As a final-year under-23, Dan Tulett will head into 2021 looking to gain the kind of results and performances that will attract the attention of potential Pro Continental and WorldTour suitors. The 21-year-old from Kent certainly has the talent.
A multi-disciplinary rider, he has shone in cyclocross, mountain biking and road racing in his career so far. In 2017, he made headlines by finishing second in the junior world cyclocross championships, a race in which Great Britain secured a famous 1-2-3 (Tom Pidcock won the race, Ben Turner was third). That year, part of the Olympic podium programme, he also became a national champion on the mountain bike.
In his under-23 years, however, Dan has increasingly turned his attention to road racing and he now has his sights set on following his younger brother Ben, who rides for Alpecin-Fenix, into cycling’s professional ranks.
One of our under-23 riders to watch this year, his road results so far certainly suggest he’s capable of succeeding in his quest to make a living from cycling. He bagged a trio of top tens in 2018 in National A races (4th in the Stockton GP being the standout result) and in 2019, riding for Team Wiggins Le Col, he was close to the win in the Lancaster Grand Prix, finishing 3rd behind Ian Bibby and James Shaw in a technical sprint finish. He also impressed in the Baby Giro that year, coming close to contesting the win on stage 8 only to be dumped out of the winning break by a mechanical.
I was beginning to lose the love for it after what seemed like constant physical problems and stresses, but this year felt kind of like a reset for me
2020 was a virtual write-off for Dan in terms of road racing but, as he explains in the interview, he used the road racing hiatus to expel some lingering demons with a return to cross-country mountain biking in the summer. Now, feeling refreshed, he’s looking forward to proving his worth on the road in 2021.
We caught up with Dan to find out more about his transition from off-road racing to the road, how his 2020 has gone, his relationship with his brother Ben, the closure of the Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK team, his switch to Canyon dhb SunGod and his future ambitions.
For readers unfamiliar with you, how would you describe yourself as a rider?
In all honesty, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what style of rider I am. I’d quite like to not box myself into a specific category at the moment, as I can hold my own in a sprint finish yet also climb half-decently when needs be. I’m leaning towards being a bit of a puncheur though; a hard and lumpy one-day race I think would suit me the most. I guess we’ll find out more this year…
What are the challenges of transitioning from off-road racing to the road, both tactically and physically?
I think the hardest part for me personally about transitioning from off-road – both cyclocross and cross-country mountain biking – was thinking that I’d made the wrong decision. I love racing off-road and the added technical aspect of bike handling skills and different terrains, so I was constantly questioning my decision to aim for a career on the road.
How have your races gone this year? You raced on the road with Vitus Pro Cycling in the spring, and cross-country MTB this autumn?
Unfortunately, Covid stopped my season before it really started. I began the year racing Le Samyn and even that ended before the proper racing started. I just made a silly mistake on the first cobbled sector and came down very gently, but unfortunately couldn’t make it back on.
I had the opportunity to join the Great Britain mountain bike team on their training camp before the Nové Město World Cups, which also included a UCI race in Poland at the start. I decided to enter and just have some fun racing my bike again, as it was looking like the only opportunity I’d have to race again in 2020.
I last raced my mountain bike at the national championships in 2018 and was really unhappy with how I performed. I’d put a lot of pressure on myself that it was going to be my last cross-country race and I wanted to go out with a solid result, but I completely crumbled and have since then always wanted to come back and return with a more level mindset.
The race in Poland ended up going well, I had some decent lap times but, most importantly, I had fun and enjoyed every minute of the race, despite my back being in agony from not being used to the effort.
I asked if I was able to enter the World Cups a few weeks later at the end of the training camp and was given the thumbs up. Funnily enough, Nové Město was where I’d raced my last cross-country World Cup back in 2018, so it felt kind of special to me. I ended up getting some decent results, 20th and 40th after a dead last grid position. It actually gave me quite a bit of confidence in myself moving forward. It had been a long time since I’d been truly happy with my performance. but the lap times showed I was putting in times comparable to those in the top 10. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to race my MTB at this level again, so Wattsy, if you’re reading this, cheers!
With a lack of racing in much of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how much training have you done this year? Have you kept riding multiple disciplines? And have there been specific focuses to your training?
At the start of the pandemic, I began to slow down my training and just maintain my fitness. With hopes that racing would resume towards the end of the year my coach was concerned that there was a possibility of burning out by the time racing had resumed. This mainly consisted of ‘day on, day off’ training and lasted for a good few months after the start of lockdown.
When it began to look like there wouldn’t be any racing left this year I looked to start building very slowly for next year and just have fun riding my bike. This was when I started riding my cross-country bike more often and really enjoyed doing so. I haven’t really needed to have any specific goals this summer. I’ve really enjoyed riding my bike again and just switching off for a while. I was beginning to lose the love for it after what seemed like constant physical problems and stresses, but this year felt kind of like a reset for me.
Of course my goal is to move up and gain a professional contract but, at the end of the day, I want to enjoy racing my bike and not stress about it
Final-year U23 is often when riders aim to catch the eye of big teams in the hope of gaining a professional contract. How much do you feel 2021 is a “make or break” year? Is there additional pressure to perform? Or do you just see it as another year in your journey towards the top?
There’s no denying that last the year at under-23 level is a really important year in any aspiring professional’s career, and I think that it would be all to easy to get caught up in putting too much pressure on myself to ‘make it’ by the end of the year. Of course my goal is to move up and gain a professional contract but, at the end of the day, I want to enjoy racing my bike and not stress about it. I feel this attitude will get the best performances out of me.
What is your relationship like with your brother Ben? How much do you get to see him nowadays, both on and off the bike? Has his jump to the pro ranks affected you at all?
I like to think I have a really good relationship with Ben. Of course, like all siblings, we bicker and argue sometimes. But we both really care and look out for each other. With him still being at home I see him every day, although he mainly stays in his room with his legs up when he’s not training. I think we’re pretty different people, him being really serious and focused, and me being a bit more relaxed with different hobbies and interests. I think we both bounce off each other well and learn a lot from one another. If anything, him turning professional has motivated me even more. I feel like if my brother can make it then there’s not really any reason why I can’t.
I’d tell myself to enjoy the opportunities I was given more and to stop putting so much pressure on every race. Just smile and have fun.
You had an incredible last season as a junior, becoming a silver medallist at the world cross championships and a national champion on the mountain bike. If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self some advice as he began his under-23 journey, what would it be?
My answer to this would be simple. I’d tell myself to enjoy the opportunities I was given more and to stop putting so much pressure on every race. Just smile and have fun. I can think of way too many examples where I got far too focused and stressed before a race, and it ending up going really badly because of it. I actually stopped enjoying racing my mountain bike because of the pressure I’d put on myself to perform.
What did you make of the closure of the Vitus Pro Cycling team?
It was really sad to see the team come to an end this year, especially when you consider how long they had been a top UK team for. I think it was always going to be hard for Continental level teams to secure funding to continue into 2021 as there wasn’t really any racing for them to do this season, especially compared to the season Pro Conti and WorldTour teams got to do. I must add though, I’m incredibly pleased for Cherie getting her new role within Israel Start-Up Nation, she really deserves it.
And what impact did this have on your own plans for 2021?
I was fortunate enough to be offered a position at Canyon dhb SunGod for next year. I began to get the ball rolling with them quite early on. They’ve always been a team that I’ve liked the look of and have an amazing race calendar too. I think they’re the perfect team to help me achieve my goals next season.
I consider myself really lucky to have secured a team for 2021 as I know there have been – and still are – a lot of quality riders in a less fortunate position than myself.
To what extent do you know the other riders on the team?
I know most of the team quite well actually, especially the other under-23 riders, as I’ve pretty much grown up racing with them and also been teammates with a few of the guys in the past. I’m looking forward to getting to know and working with the others who I don’t know so well though.
What kind of role do you expect to have?
I’d like to think my role would be a mixture of everything really. I think I could be useful somewhere in a leadout in the bunch finish races, but also handy for mountainous stages and races.
I’d really like 2021 to be a standout year
What would a successful 2021 look like for you?
I’d really like 2021 to be a standout year for myself, whether that be results-wise or a performance that could possibly get me noticed by a bigger team. I think a successful year to me would mean moving up to Pro Conti or WorldTour level.