathan Tiernan-Locke is looking to help Sky win their first major Classic at the Ardennes.
Tiernan-Locke, 28, signed to the team this year having enjoyed a successful 2012 at Endura Racing, winning a stage and the overall title at the Tour de Mediterranean. He followed that up with the overall win in the Tour du Haut Var. Another overall title, and two stages, at the Tour Alsace followed before a winning performance in the Tour of Britain.
The Ardennes form a key part of Tiernan-Locke’s season but so far the Plymouth-born rider has endured a less than ideal start to the season.
“I’ve had the most interrupted start to a season that I’ve ever had. I’m usually pretty robust but I had a virus and had to pull out of Paris-Nice and then during Pais Vasco with two days to do I had the worst saddle sore. I had a few days off on antibiotics so it’s not been ideal, I can’t lie,” he told Cyclingnews.
Tiernan-Locke will race all three Ardennes, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege but his role will most likely centre around supporting Richie Porte and Sergio Henao, two of Sky’s top performers in recent weeks.
“I’m in a team that’s stacked with guys on form, with Porte and Henao, who has the punch to finish it off from a small group,” he said.
“I’m thinking it’s going to be more of a support role for me. Maybe I’ll have a bit more freedom than I’ve had in the last few races when I’ve been riding on the front and trying to keep a lid on the attacks. In one day races the responsibility won’t be on us as much but you can’t ignore the form of Porte and Henao and if I’m told I’m riding for them, that’s totally fine.”
Despite his injuries, Tiernan-Locke is in confident spirits and his step up to the WorldTour ranks has been as much about learning as it has about gaining individual results.
“I’m pretty confident and I’ve been working well. Pais Basque was a bit hard for me. I was there to do a job and at the end of the 8km climbs I was feeling it a bit. On the first couple of days I was feeling good but more importantly the guys who I think are going to be up there in the Ardennes, the Albasinis, the Gilberts, people like that, they were going out of the back and I was still feeling good. I took some positives from that."
Finally, Tiernan-Locke is quick to dismiss the notion that Sky are under pressure for Ardennes results after a disappointing campaign at the cobbled classics.
“There’s been a lot made of that in the media but the team has been so successful in races this year, and that group specifically kicked off at Tour down under with good results. So as a whole the team isn’t feeling the pressure. I think a lot of that is just in the media.”