Lockdown Feature: Q&A with Jonny Wale

Part of the world class Huub Wattbike track team and one of the funniest & nicest guys you can meet, we have a great read from Jonny Wale Team Pursuit & Kilo champion & Silver medallist in the Individual Pursuit

Lockdown Feature: Q&A with Jonny Wale
(warning, contains the odd swear word LoL | Photos James Huntley & VeloUK & Jonny & Neah)

Q: Where are you based during lockdown on a scale of 1-10, what would give the area as a rating?
Jonny: I’m locked down at Neah’s parents house in rural Aberdeenshire. Not to sound too smug but it’s pretty perfect up here. Tonnes of open space, lots of animals and very few people! What more would you want in life… Overall it’s approximately 7-10/10.

Q: British Track Champs was your last race before you were supposed to head to Bolivia, how did it go?
Jonny: Yup, British Nationals at the end of January. The champs were a massive emotional release for me on many levels. Coming off the back of Brisbane World Cup in December I was pretty uncertain as to whether cycling was what I really wanted to be doing, so it was very much make or break for me.

While the build up to Brisbane was pretty perfect, the race itself had gone about as poorly as it could have (perhaps showing that the build up wasn’t so perfect). Brisbane was our A race. We were supposed to win. So to come away with 5th place was a bitter pill to swallow. We did three World Cups this year and didn’t get to a final in any of them. That coupled with the UCI regulation changes banning trade teams and the holistic appetite within in the team changing, I knew Brisbane would be our ‘last dance’ if you were… and we fucked it up. You were there Larry so you saw how it went!

After the race I stayed out in Brisbane on my own for two weeks, which was very cathartic. I was pretty rock bottom depressed for the first few days but shout out to Lambo (Ashton Lambie) for helping me out before he flew home. The rest of the time, I logged a really good block of training but more importantly it gave me the opportunity for some introspection. While I don’t want to say anything as cliché as I ‘found myself’, I definitely worked out what cycling means to me and if I wanted to continue what I would need that to look like.

I’ve always felt quite undermined when compared to the others on the team, “he just does 5 1/2 laps”, “he has it easy, he doesn’t even have to finish”, “he’s just a kilo rider” and so on… The role I do doesn’t lend itself to looking like a hero. If I go too fast, I’ll ruin the race for the others, if I go too long and start slowing I’ll have ruined the race for the others. If I execute the race well, you should have barely noticed I’m there, but if I fuck up it’s pretty devastating to the others. I always enjoyed the pressure that brings and feel my consistency has been a crucial stabilising feature to our rides over the last few seasons.

But equally I wanted my time in the sun, so I suppose there was a lot of motivation at nationals to prove people wrong. Nothing wrong with a little anger to get your fired up, “I hate the French” Lance Armstrong 1999.

With this all bubbling away in the foreground, I really targeted that Individual Pursuit qualifying. The whole experience that day was outrageous. Everyone on the team was out for blood so to be second fastest only a few tenths behind John is amazing, but a 4.13.01 performed in a ‘true’ race with no juicy catch made it pretty special (4th fastest Brit ever behind John, Charlie and Boardman).

Away from the result, it’s the first time I’ve done something I felt truly worthy of celebrating. All these Team Pursuit wins we’ve had… I’m long gone by the end of the race, so I’ve never had that look up at the board moment, the sudden rush of elation that comes for the actualisation of a dream. It’s a feeling I’ll remember for a while.

Q: Were the results at the champs better or worse than expected based?
Jonny: Quite a mixed bag really. In the Individual Pursuit, I was expected to go well but not that well! In the build-up, I’d been joking around with John that I was going to beat him but I never truly thought I’d come that close.

The Kilo win was a nice box to tick, but I continued my streak of under performing in Kilos. With the form I was on, it was a very poor performance. Like Mehdi tells me, it’s about being good enough on a bad day, but personally that doesn’t sit right with me, I want to go fast…

The team pursuit was very mehh, there had been some selection drama in the build up and if I’m honest I was proper pissed that the other teams went so slowly! Hindsight is a wonderful thing though and it was nice to see the Parrot’s reaction to his first champs jersey (good budgie).

The championships were super important for the team as we were having issues with the budget towards Bolivia. We’d done shit in the World Cups (apart from John’s 2nd in the IP at Minks) but we’d sold them this all conquering team and we’d under performed all year. So nothing other than a clean sweep was acceptable. Team Pursuit day was the climax of it all so it was nice to clear that hurdle and secure the remaining funds we needed for Bolivia.

Q: How much of a mental blow is the record attempts being postponed or does it give you time to get better and faster? Were you planning on hanging up your wheels after the attempts?
Jonny: We were actually at a training camp at the top of Mount Teide when the corona virus kicked off and Spain went into lockdown. We were literally four weeks away from the attempts so for it to be cancelled so close was pretty devastating.

At the time I remember being really bitter when all you could hear was Olympians moaning that the Games were delayed… But they were the best part of seven months out! You hadn’t even started your final build up… I was chatting with Annemieke Van Vleuten (name drop) and she was so upset by the cancellations and being told to go home by her team, but I remember sitting there thinking like ‘uh dude, you’re paid a crap tonne to be doing this. For you there will always be another camp, another race, another year. But for us lot, this could truly spell the end of the dream'”.

For us, it’s been tricky. The budget is effectively finished, the tenancy agreement we have in Derby finished. People are dispersing and ready to start the next chapter of their lives. There will be an attempt I can promise you that. But I imagine what we will be attempting and who will be attempting it will be very different. There’s talk of November / December time but no one can predict what’ll happen in the next few weeks and months, so it’s a case of keeping the body ticking over and being ready if and when the world starts to normalise.

Throughout the teams existence, right from its origins as KGF, I’ve always had a ‘one more year’ mentality. This has come more out of necessity than desire. Traditionally, I’ve kept it going for the team, you need four riders after all… But if I continue going forward, it’s going to be more about what I want. I feel I’ve not really capitalised on the opportunities I’ve had the past few years.

If you look at the original four lads from Derby, Charlie’s now fully institutionalised in GB land, Dan is cycling’s newest super nerd (people don’t wanna work with Ferrari, they wanna work with the Raptor) and Tipper’s the Head of Cycling at Huub (as much as it’s fun to mock him, he’s actually done a really good job with the new range of kit #AmbushMarketing).

Meanwhile, I don’t feel I’ve achieved enough to allow me to ‘hang up my wheels’ and be content. People who stop before their time always regret it. I don’t want to stop while I’m still improving. So going forward I’m pretty motivated to make that happen… (cue motivational music and training montage).

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Q. A lot of people have been struggling to find motivation with no races, how have you been finding things in Aberdeenshire? Plenty of time on the bike trying to keep up with Neah?
Jonny: You know me Larry, I love riding my bike (I also hate it). So, training hasn’t been an issue for me.

I’m very much an introvert at heart, and while I do enjoy playing the character of ‘Jonny Wale’ it can be a bit tiring and I’ve been super productive when I’ve been more true to myself. The lifestyle up in Aberdeenshire is also ideal for training.

Neah’s mother is a former athlete (she’s done the whole Olympics thing) so is super accommodating. Coupled with the new puppy, it’s made for a very pleasant lockdown (Neah is properly getting on my tits but don’t tell her that).

Training in Aberdeenshire is an odd one. It can be the best place in the world if you want 30-90 minute long efforts, but it’s also the worst place in the world if you want to do any other type of riding. You see, there’s this thing called the North Sea winds, and when you combine that with the glue they use to make the roads, and of course you can’t forget the ever undulating and constantly exposed landscape and persistent rain… it can make cycling really quite unpleasant.

On the plus side, you never see any cars and you won’t come across any traffic lights/roundabouts in a five hour ride (so Neah tells me, only heroes do 5 hour rides). Most of the training at the moment has been about ‘rebuilding’ while keeping in mind that the world is going to be closed for the foreseeable future. I would spell out the training plan but there’s nothing fancy going on.

Sometimes I go hard, sometimes I go easy. Sometimes I lift heavy weights and sometime I take days off… No matter what your coaching company is telling you, when it boils down to it, training is really quite simple. Produce overload on the system and then let it recover #Science.

Me and Neah haven’t really been riding together much to be frank. We both have the worst ride etiquette going (I’ll let you decide if that’s deliberate or not), so you would have thought we’d be a match made in heaven, but realistically when it comes to cycling she’s just really annoying LOL. When we do ride together, I like to refer to her as my ‘shadow’. I play a game where I go as slowly as I possibly can and see if she’ll come past me, we’re talking crawling speeds… she never does…

Except of course when I’ve just finished a sprint or effort and in that instance she’ll immediately instigate half wheel mode. This game also works the other way and you play a few rounds of ‘unknown finish line’. The rules are very simple, you just do over-unders at a variable intensity and duration until she get so pissed off she gives in (she once set her all time 1 minute power playing such a game). As you can imagine, for the above reasons it’s advisable for us to stick with solo riding.

Q: E-racing?
Jonny: I’ve not been tempted to be drawn into the whole Zwift universe. Obviously being a fan of the sport, I’ve kept an eye on it out of curiosity, but other than the odd Jacob Tipper rage quit the only interesting bit has been seeing all these pro’s showing off how many watts they do and setting all sorts of power records. I wonder if after this lock down a few riders will re-evaluate their relationship with volume and intensity.

Q. What’s the best distraction from Lockdown …
Jonny: As the fans on Instagram will be aware, we have a new puppy. He’s a Whippet called Figaro. He’s pretty much the best distraction from anything you could wish for and has been an amazing addition to my life. Big fan of the wee man so expect plenty of puppy based social media content.

Q: Finally, why haven’t you become a YouTube star and earning a mint making people laugh!
Jonny: Despite the fact that I’m not very funny… I’ve got a love hate relationship with social media. It can add such quality to your life but at the same time it’s very detrimental to your mental health. Only the other day I was talking to someone about how annoyed they get watching various unnamed people’s stories… (slide into the DM’s for names).

The person knows it pisses them off, but yet they continue to watch… The constant reflex to check the phones etc… I really struggle with peoples motives, are you posting stuff? Is it to make yourself happy or to show others how happy you are? Is that actually what you’re like?

Then the terrible product placement cracks me too… that’s such poor return for the sponsors and 9/10 that’s not what they’re after. Dan bangs on about it all the time, but he’s right, it’s partnerships not sponsorships that work in cycling. If you think one Instagram story a week is a good exchange for the sizable handouts sponsors give, then surely you have to question how viable the arrangement is and don’t be surprised if that sponsor isn’t still be around in two years time.

The vast majority of social media output is purely an accurate reflection on the dysfunctional nature of modern society. My advice to the fans is to just unfollow anyone that annoys you, life’s way too short to be dragged down by it all. So that Larry is why I’m not a YouTube star…

Thank you Jonny for that awesome Q&A and insight into Jonny’s World … I never thought a written piece with Jonny would be as great as the video chats we have had but this one was. Thank you.

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