Interview: John Herety on JLT-Condor, nurturing the next generation and British cycling's talent gap - Road Cycling UK

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Interview: John Herety on JLT-Condor, nurturing the next generation and British cycling’s talent gap

"I would say [British cycling] is not in as healthy a position as everyone is making out"

Heard the one about Rotweillers, Alsatians, Labradors and Poodles?

John Herety has. The JLT-Condor manager, a former British road race champion, believes there’s more than a little merit in the analogy between dog breeds and personality types, particularly those of professional bike riders.

He doesn’t claim credit for the theory, but finds it a useful tool. Only the Poodle is useless, he says, and a mix of the others is desirable, even if the Alsatian – disciplined, consistent, but self-contained – offers nothing to a team beyond results.

“You need to accept at the start of the season that if you’ve signed ten Labradors, your days are going to be long,” Herety says. “If you’ve signed five Rottweilers, you’ll have a turbulent year in terms of PR, but if they win consistently – and that’s the point – it’s worth it.”

Herety has managed the JLT-Condor team in its various guises since 2006 (Pic: JLT-Condor)

His tongue is only slightly removed from his cheek as he expands on the theory. Rottweiler types are often more trouble than their worth, while Labradors constantly need to be ‘stroked’. If the phone rings at 9pm on a Friday night, it’s either a Labrador needing reassurance, or a report of the team car screeching around a municipal car park with a Rottweiler at the wheel.

“With a Continental team, you sign and commit for a year; no matter what happens, you’ve got them for 12 months,” says Herety. “From a British perspective, we know the characters involved. When you start to work, you realise just what you’ve got, with the dog analogy. Sometimes you’ve seen [the hassle], and you’ll sign it, because the benefit outweighs the cost.”

Easy as ACBB

There isn’t much about the domestic racing scene that Herety doesn’t know. He has been there, seen it, and done it. As a young rider, he moved to France and joined the revered Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt (ACBB) with Sean Yates, graduating to the professional ranks with COOP-Mercier. He does not, however, recommend the gamble of a solo expedition to continental Europe and has built the JLT-Condor team, in its various guises since Herety joined as manager in 2006, around an ethos of developing young talent in the UK.

“I still struggle with ones who want to go to France or Belgium, because I’ve seen so many over the years do that and disappear from the sport. It’s a sink or swim environment,” he says.

“It’s worked for some; it worked for me, so I’m not saying it’s completely the wrong thing to do, but given the numbers of those who’ve tried and failed [it’s hard to recommend].

“A team like ours gives [young riders] a pathway and allows them to move forward”

“It’s still steeped in myth. I don’t think it’s the best way. They’d get looked after a lot better by a team like ours, which gives them a pathway and allows them to move forward.”

Hugh Carthy represents an interesting middle ground. The 189cm, 63kg rider won the Tour de Korea as a 19-year-old with Herety’s squad, and gambled on a move to Spain and a berth with Pro Continental squad Caja-Rural. Things have gone swimmingly since for this “Alsatian”, with victory at the Vuelta Asturias and ninth place on the final GC at the Volta a Catalunya as recent examples.

“He was one kid who really wanted to go all the way,” says Herety. “Because of his build, he was never going to be looked at by the [track-focused British Cycling] Academy, so he took the gamble of going with us. We sought races to suit his talent like the Tour de Korea, the Tour of Japan, with a smattering of WorldTour teams, so if he showed, people would notice.”

John Herety, team car, Condor JLT (Pic: Condor JLT)
Tour Series, Rapha Condor JLT 2014 (Pic: Sweetspot)
Condor JLT, Tour Series (Pic: Sweetspot)

Talent puddle

Despite the success of riders like Carthy, Herety believes the talent pool of young riders emerging from the British scene is alarmingly shallow. While the Academy continues to produce top-class pros – from Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas in the first intake, through to Owain Doull, the latest graduate to sign for Team Sky – the choice of riders for a Continental team manager like Herety is far more limited, he says.

“There’s not a decent pool. Personally, I would say we are not in as healthy a position as everyone is making out. The talent pool from junior level is not anywhere near big enough, considering the money that’s been invested in cycling.

“I would say [British cycling] is not in as healthy a position as everyone is making out”

“It’s not a criticism, because I don’t have the solution, but below the riders that get on the Academy, there isn’t much that we can choose from.

“It’s quite awkward for us to take a first year under-23 and fit them into the level that we do at Continental. The ones who can would have been good enough go on the Academy. There’s a missing link in our pathway. That type of rider could do with another year of riding slightly smaller races.”

From the outside, Britain’s six UCI Continental teams – JLT-Condor, Madison-Genesis, NFTO, Raleigh, Team Wiggins and Pedal Heaven RT – offer a new level of professionalism to the British scene, but Herety argues their presence can be counterproductive. The gap between the domestic scene and the WorldTour is still very large, he says.

“We don’t have a critical mass of riders,” he says. “There is a strong argument that the [six] teams we have – and I’d include us in this – are stifling the sport.”

Britain’s brightest young talents are now snapped up by BC’s Olympic Academy, while Team Wiggins offers a path for those riders with the same ability, but who are less suited to the track. While Britain’s elite cyclists are thriving, and a next generation of British pros is emerging to follow in the wheel tracks of Wiggins, Cavendish, Thomas et al, the grassroots, Herety says, is struggling.

Hugh Carthy, who now rides for the Pro Continental Caja-Rural team, is one of the biggest talents to have emerged from Herety’s team (Pic: Sirotti)

“I’m a little bit pessimistic about it to be honest. That’s the only thing that the world class performance programme hasn’t done. It’s a top-led model where you’re supposed to bring everyone through below you. The Australian system has done that and when I started to work for our world class programme, I thought it would do that. We don’t have enough of the type of riders who say, ‘I’m going to stick two fingers up and say you were wrong not to pick me’.”

Cost-benefit

Herety sees as much benefit in cost-benefit analyses as dog analogies. It’s why he has employed Tim Kennaugh as team coach. The benefit outweighs the cost, he believes. He hopes soon to introduce a centralised coaching model, with Kennaugh responsible for the training programmes of all JLT-Condor riders.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a full-time coach and that’s made a big difference,” Herety says. “They’ve had to fill in diaries on a daily basis. If they haven’t been out training that day, he knows, and they know he knows. It isn’t that we beat them over the head with that information, but if things don’t go well at the weekend they can’t use that as excuse. We’re not as rigourous as the Academy programme, but we still have to checks and balances with the riders we sign. That’s a quantum leap this year.”

Hiring Tim Kennaugh, brother of Team Sky rider Pete, as a full-time coach is a “quantum leap,” according to Herety (Pic: SWPix.com)

Dispassionate observers will hope for more quantum leaps for Herety’s squad, one that has been around for what feels like forever, from its Recycling foundations to the sleek Rapha years. In Condor, whose bikes have been ridden by the likes of Tom Simpson and Sir Bradley Wiggins, they have one of the most respected marques in British cycle sport as a consistent backer, and Herety fits with their fine tradition of giving young talent a chance. All except Poodles, of course.

“If you’ve got a Poodle, get rid of it as fast as you can,” he says, laughing. While RideLondon and the Tour of Britain are likely to once again to extend an invitation to Herety’s men, Crufts might be less welcoming.

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