I witnessed Jon Tiernan-Locke (JTL) and his talents first hand as a spectator at the Tour of Britain last year where I took the attached photograph. I have since kept a close eye on him, watched as the rumour mill did its rounds close season and the speculation as to whether he would be riding with one of the big teams for 2012 grew, I watched as that speculation faded and Tiernan-Locke signed a contract for Endura Racing. I also watched in delight as he took on the big boys and beat them in a phenomenal start to his 2012 campaign.
The move to Endura from Rapha Condor-Sharp was a sensible one. He looked at Enduras race calendar and saw that with plenty of stage racing abroad featuring summit finishes, it suited him. JTL is no stranger to racing on the continent, after starting out with French Amateur team U.V. Aube at the age of 18, he went on to race for CC Étupes in 2005 taking a win at GP de Rocheville, and reaching podiums on all ten of his first ten races. It was then that he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, his health took a serious hit and he quit riding altogether for 3 years and took himself off to Bristol University to earn a degree. After University by chance, a friend offered Tiernan-Locke work in a bike shop, where he once again fell in love with cycling. In 2009 he returned with the Plowman Craven-Madison team which folded mid-season leaving him and his cycling ambition once again on the back burner. In 2010 however Rapha Condor-Sharp offered him a contract and the rest is history. After a win at the Tour Méditerranéen and the Tour du Haut Var (scalping some serious names as he went!)with those results gaining him the lead of the 2012 UCI Europe Tour standings, Tiernan-Locke found himself on the podium once again, placed second to Movistar Team's Nairo Quintana in the Vuelta a Murcia.
This Tuesday will see the start of the 2012 Settimana internazionale di Coppi e Bartali Italian Stage race (20th-24th) which is considered to be one of the most important stage races in Italy, so much so that 20 winners of the 26 previous Coppi-Bartalis have been Italian Nationals. Two major previous winners of the race have come in the shape of Damiano Cunego and Cadel Evans who both said It was an important part of their training lead up to both Giro d'Italia 2009 for Cunego and Tour de France 2009 for Cadel Evans. Jon Tiernan-Locke's name would certainly be in good company. The 2012 Edition of the race features both a Team Time Trial and an Individual Time Trial which will play to Tiernan-Lockes time trial talents (he's more than just a very talented climber, the gap for his second place to Quintana at the Vuelta a Murcia was reduced thanks to an excellent time trial!) as well as his climbing ability. Joining Locke on the team sheet will be Russell Downing, so there is not a clear team leader as yet, but Tiernan-Locke will be looking at putting in a good shift purely to see how his current form is lasting, as he states himself that he doesn't expect his winning ways to extend throughout the entire season and that he wanted to hit the ground running right at the start of the year, anything beyond this is merely a test of stamina and ability. The start line will see some big contenders lining up,in particular Vinokurov who will be making his European debut. Again, Jon Tiernan-Locke will be finding himself in some good WorldTour company, but then he could be racing these guys on a daily basis next year...
Interest in JTL faded once the WorldTour teams realised he was 27 years old and nobody was willing to take a chance based on a Tour of Britain performance. However interest in Locke has gone through the roof again since his recent 2012 wins and it looks as though signing for a WorldTour team next year will simply be a formality, with rumours that Dave Brailsford has even tapped him on the shoulder for a possible World Championships call up. Of course the Tour of Catalunya also starts this week and will obviously take the limelight, but I will deffinately be keeping an eye on the Coppi e Bartali results and hoping that one of Britains brightest cycling talents will feature.