'With the resources and education, I won’t burn out' - Junior world champion Josh Tarling on skipping the under-23 category to join Ineos Grenadiers
Rouleur speaks to the recently-crowned Junior World Time Trial Champion about his aims for the future and how he will balance his big step up next season
My conversation with Josh Tarling starts with him telling me that he’s currently “house-hunting” for a place in Andorra. He has plans to move there in the winter, when his contract with Ineos Grenadiers will officially commence. It strikes me that this is a relatively adult activity for an 18-year-old who just finished school this year. It’s clear that Tarling, the newly-crowned junior world time trial champion, has a wise head on his shoulders.
“It's hard to train in the UK in winter and next year is such a big step I need to throw everything at it I can,” he says. “Ineos has quite a lot of people in Andorra anyway, they have a little service course there, so I think it will be pretty perfect.”
Despite the Welshman’s mature answers and considered responses to my probing questions about his expectations for life in the WorldTour, there are still moments where his youth sneaks through. We start to talk about his recent Worlds ITT win in Australia, and why he thinks he’s so good at winning time trials (as well as the World Championships this year, Tarling has won every single UCI time trial he’s started, as well as the British National Championships).
“Really, I like all the fancy bikes and all the aero stuff,” he says, laughing as he realises he’s let his professional demeanour slip for a moment in that answer. As we keep talking, Tarling relaxes more and the light-hearted, amusing side to his personality begins to shine through.
“So the time trial went well at the Worlds,” he says. “But nothing went to plan in the road race, did it?” He’s referencing the bad crash he suffered in the early stages of the junior men’s road race, one that left him with severe abrasions down one side of his body, as well as injuries to his ribs.
“I think I crashed where they’d fixed the road and there's a rubbery patch. I wasn't braking or anything. It was just dead straight. I think it was at 70kmph that we slid out. I cheese grated myself,” he says.
Josh Tarling after crashing in the 2022 World Championships Junior Men's Road Race (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
“It’s a bit painful and on the flight back to the UK, I had an aisle seat, so I kept getting nudged by the trolley,” he says with a jokey sigh.
See Josh Tarling at Rouleur Live 2022
Despite the injuries Tarling suffered, he continued to ride on after his crash to try and assist his teammates as much as he could. “It was okay for a while because I think I was crazy on adrenaline but then I felt my ribs and I couldn't pull on the bars,” he says. “I tried to do as much as I could because I think Zach [Walker] was up the road so I tried to block for him but it was getting a bit too much. I felt really sorry that I couldn't help them.”
A testament to Tarling’s character, he doesn’t once mention that the crash caused him to lose his own chances of winning the race, speaking only about how it impacted on the British junior team as a whole. Despite his talent for the individual time trial – a uniquely personal effort – it’s clear that being a team player holds a big importance for Tarling. When I ask him if he’s nervous for the step up to the WorldTour next year with Ineos, his answer focusses on this very subject.
“I’m most worried about not letting them down because they all deserve the best I can do. So I need to make sure that I'm up to their standard and can help as much as I can,” he says.
When I ask him about what it was like riding the team pursuit at the Commonwealth Games for Wales earlier this season (normally unheard of for a junior rider, but Tarling’s talent meant he was selected for the Welsh elite men’s squad) he talks about being a good teammate, too.
“The Commonwealth Games were quite nerve-wracking, especially with the team pursuit because if you weren't strong enough you let four people down rather than just yourself,” he says. “I was quite nervous, but it was really cool and they looked after me well. We ended up doing a proper good ride that we were all really proud of.”
As much as Tarling understands his responsibility as a team player, he also places a lot of importance on the team he has around him off the bike. He repeatedly says “we” when talking about his achievements in his career so far, which hints that there have been a whole team of people who have helped him reach this point.
Tarling with his mum and brother after winning the Junior Men's Individual Time Trial World Championship (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
He mentions seeing his mum and brother at the end of the World Championships Time Trial, and what a “relief” that was, and also notes how helpful the support of both Welsh and British Cycling has been over the last few years.
“Being on the British Cycling programme, it's a positive environment where you have input yourself, as well as just being told what to do,” he says. “I think they understand different people and that really helps. When I'm nervous, I like to be really chatty and avoid talking about racing. But then other people like to be quite quiet and get on with it. They adapt their coaching style to the rider, which is really nice.”
The 18-year-old also notes that having a management team helped him massively during his contract negotiations with Ineos Grenadiers earlier this year. “I left it to my agent who helped so much because I get quite stressed about things and he let me just just ride my bike and race and let him worry about that.”
Tarling explains that it’s always been a dream for him to get a contract with Ineos, as it is for many young male British riders growing up. With his father being a keen racer, cycling has been in Tarling’s blood since he was born, and he rode his first race at a very young age.
See Josh Tarling at Rouleur Live 2022
“I started racing when I was six and started watching racing when I was eight or 10, so ever since then I've really wanted to do it,” he explains. “My dad used to race and he's been riding all his life. He used to ride on the Newport Velodrome, I think I was riding around the velodrome car park when I was four and it went from there really.”
Tarling during the 2022 World Championship Junior Men's Individual Time Trial (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
From Tarling’s perspective, it’s easy to understand why turning professional with Ineos is his perfect scenario. He’ll be on a team with seasoned riders who he’s been watching race on TV since he was a child (something he thinks is going to be “quite weird at first”) and he knows he will learn a lot from them.
However, riders turning professional straight from junior without spending time in the under-23 category has caused some controversy in the past. There’s an argument that riders need time in the under-23 ranks to learn their trade and avoid burning out too quickly by trying to tackle WorldTour level races at a young age.
With the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar winning on the biggest stages in recent years, though, this argument is slowly losing merit. I ask Tarling if he has any thoughts on this topic, and how he feels about not taking part in any under-23 races next year.
“I think it's tricky, it is daunting to go [professional] straight away but I think there's so much support and there's so many people that make it less scary, it's not too bad,” he says. “Sometimes when you're in the under-23s, everyone's fighting for a contract so it can be quite aggressive and everyone is going for the same goal. I think being lucky enough to skip that means there's less pressure and I can just focus all out and be a good bike rider, basically. With all the resources and education, I don’t think I’ll burn out.”
Tarling is acutely aware that next year will be a big step up, and insists that winning the rainbow jersey in the juniors hasn’t given him false sense of security about moving up to the professional ranks. “It's really cool that I am World Champ but it's going to step up massively next year,” he says. “I just need to learn from everyone as much as I can and riding in a pro bunch will be a lot different to a junior bunch. I think just all around I will need to get used to it and learn. Sprinting isn't my best either so I'd like to get better at that.”
See Josh Tarling at Rouleur Live 2022
Despite his understanding that he has a long way to go to reach the top of professional cycling, this doesn’t dampen Tarling’s ambitions for the future. As well as continuing to ride on the track, which he says is “good fun” and “teaches you how to pedal and race well”, he has his sights set on winning some of the biggest races on the road calendar.
“For a while I want to be focused on TTs and Classics. I really want to win Strade Bianche and Tour of Flanders, and all the TTs. But I'm still young and hopefully I’ve got some growing and development to do,” he says.
Tarling is confident that Ineos Grenadiers is the right team to help him reach these lofty heights. “I think we both have the same goal, which is pretty perfect,” he says. “They want me to be the best I can and so do I.”
Josh Tarling will be on stage at Rouleur Live 2022 in November. Get your tickets here.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix