Watches, crosswinds and puppy fat: Josh Tarling eyes Olympics track debut in 2024
GCN sits down with Ineos Grenadiers starlet to reflect on debut WorldTour season, get an insight into Andorran life and look ahead to 2024
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Josh Tarling went straight from junior racing to the WorldTour in 2023 but you wouldn't know it reading his results
Sitting on the eve of the Tour Down Under, Josh Tarling is just weeks away from turning 20 years of age, but the Ineos Grenadiers starlet is already one of the most highly-rated riders in the professional peloton - regardless of his tender age.
About to start his second professional season, Tarling has four victories to his name, including a remarkable European Championships title in the time trial against the world champion in the discipline, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step).
With his time trial pedigree by now well established, the 19-year-old will likely be Great Britain's big hope to secure a medal at the Olympic Games in Paris. However, Olympic dreams may not end there for Tarling, who is using track cycling to improve himself as a road rider and has hopes of appearing for Great Britain in the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines Velodrome this summer.
"Of course, with the Olympics, it helps GB with selections if you can do both the TT and track," Tarling tells GCN at the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium.
"I am doing the Madison in Geneva between 22-24 November, and then in Grenchen the same. Ideally, I then do the Tour Down Under and the Nations Cup in Australia after that."
Fresh from a winter spent training with the GB track squad, Tarling came through the boards in Switzerland unscathed and will now feature in Ineos Grenadiers' Tour Down Under squad alongside likely team leaders Filippo Ganna and Elia Viviani, before staying in Australia to ride the opening round of the 2024 Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup at the start of February.
It will be the second year running that Tarling spends the opening months halfway around the world, after his UAE Tour debut last season, but with the help of his girlfriend Grace, his Ineos Grenadiers teammates, and an inner maturity, the Welshman has already settled into life living away from home.
That is not to say the whirlwind rise to prominence has removed Tarling from the youngster who grew up dreaming of turning professional and chasing in the wheel tracks of his heroes.
As he sits down to speak with GCN in Singapore, Tarling has just finished a riders' briefing that had him sat between Chris Froome (Israel-Premier Tech), Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) and Peter Sagan. The grin on the youngster's face tells you all you need to know: this career is a dream come true.
© ASO/Thomas Maheux
The likes of Cavendish and Froome are in high demand in Singapore, but so too is Josh Tarling, whose name is already synonymous with big results
Over the next half an hour, Tarling discusses everything from moving to Andorra as a wide-eyed 18-year-old to shopping for watches with teammate Luke Rowe and, of course, his ambitions to race the Olympics and expand his racing repertoire over the coming years.
'It's nice that after races I miss my Ineos teammates'
Speaking to Tarling just two weeks after his Chrono des Nations victory, the natural starting place is to reflect on his debut season in Ineos Grenadiers colours. To the outside world, Tarling's performances have been a revelation and it turns out, Tarling was as equally perplexed as the rest of us.
"I’m super happy really. I wasn't expecting it. There’s not much to say really, but it wasn't planned," Tarling admits.
"Going in, you have no idea if you're [even] gonna make it around. Then for sure with the TTs, it is a really big shock. I always enjoyed them, but it has just been crazy."
Tarling did not wait long to impress for Ineos Grenadiers, taking second place behind Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) in the individual time trial at his first race. For the then-18-year-old, Etoile de Bessèges proved a rude introduction to one of cycling's toughest challenges: crosswinds.
"The first race was a bit horrible," he says. "There were crosswinds on every stage I did. It seemed like almost every race that I have done, there have been crosswinds. In Bessèges, the first day was just crosswinds all day. Then I did the UAE Tour and there were echelons in the neutral!
"But I think it went ok," Tarling says of his transition to WorldTour racing. "The legs were there, but it was scary because I didn’t know how it would go."
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Tarling and close friend Luke Plapp commandeer the peloton through crosswinds on the opening stage of the UAE Tour
When Tarling wasn't putting his opposition to the sword in time trials last season, he was spending his time learning the ropes of riding in the peloton. Much of this time was spent on the wheel of Luke Rowe, with Tarling telling GCN that his first season would have been, "horrible without him," whilst the concentration of teammates in Andorra also proved beneficial.
Tarling says that around 15 of his colleagues live near the Coll d’Ordino in Andorra, offering the perfect environment to train and little excuse not to get the efforts in. The Brit rides mostly with Cameron Wurf, though this is not for the faint-hearted, for Wurf is a notoriously tough trainer and will ride for hours on end in Zone 3.
"He just sat next to me and hurt me, all covered in salt, it was horrible," says Tarling of one particular ride that saw the pair ride their TT bikes for well over 100km.
As Tarling was quick to find, his Ineos teammates would not only be invaluable on the bike but also off it, as he looked to settle into life away from home for the first time.
"I wanted them to be nice," he says of his teammates, "but it is nice that they are also friends you know, rather than just being teammates. It’s nice that after the races, you’re a bit sad that you’re out of that group again."
With a WorldTour contract comes not only the expectation to leave one's childhood home in Aberaeron, Wales, but also the benefits of a professional cyclist's pay packet, and Tarling soon found a new hobby to enjoy with one particular teammate.
"I’m getting into watches with Luke [Rowe]," he says. "I like Swatches because they are quite affordable, Luke has got a load, I have got a couple and you can add your own style with them. Luke texts me every now and then about the Swatches, and he will send me pictures when he’s got a new Swatch and I’ll do the same!"
Tarling is quick to note that he enjoys wearing Garmin smartwatches when on official team business - of course - but it is clear to see that the friendship of teammates like Rowe, Wurf and Ben Turner mean a lot to the youngster.
After all, moving to Andorra at the age of 18 is no easy task and as Tarling was to discover, a good support network would be essential as he lived away from home for the first time.
Andorra 'starting to feel like home'
Tarling may be a world-class athlete, but he is not unlike many thousands of young cyclists across Great Britain who were children of 'the Team Sky era.' His childhood heroes were, naturally, the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, his dad is a keen amateur cyclist, and his formative years were spent travelling to Europe to both watch and compete in races.
He was on the Champs-Élysées when Wiggins and Chris Froome won their Tours de France, he travelled with his family to watch Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold Race and more, and his dad would drive him to the continent most weekends as a junior so that he could race.
Their travels were so frequent that at one point, the Tarling family considered a permanent move to Europe, but it was decided that they should remain in Wales to see Josh's younger brother - an aspiring pro in his own right - through school. And so Tarling remained on Wales' west coast, in a town housing only a little over 1,000 people.
His move to Andorra, then, provided quite the culture shock.
"For sure it was hard, really hard, just trying to get things organised and stuff. I never did that much of the shit to do [beforehand]. If you’re tired and you’re a kid, you don’t have to do anything. You just ride and then get told off in the evening that you haven’t done anything.
"But now it’s like, if I’m tired and I need milk, you still have to get up!"
The weekly shopping aside, Tarling says that whilst the move could prove difficult at times, it was a challenge he relished. Whether it be riding with Wurf, socialising with Tom Pidcock or simply getting used to his new surroundings, the 19-year-old has enjoyed his first year abroad and is now starting to feel settled.
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Tarling: 'I'm always with Wurf and Tom [Pidcock] in Andorra, and with Big Ben [Turner], so I rarely ride on my own'
"At first, it was quite hard because I was away all the time. I had like a week in Bessèges and then a week in UAE and then five days at Paris-Nice, so it took us a while to settle in. But now we have got into a rhythm before the Worlds and it is feeling a lot more like home."
Tarling is referring to himself and his girlfriend Grace, who also moved to Andorra alongside the Welshman. Grace is the same age as Tarling and basically lived alone for that first month of the move, but the pair have quickly made friends in the area and regularly enjoy babysitting for Women's WorldTour rider Joss Lowden (Uno-X Mobility).
Despite having only lived in Andorra for a year, Tarling is already talking about staying there for the rest of his career, and he is quick to point to the importance of having Grace by his side.
"There's been times where I've kind of dug a hole a bit," Tarling says, with commendable honesty. "Because I'm a bit weird, I think about little things that I have to try and get right. Like with my shoes, if my cleats are slightly out, I can’t speak to Grace for a while until I get it right."
"It can be quite easy to kind of get into a hole where all that stuff takes over. But Grace helps me get out of that every now and again."
Room to manoeuvre on weight as Tarling grows as a rider
With a settled home in Andorra, a brilliant neo-pro campaign under his belt and the Olympic Games to look forward to, Tarling is well set for 2024. But whilst the European champion has made his name in time trials over the past year, a future as a time trial specialist should not be the limit for Tarling.
"I'd always want to be good at TTs and try and win them," he says. "But hopefully it's not just TTs, I like to do Classics and one-week tours. I think we have a little bit of room with the weight and training that we can give different things a go hopefully."
The Welshman is one of the peloton's taller riders, at 1.94m, and is touted to weigh around 78kg, but Tarling is confident that he can slim down in order to compete for GC opportunities at one-week stage races in the future.
"I think my weight can come down. I leaned out a bit before Worlds and Euros, but I think there’s a bit of room to see if climbing can be an option, in things like the one-week stage races," he says. "Because I'm quite young as well, there's a bit of puppy fat there as well. So I'll get rid of that hopefully."
As Tarling looks to expand his racing repertoire and improve as a rider, his return to track cycling looks set to play an important part in his continued development on the road.
Olympic dreams to offer Tarling greater top-end power
Tarling's time-trialing prowess transfers extraordinarily well onto the track. The Welshman rode the European Championships for Team GB last year and claimed victory in the under-23 Team Pursuit, whilst the 2021 Europeans yielded gold in the TP and Omnium events, and his recent spell in Switzerland saw him compete in the Madison.
This winter has seen Tarling train under the tutelage of Team GB men's endurance coach Ben Greenwood and the Nations Cup in Australia will provide the next step on Tarling's possible road to Olympic selection, but as he explains, the Olympics should not serve to distract from his ambitions for Ineos Grenadiers. Rather, track training should benefit Tarling as an athlete.
"I used to love it, I used to do it all the time," Tarling says of track cycling. "It was nice to go back and I think it really worked because I did it before [Tour de] Wallonie and then in Wallonie, I did my best result with second on GC.
"It works, so we will do a lot more of that for the speed and the power. A lot of  has been about building the engine, we’re not focusing really on the top-end but [in 2024], it will be a bit more top-end at the start of the year."
Talk will naturally soon turn to Tarling's Grand Tour debut, but for now, there are other priorities to focus on.
"Yeah, for sure I'd really like to do one," he says of a Grand Tour bow. "It depends though, because the first half of the season is the Classics and Olympics. Then, after that, we will see. Hopefully, if I’m in good enough form for the Olympics, I should be good enough to do a Grand Tour."
For many riders, a Grand Tour is the pinnacle of their cycling journey, but one gets the feeling with Tarling that he has already achieved more than his wildest imaginations could muster.
As a boy, Tarling was among the thousands lining the streets outside Cardiff Castle to welcome home Wales' first-ever Tour de France champion, Geraint Thomas. Six years on, Tarling proudly stands as a teammate of the 37-year-old and a European time trial champion in his own right.
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The Geraint Thomas SunGod glasses may have been limited edition, but that bears little relevance to mates of the 2018 Tour de France champion, eh
Tarling describes himself as "simple," though in truth, that description doesn't give him nearly enough credit. He is one of the world's best time trialists, an incredibly exciting young talent for Ineos Grenadiers and perhaps most important of all, a youngster living out his childhood dream.
With the Olympics on the horizon, the sky appears to be the limit for Josh Tarling, but there seems little doubt that no matter how much he is able to achieve in his career, the 19-year-old will remain a humble champion throughout.
"I just like being happy with my family, with Grace, and going to cafes with Wurf and my friends. I enjoy the process and I like to work hard"