Meet Ben Tulett, part of the new wave at Ineos Grenadiers
The young Briton showed his potential in the hilly Classics last year, at just 19.
The young Briton showed his potential in the hilly Classics last year, at just 19.
Ben Tulett is only 20 years young but already has two full pro seasons under his belt. Just like Remco Evenepoel, Juan Ayuso, and Quinn Simmons, Tulett turned pro straight from the junior ranks, skipping the U23s. After two seasons with Alpecin-Fenix he signed with Ineos Grenadiers last winter for three seasons. This year he hopes to line up for his first Grand Tour at the Giro d’Italia.
“I think people are still trying to find out why these young riders come up so fast,” he says from his home in Kent, England. “Training has changed so much in the past years. Young riders come in from the junior ranks with more training than before. Cycling teams nurture young talent more than in the past when there was more hesitation [as to whether they had the level needed].
“Now, when teams see the numbers and think they can do it, they think ‘why not’ and bring them up to the pro teams. Cycling follows the trend we see in football too where they already sign players when they are 15.”
Tulett was a talented cyclocross rider when he was younger. There are only two riders who managed to win the junior world championship two years in a row: Mathieu van der Poel and Tulett. His success in CX earned him a contract with Alpecin-Fenix where he joined his idol. His first year was a bit of a miss because of the COVID pandemic although he was one of the youngest riders in history to finish Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
In his second pro year Tulett made waves by finishing 12th in Flèche Wallonne and ninth overall in the Tour of Poland.
“I never planned for it to happen like this,” he says about his rapid development and move from the junior ranks. “It was a huge step up. Riding alongside [Alejandro] Valverde and the best riders in the world was massive. You do have to accept that you won’t have the results straight away though. You have to set your own goals and achievements.
“The Ardennes was the first time I performed at the highest level of pro cycling. Then people started to expect more but that is also what I want from myself.”
Those high expectations are also a pitfall for the young British rider. He tends to ask a lot from himself and needs to be slowed down, according to him. It’s one of the most important lessons he learned at Alpecin-Fenix.
“I learned a lot with that team and I am very thankful for the two years I spent there,” he says. “It was my first two years in the pro peloton. They taught me what it means to be a pro and how the lifestyle is: to be more professional in all aspects of life.
“They were also very much aware I was young. They never rushed things and took things as they came. I am quite ambitious by heart and I need someone to slow me down sometimes; to take the personal pressure I put on myself away from me. That’s what they did well.”
As a British rider there was interest from Ineos-Grenadiers when Tulett’s contract was ending. For Tulett, joining Ineos this year was a dream come true.
“Ineos has always been the team I dreamed of riding for,” he says. “It’s the only WorldTour team in Britain which makes it special. It’s like Quick-Step for a Belgian rider. To now be here is amazing.
“It’s always been important for the team to have British riders coming through but they don’t treat anyone differently. You don’t have to be British to ride for the team. Everyone is the same,” he adds.
Tulett is not the only young rider who signed up for this year. The team said goodbye to riders like Gianni Moscon, Rohan Dennis, and Iván Sosa, and signed young talents like Luke Plapp, Magnus Sheffield, Kim Heiduk, and Ben Turner.
“This year there is a lot of change in the team,” Tulett says. “It was noticeable straight away that everyone is really humble. It’s cool to be a part of this young wave. I was welcomed and the older riders are very supportive. Look at someone like G [Geraint Thomas]. It’s crazy talking to him. He won the biggest race in cycling but he is not on a high pedestal within the team. I already learned a lot from him. I have also been spending a lot of time with Luke Rowe and Ben Swift. They give good guidance to me.”
When chatting with Tulett I notice a plastic wristband on his arm. It says ‘Ride with Charlie.’ It refers to a defining moment in the young Brit’s life. Charlie Craig was a young, promising rider on the British cyclocross scene who died from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect in his sleep when he was only 15, in 2017. Tulett and Craig were good friends. His death had a profound impact on Tulett. He dedicated his two cyclocross world titles to Craig and still remembers his friend often.
“I always wear this band, also in races,” Tulett says. “Charlie has always been a big inspiration and motivation for me. We were good friends and I would see him almost every weekend. His infectious personality was always positive and nice to be around. I want to take that with me in life.
“The legacy he left behind is massive, even now it’s five years ago already [that he died]. He is still pretty important for British Cycling and to many British riders [of my generation]. The applications to get our athletes tested for heart defects has skyrocketed. I think heart scans should be more regularly done in young amateurs, just like we get yearly tests as pros.”
Tulett kicked off his 2022 season at Etoile de Bessèges where he didn’t have the best of starts. He crashed in the first stage.
“I tried to make the first split on the opening stage,” he recalls. “That worked but then it split again. I made it again but then one guy let the wheel go. I went down pretty hard so that was annoying.”
The 20-year-old now continues to Strade Bianche, Volta a Catalunya, and Tour of the Alps before heading to Hungary for the start of the Giro d’Italia on May 6.
“I hope to be at the startline of the Giro,” he says. “That’s the big goal of this season and I am looking forward to it. It’s not that long away so I have already started preparing for it. It will be pretty tough with the long transfers and hard stage profiles. It will be a bit of an unknown for me too since it’s the first time I do three weeks of racing.
“I certainly don’t start as a leader because we have some big leaders there with Richard Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan Hart who have big goals. I look forward to helping them and do the best job I can do.”
It’s a year of big changes for Tulett. He moves out from his parents’ home in Kent this month and moves to Andorra.
“I won’t be home much because of the racing and altitude camps though,” he says with a smile. “It will be a big change that I look forward to but it’s also a bit scary. We have about a third of the team living there and we have a service center there as well. Staff members live there too so that community will make the move easier. I do need to bring the Jamie Oliver cookbook and learn some recipes though.”
Tulett has had his best results in cyclocross but he won’t return to the mud any time soon. He remembers his time in ‘cross fondly, however, and he learned valuable lessons there.
“I watched the cyclocross this year and missed some of the races,” he says. “I enjoyed watching Tom Pidcock do so well. Team GB has improved so much too but for the moment I will focus on my ambitions on the road. I would love to return to the mud one day.
“Cross teaches you to race. There is so much tactics involved in cross now. The races change lap by lap. You learn how to read a race. It’s race intuition that you learn.”
Next to those two world titles Tulett showed as a junior that he has the climbing ability to be a rider for general classifications on the road. That’s also the goal he and Ineos Grenadiers have for the long term. His ninth place in the 2021 Tour of Poland was already a clear indicator.
“I seem to perform better on the long climbs,” he says. “I really enjoy mountains and time trialing. We have been doing a lot of work on the time trials over the winter.
“But I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself as a rider right now,” he says when asked if he wants to return to the cobbled Spring Classics he performed well in as a junior.
“I love all of cycling. I like the Ardennes but also the Belgian cobbled Classics are great. The Tour of Flanders seems so much fun but also stressful and unpredictable. I would really love to ride Flanders one day because it’s very special but I think the general classification of stage races suit me best and we will focus on that first.”