Features Interviews

Tyler Hannay interview: Manxman on a mission

James McKay speaks with 2021 Junior Tour of Wales winner Tyler Hannay

In August this year, Tyler Hannay became the latest young man to add his name to the exclusive list of Junior Tour of Wales winners. The race has been a reliable predictor of future success in recent years. All bar one of the winners since 2021 have earned pro contracts, including rising talents Tom Pidcock, Ben Tulett, Fred Wright and Lewis Askey. That said, no pressure Tyler…

The biggest goal would be to win the Tour. It’s an ambitious goal, but I believe if I work hard and have good luck on my side I don’t see why I can’t.

Hannay’s success is a product of his own work ethic, alongside the cycling culture in the Isle of Man, where Tyler hails from. As we will hear, it has been an excellent location for a talented youngster to thrive in the sport. 

A rider with a “big engine”, he has spent lockdown breaking and re-breaking time trial records on the island. And since the restart of Junior National Road Series racing in the UK this year, Hannay has proven his ability against the clock on a national level. He won the stage 1 time trial at the Junior Tour of the Mendips, and finished an excellent fourth place at the junior national time trial championships in July. After the latter, he announced he had signed for CC Étupes for the 2022 season, a French DN1 team that nurtured riders such as Warren Barguil, Thibaut Pinot, Kenny Ellisonde, and Adam Yates.

The Manxman kindly took time out on the day he turned 18 to speak to us, just a few days after his successful Junior Tour of Wales. Here’s what he had to say…

Abergavenny, Wales. Junior Tour of Wales. 30 August, 2021. Tyler Hannay, Utmost IOM Junior Cycling Team Credit: David Partridge

How did you get into cycling?

I live in Ramsey in the Isle of Man. A couple of hundred metres down the road from me is a local BMX track. I started going down there and I got hooked. I spent all of summer there, and I got introduced to BMX racing. Then someone told me about Dot Tilbury’s Isle of Man league [a youth circuit racing series] up at the NSC [the National Sports Centre, in Douglas]. I went up there and met a lot more riders. I think that competitive element made me want to do it more, and get better and better. Because everyone likes to be the best. 

Once I started going away, racing away, I saw what the level was like in the UK. And I’ve been doing that ever since I was under-14. And now I’ve finished my second year as a junior.

The Isle of Man has produced some very successful riders. How big is cycling there?

It’s massive. Especially with Cav headlining it, it’s really big. It’s the national sport on the Isle of Man, like how football is in England. It’s really well received. 

There’s a big community on the Isle of Man. On a Wednesday club run, you get on average two WorldTour riders. A lot of riders are based on the Isle of Man like Chris Lawless and Ben Swift. There are always people of a high standard to train with. The quality of a local 10 isn’t what you’d normally get.

If you enter a local circuit race, with top riders up there, it gives you an idea of what the best are like. You look at them and think, ‘I would like to get at the level’. It’s just natural for you to want to be as good as them, if not better. You also get to see what they are as people, not just cyclists. Most of the time they are just normal humans. People build them up as robots, but I think people just like to pigeonhole them.

People have described me a bit like Bradley Wiggins. I’ve got a big engine and can use that on the flat

What kind of rider would you describe yourself as?

A GC rider. The two main things that I enjoy are time trailing and climbing. So if you put the two together…

People have described me a bit like Bradley Wiggins. I’ve got a big engine and can use that on the flat. I’m not just a 50-kilo climber.

Blagdon, England. 15 August, 2021. Pictured left to right, Jack Brough, Cero – Cycle Division Racing Team & Tyler Hannay, Utmost IOM Junior Cycling Team after the race at the Fenwick’s Junior Tour of Mendip Road Race. Credit: David Partridge

What is the ideal race for you then?

Something with long climbs that are not too steep. But also a hard day out. The harder it is, the better. Like a long stage in the Tour, or an Ardennes classic-style race. 

Can you tell us about your time trialing pedigree?

We have a local 10 league on the Isle of Man. You only have to be 12 to do that, so I got into that when I was 12. You do one and then the next week you want to do better. Once you understand the aerodynamics side of things you can really get your teeth into it. Progress things with position, pacing, and equipment. 

I’m quite happy with how my time trialing has come on. There are lots of things to work on but I feel like I’m in a good place with it.

How did lockdown go for you? Both on and off the bike.

It went quite well. At the start of 2020, I’d lost a little bit of the love for it; lockdown has been one of the best things to happen. I think I’ve developed massively, and also found that love of the bike again. I found the Zwift racing as well so got my teeth stuck into that. 

With Zoom and Microsoft Teams the school work wasn’t too bad. The teachers really helped to put my mind at ease, and didn’t add any unnecessary stress. 

But obviously it comes with its negatives. There have been times when it’s been really tough. But overall I’d say lockdown has developed me into the rider I am now. I was able to put in some good hard work, and now I’m reaping the rewards from it.

Abergavenny, Wales. Junior Tour of Wales. 28 August, 2021. Tyler Hannay, Utmost IOM Junior Cycling Team Credit: David Partridge

Although it has helped your training, it has hurt your racing opportunities. Do you think your generation will be at a disadvantage to others?

Obviously we weren’t able to get away into Europe. The biggest thing for me is seeing where the level is at for juniors in Europe and the rest of the world. When you look at the GB track juniors you can see the level in the UK must be high. But I feel like the junior national series can go unrecognised. 

I’ve had a lot of race days this year. In the Isle of Man, we were quite lucky because we were able to get back to some sort of normality. We had circuit races, road races and time trials of all lengths. If I was in the UK I would say yes, because you’d have gone from no races to throwing yourself in at the deep end. There were obviously some things I’ve missed out on, but in the long run, I don’t think it will be a massive disadvantage.

The cream will always rise to the top…

Yeah and to be honest if you’ve been doing it since you were 13 or 14… maybe if you were a late bloomer you have missed out. For myself, I’ve always been racing on open roads. At the start of the year, it was difficult, but by now I’m getting back to where I once was with the tactical skills.

You joined a new team for this year, FlandersColor Galloo?

At the start of the year, I planned to head out to Belgium to do a lot of UCI junior racing across Europe. But I wasn’t able to with Brexit and Covid travel restrictions. That made it quite difficult. It was best for both of us to mutually part ways. I joined the Isle of Man team again once I knew I would be racing in the UK. If it was a normal year I think there would have been some great opportunities, but everyone says “if it was a normal year…

Abergavenny, Wales. Junior Tour of Wales. 30 August, 2021. Tyler Hannay, Utmost IOM Junior Cycling Team Credit: David Partridge

You’ve had a successful season here…

I’ve been very happy with this year. I can look back and know I have done the best I can. Because racing has been so slow to come back, I’ve been trying to grasp it by the scruff of the neck. 

Can you tell us about the Junior Tour de Yorkshire, where you finished 3rd overall?

It was the first Junior National Road Series race, so you never really knew how it was going to go. On the first day, I got a podium, my best ever result nationally at that point. I took the King of the Mountains as well, and finished third overall. So I walked away very happy with that weekend.

You jumped in the men’s elite Otley Grand Prix as well…

I’ve watched those races for a few years now, and wanted to see what they were like. So I threw myself in at the deep end. I would say it was an eye-opener tactics-wise, racing with the men, and all the teams. I was happy to know, especially on junior gears, I was able to mix it fitness-wise. 

Pembrey, Wales. 29 August, 2021. Tyler Hannay, Utmost IOM Junior Cycling Team Credit: David Partridge

You’ve just finished the Junior Tour of Wales. How did that go for you?

It was a very good weekend as it turned out. It’s the biggest event of the year for juniors. If you look at past winners, it’s quite an illustrious group. The week before I knew I was going well, taking my first ever Junior National win at the Tour of the Mendips in the time trial. I was also in the breakaway all day for 100k, 50 of which were on my own. 

I knew the form was there. It started off with a time trial which was hard to pace. I felt like I got to the top of the Tumble and felt like I got everything else. I came across the line in 4th place, so I knew I was setting myself up for a good weekend. I was second in the KOM too.

Stage two was a circuit race. I wanted to bag some KOM points, whilst also staying safe and avoiding splits. So I got stuck in and got through safe and sound.

Stage four is the queen stage, finishing up the Tumble. It’s the iconic one. I followed an attack by Lucas Towers about 30 kilometres in, just in the mindset of “if he gets across to the breakaway, he might take the KOM jersey”. I wasn’t thinking about the overall really. So I followed the move. 

Two other lads also came across, who were also strong and who I knew would work well. We were all rolling even turns, everyone was working well. Approaching the bottom of the Tumble our time gap had gone up to three minutes. So my mind turned towards the GC. 

Lucas Towers attacked, there was a big surge and I got on his back wheel

I’m a rider who likes to set my own pace. I set a pace which was hard, but not full gas, so that I could respond to attacks. Lucas Towers attacked, there was a big surge and I got on his back wheel. There was only two of us left. I knew I had 30 seconds on him [in the GC], whereas some of the other lads who’d been dropped, we were on the same time overall. So that made me a lot more relaxed. He was looking like he was going to jump all the time. His aim was to take the stage. So I said “do you want the stage? I’ll take the GC.” A deal; if you work with me, I’ll work with you. 

Abergavenny, Wales. 30 August, 2021. Lucas Towers, Cero – Cycle Division Racing Team Tyler Hannay, Utmost IOM Junior Cycling Team Credit: David Partridge

We rode together. I knew he was honest and I trust him. But you can’t always trust someone 100%… Once I crossed the line I didn’t really know what to believe. But once I saw the time gap to the yellow jersey, it was a sense of relief and I was over the moon.

Do you have any goals for the rest of this year?

There’s a 10 at Levens which I’m going to see if I can set a fast time on that course. I’m also heading off to France to do the Chrono des Nations. That’s all I know, but something else might come out of the blue. 

But you must have some pressure off your shoulders knowing you have a ride for next year? 

I got that done quite early. It took the pressure off my shoulders and I was able to go into the Nationals and just race. 

Why did you decide to go to France? 

If you look at all the past Brits that have been there, there’s a long line. So I wouldn’t be the first Brit to go there. Out of all of the riders who have made a career in the sport and are racing at the highest level, quite a few have been through that system. It’s clearly a team that develops riders well. 

Blagdon, England. 15 August, 2021. Tyler Hannay, Utmost IOM Junior Cycling Team at the Fenwick’s Junior Tour of Mendip Road Race. Credit: David Partridge

Looking at their race calendar, the French scene, I think it will develop me as a rider. Where they are based, as well. It’s quite a mountainous region with long climbs. That will also help me as the rider I am, and help hone in my skills.

What are your goals, longer-term?

The biggest goal would be to win the Tour. It’s an ambitious goal, but I believe if I work hard and have good luck on my side I don’t see why I can’t.

Featured photo: David Partridge