‘It’s like starting school but with scary people’: On the cusp of WorldTour life

Josh Tarling, Ineos' latest bright young thing, prepares to begin his professional careeer.

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Josh Tarling can finally, truly relax at the prospect of questions that aren’t directly about himself, his life and cycling. Not that he has been on edge for the first 15 minutes of our interview, but for an 18-year-old on the cusp of a first professional contract there is only so much to talk about with his bourgeoning career mostly ahead of him. Plus, as a humble young man, talking about himself doesn’t come naturally just yet, but his talent may soon dictate otherwise.

Who would be your dream dinner party guests?

Robert Downey Jnr, Ryan Reynolds and err…Hugh Jackman. They’re all superheroes, and they have to come to dinner as their superheroes.

Are you dressing up as well? In full kit?

I’d have a full Ineos cape on.

My next question was actually going to be which superpower would you choose?

I don’t want to say something lame like flying but that would be sick.

Is it possible to have a lame superpower?

But everyone says flying, don’t they? What about…you know…like The Flash, being mega quick? I wouldn’t use it in racing but you would know it was there in case you were panicking, or you could just go up the road, see what’s there, and then come back. And you could go on holiday quickly as well.

For those who need an introduction to one of the latest British youngsters snapped up by the Ineos Grenadiers, set to make his WorldTour bow in 2023, here’s a very brief overview.

Tarling’s father got him into riding (there are baby photos of him in attendance at Newport velodrome) before a first race in nearby Shrewsbury when he was three or four. He has a track background, gold medals at the 2021 European Junior Championships were secured in the Omnium and Team Pursuit, attracted to racing on the boards because “if you’re clever and strong, you can win”. He says its an arena where, compared to the road, luck counts for a little less and the racing is full-on all the time – these new generations bursting through continue to share the trait of not ever wanting to hang about. On the road, he improved his silver medal in the Junior TT at the 2021 Worlds with a gold in Wollongong.

But now, in between gold medal podiums and the outset of his Ineos Grenadiers career in January, Tarling is in a nice hotel in Shoreditch, East London. I want to describe the venue as hip or cool, but that will make me seem a billion years old – which to be fair I already feel when I realise Tarling was born in 2004. Dressed in a green Adidas t-shirt, grey tracksuit bottoms and white Nike Air Force 1s, with rings on his fingers and a chain around his neck, he doesn’t look out of place, sitting almost horizontal on an expensive sofa in the lobby before inverting himself to a composed hunch for our interview.

He doesn’t look out of place at all in the company of thirtysomethings who work in tech and twentysomethings involved in fashion, all gathered here in plush surroundings soundtracked by the music of someone who isn’t Jorja Smith but sounds a lot like Jorja Smith – the true sound of London gentrification. Perched on the adjacent sofa chatting to him as I arrive are Ethan Hayter and Fred Wright, the trio assembled here for the Rouleur Live show. The housemates Hayter and Wright soon head out for some off-season go-karting fun while Tarling gets the much less enjoyable task of chatting to me for 20 minutes before shuffling off to the aforementioned live show at a nearby brewery to do some more talking to people he doesn’t know.

Tarling sits here having already embarked on his WorldTour journey, introduced to the people who will become his teammates from January 1 at a precursory training camp held post-Worlds.

“It’s like starting school,” Tarling says of the experience of joining the top tier, “but with really scary people.”

“To be fair some of them frighten me sometimes too,” I admit.

“We were in Andorra yesterday,” Tarling continues, “and Alaphilippe waved at me because I had my hat on. My girlfriend was stressing…I’m not cut out for it.”

He was surprised that Ineos came calling, feeling he didn’t have that good of a year after a season marred by crashes, but if a not-so-good season ends with a gold at the Worlds that speaks volumes about the ambition the British team must have seen in their new rider.

When the unexpected call came he was alone. “How do I explain this to my parents and my girlfriend?” Tarling remembers feeling at the time. “I was sitting on my own on my bed and was like, ‘oh. Okay’. I didn’t really know how to react. Because it’s what you want isn’t it? But until it becomes real…”

At that recent Ineos training camp he was with another new arrival Thymen Arensman as the group headed off to go go-karting, which clearly must be the latest fashionable hobby of the pro peloton, and the pair started chatting.

“We were saying it’s really weird having exactly what you want. All your life, you want to be at a team like Ineos and now you’ve got it. You expect stuff to really change, and it does, but it’s just so weird. It feels weird giving your bike to someone if something’s wrong with it, it feels really mean. Or like you give it to someone to clean it and it feels really mean. But I guess it’s because they prefer to do that stuff [their way] and get it right. But it’s just a bit of an adjustment.”

At the Worlds he already had some Ineos support in the form of sports director Dario Cioni in the car behind him, which of course attracted eyeballs his way that he wasn’t used to.

“I think I’m just going to train as normal but in a nicer kit,” Tarling says of the extent of the expected changes he wants for his day-to-day life. “So not much changes apart from the bikes.”

Everyone always talks about how WorldTour contracts are being offered to more younger riders as teams try to avoid missing out on the next big thing. Of course, for the riders they also don’t want to miss the boat.

“I wanted to be able to be WorldTour straight away, but I wasn’t really prepared for it to be an actual option. But when it arose I really wanted it,” he says. “I like to fight for things that I want but if I’m there it gives me the security that I’ve made it to that level and once I’m there I can just go all-out to get results for the team and stuff rather than fighting to get there for the next few years.” Now, instead of fighting for purely personal results, he can focus for team results and personal development instead of panicking about his career.

Tarling will have until the end of 2025, when he’ll still be only 21, to purely focus on being the best bike rider he can. It’s always nice to catch these guys on the cusp of their WorldTour careers, to meet them before the madness of the WorldTour becomes their life.

You can see in his eyes he seems excited for the future, a refreshing energy from the bubble of cycling when everything else in the world seems to cracking at the seams. A month or so after we meet Tarling is at another Ineos training camp, this time rooming with Geraint Thomas, a fellow Welshman who was riding the Junior Worlds before Tarling was born. From video footage of their room, it appears the latest Welsh two-wheeled talent already feels right at home. A new British generation are slowly filling the spots vacated by their elders and as the days spent in anonymous hotel rooms stack up and their packing routine becomes finely tuned, the chaos of childhood will be replaced by neatness of professional sporting life.