The BIG Interview: Harry Tanfield (Ribble Weldtite)

After a couple of years racing the big pro events like the Vuelta, Harry Tanfield has signed for Ribble Weldtite as rider contracts in Europe get real scarce for those out of contract at current teams

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The BIG Interview: Harry Tanfield (Ribble Weldtite)
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After a couple of years racing the big pro events like the Vuelta, Harry Tanfield has signed for Ribble Weldtite as rider contracts in Europe get real scarce for those out of contract at current teams

Photo: Dean Reeves

After winning stage 1 of the Tour de Yorkshire in 2018, Harry joined Katusha in 2019 and when that team folded, Harry found himself in Ag2R. Unfortunately they have not renewed his 2020 contract and so Harry had to look at his options for 2021 and with a lot of top pros looking for a team, Harry signed with Ribble Weldtite sponsored by Ribble Cycles.

Harry is hoping a spot with a team at the level he’s been racing at for two years (ProConti/WorldTour) can be found and admits it’s not the money he’s after but just the opportunity to continue to race at the level he’s been at in 2020 and to continue to progress as a rider. On Sunday, November 15, it was announced that Harry would ride for North East team Ribble Weldtite but VeloUK understands that should a place in a team at a higher level become available, his new team will be more than happy to see Harry carry on at the level he’s been at for two seasons.

Only two weeks ago, Harry was racing the Vuelta in Spain until a muscle injury and worse still, sickness, forced him to abandon the race. Harry explained he’d aggravated a muscle injury he had last year. It was an injury that had not been causing him any issues until the Vuelta crash which happened early on in the stage race.

“It was a bit of a bummer” not to finish admits Harry. “I did the Time Trial (stage 13) and then the day after that I wasn’t good. Then, the next stage, (15) I was really struggling. I woke up feeling sick and sure enough, I got dropped on the first climb after 50km and as soon as you’re out of that peloton bubble, you lose time quickly.”

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“There was no grupetto forming either as the course was hard but not super hard so no-one was getting dropped. Everyone left in the race at that point too was a good rider and not likely to be dropped as everyone else had already gone home. So those who were dropped before 100k that day got off the bike and got in the car. My stomach was bad that day too and the legs cooked. I felt awful”.

“I could barely ride. Up until that point, I’d had really good legs for the whole race despite the muscle injury. It was like someone had flicked the switch and I was ruined. I got in the car and still felt pretty sick. I got back to the hotel and had dinner and was up the whole night being sick and had a fever. I then woke up the next morning wiped out and could not eat anything and that was the day I flew home.”

“So even if I had made it through stage 15, I wouldn’t have been starting the next day because I could hardly walk, never mind ride 200k”

…. continued after the advert.

Testing Himself
One of the races Harry enjoys is a time trial as he has shown many times. Asked was he happy with his ride on stage 13 of the Vuelta, Harry replied “Yes. In a time trial I can only do what I can do and I gave it everything I had.

“I maybe over paced the first ten minutes a little bit (7th fastest overall at first intermediate check) but I don’t think there was much more that I could have given. I gave it everything I had and went really really hard in that time trial.”

“I could have paced it flat out through the first two time checks and blown up before the climb but I did want to ride for a good time. I was just too heavy for that final climb (14% for 1.8k). I was top 10 on the splits (7th and 8th on each) and then lost a minute on the climb. I changed bikes for the climb and fumbled that as well but the thing was if I hadn’t fumbled it, I would still have only gone ten seconds quicker which would not have changed the result. I needed a minute!”

On his bike for the Time Trial was a special chain ring from his team sponsor Rotor with his picture on it as well! “I spoke to Rotor the week before the race as I was after a 57 or bigger chain ring. I knew the time trial was pan flat until the hill so I knew I had options. Like I could smash it to the bottom of the climb and try and be leading at the intermediate time check.”

“Instead, I thought I’ll back myself and pace it properly and try and do a good ride. The question in my head was ‘do I lead at the intermediates and finish 35th or pace it well be in the top 10s in the intermediates and finish 20th’. I didn’t know what was best to do.”

“I don’t think though I could have been fastest at the intermediates even if I had of gone full gas and I probably would not have been able to get up the climb if I’d gone full gas before it as I was going full gas up the climb just to turn the pedals over! If I’d gone full gas before it, I would have lost four minutes or more on the climb!”

In the time trial, Harry rode a single chain ring which he says was really nice. “I asked them for a 57 to a 60, whatever they had kicking about because I knew the team only had a maximum of a 56. So I asked Rotor to send whatever they had as well as an aero adaptor. I was like, if it’s a single chain ring, I’ll ride that”.

“I’d looked at the climb and knew it was going to need a bike change so I gambled with the single chain ring. Sure enough, on the rest day, this chain ring arrived at and it had my face on it. It was a 60 tooth chain ring and it was perfect even though it was head wind in the TT.”

“It could have been a tail wind but you never know when you make these decisions many days out on what you’re going to be riding in. It was a headwind but I still used the 60 x 11 as well as the 60 x 28 too on some of the drags so I used all the gears.”

“The mechanic explained Harry thought it was incredible what Rotor had provided him with and he made sure to keep it clean and in good nick for Harry post race. “Rotor have been great helping me and been really supportive” says Harry. He’s been using Rotor 2INpower power meters on his bikes along with an aero upgrade for the chainset spider. Note: Rotor 2INpower measures power independently from each leg to provide precise data about balance and power output,

Asked if he still liked tinkering with his bikes, Harry explained “I still do. I spent most of the rest day begging for a tubular and for them to also put some new tape on the bike as well as sort out the pads on the tribars.”

Talking about other stages he enjoyed, Harry explained “the sprint day when I rolled 16th (stage 9), I could have rolled a top 10 and that was one of my regrets from the race and also getting in that breakaway on stage 4 when looking back, perhaps I should have hung in and gone for the sprint that day just to see what would have happened but then there is no guarantee that I would have had success. The breakaway day was good fun though. I was trying to win the Combativity award that day but that didn’t happen.”

Harry’s Job in the Vuelta
When asked did he have a specific role in the race within his team, Harry replied “just positioning the guys really. There was only four or five of us after the first week and so we were looking after Dorian Godon for some sort of sprint finish where it was a hard final with a little climb. Clément Champoussin was a very good climber and time trialist and he did a good time trial up the climb and then Nans Peters who won a stage in the Tour de France.”

“They were guys who love riding at the back so I’d get them near the front for certain situations like when we know stuff is going to kick off on a technical section and I’d give everything I can to help them. It was nice there being only the four of us because it was easy for me to round them up and go up the peloton and get to the front and ride there for them before a final climb etc.”

Explaining a typical situation where Clement might go into a summit finish at the back or in the middle of the peloton 200 metres behind the top guys who were going full gas on the climb, Harry says “we knew he could do better by being positioned at the front so that was my role to look after the guys on the climbing days which was most of the race.”

Unfortunately for Harry though, doing the role of a domestique means he was sacrificing his results for his teammates and team and that wasn’t probably going to help when contracts are up for renewal. Harry explained “the directors were thanking me every day and the riders too appreciated the work I did for them but I don’t know if that got translated back to the boss”.

“It wasn’t long ago, teams would look at a rider’s stats and results and attribute a contract to them based on their result” Harry explained. “They couldn’t comprehend the riders who were giving everything for the team back then and sitting up but in the Vuelta there was no point me doing half a job and rolling in 60th. I gave everything for the team and would finish last. That’s what you do because that gives the team the best opportunity to get their best result.”

It’s also probably why Harry has ended up racing domestically again, sacrificing his chances for others. It certainly appears that racing for contracts was on a lot of rider’s minds if Harry’s memories of the Tour of Poland (below) were anything to go by.

Racing during a Pandemic
Harry in 2020 was one of few British riders still able to race with the domestic pros unable to travel to Europe to race because of insurance issues preventing them from travelling. I also know from seeing the lack of riders in the crits here in England that were held in the latter half of the season that racing during a pandemic wasn’t popular for a lot of English based riders.

Harry though says he did feel lucky to get that chance. “Even though we had the pandemic, what we were doing was safe. We were having regular testing and I was privileged to be able to race the Vuelta even though we never knew whether it would get to Madrid. Because of the protocols, we felt safe where as for a normal race like a Nat B in England where the riders would have been rocking up from where ever in the country, you wouldn’t know if those you were racing with were safe.”

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“We on the other hand, were sealed off six days before the race having regular testing so it was a different level and it can’t be looked at by those in England who may be thinking, ‘these guys are racing, we should be racing? It was completely different.”

“We had tests once a week on rest days and pre race and we were all protected well. The bubble of the race was good so we weren’t in contact with the public. The hotels were mostly empty of public for example.”

On sharing rooms with other riders, that was the norm he says but Harry even escaped that for the majority of the time. “I wasn’t sharing for the majority because I started out with Mathias Frank and he only came to the race just to sign on as his doctor had told him to rest. He didn’t have covid but a virus so the doc put him in a different room from the start.”

“He started on day one and then went home. I was in a room on my own for the whole time until we were down to the final few stages before the guy Clement was rooming with went home so I was rooming with Clement for the last five days.”

Harry said of the crowds, “some start towns saw a decent crowd and they would be lining the roads as we warmed up and they were wearing masks which was nice to see. Going through villages, people would come out and we might see some cyclists out on the road but that was it really. Like some places we’d start in, there would not be anyone there, but others were rammed. The crowd depended on where it was.”

Racing a Grand Tour
Harry was one of quite a few Brits to race a Grand Tour, and when asked how it felt to do that, Harry replied “it has been massive. The difference has been phenomenal and I’ve learnt more in the last three weeks than I have in the last three years.”

“Racing at that level for example and learning what the body is capable of. I learnt where I need to be at before doing a race like that. I only knew I was doing it a week before so I didn’t have the ideal preparation for it. The race was really nice though, really relaxed. It was good in the peloton with no agro and I got chatting with loads of guys in the race.”

“If I compare the Vuelta to Poland, it was night and day. In Poland, people there would throw their mother across the road to get a contract. The risks and how scary Poland was compared to the Vuelta was huge. Poland was the first race back so there was carnage.”

Mountain Struggles
Harry is not known for his climbing prowess and the Vuelta had a lot of climbing. “I have learned there is only so much sliding room I can have on an 8km climb!” he says “It was up and down all the time and not much flat in the Vuelta.”

On the subject of the notorious l’Angliru climb, Harry says “that was one of the worst climbs I have ever done and it wasn’t like I was really racing up it! Riding it yes but I had a lot of pain in that muscle in my leg too so that made it harder. It’s like Rosedale Chimney but much much longer! Rather unpleasant!”

Looking back at the shortened season, as well as enjoying the Vuelta, Harry says the French stage race Poitou-Charentes was good too. “I really enjoyed racing it and that got better as the race went on” he says.

“I was riding for the Time Trial for most of the race where I was 10th. Unfortunately I didn’t have the legs for that and for sure, I could have had better legs for it if I’d fuelled correctly. I didn’t and that cost me. I probably could have finished top five or six if I’d had more gas.”

“On the last day I got in the break with the likes of Iljo Keisse and others and it was good fun. We were caught one and half k from the finish which was unfortunate but I gave it my best shot and got the team on TV all day. That was a good crack”.

Having signed for Ribble Weldtite, Harry will now have a domestic season to look forward to as well as racing in Europe. He admits he has missed racing the crits, something he expects he’ll be doing if they are held in 2021. “I enjoy racing in the UK as it’s not so much of a job racing here. I feel I progressed a lot in my second season in Europe. I knew I had to make improvements and I did. I saw that with my course records round here (home) and had good power in time trials.”

Racing at pro level though also highlighted other things that many riders may not realise. Like being dictated to by the team and their sponsors as to what you ride in races. “I’m not a climber so I don’t need a climbing bike. I need an aero bike. The races I have won were at high speeds so I need the tools to do that and I didn’t have them which ultimately meant I had to find 20 watts from training. I have trained better and got better but if that is taken back having worse kit, that’s not great but it’s out of my control. The team had an aero bike but we were not allowed to use it as it was disc brake one”.

Harry is hoping that his improvements on a fast Ribble bike will help provide him with results to take him back to the higher level of racing. I thank Harry for his time and look forward to seeing him on the bike soon.

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