One of the most popular riders in the professional peloton, Harry Tanfield. As renowned for his breakaway bravado as he is for his affable nature, Tanfield has had a career that’s been as varied as the British weather – from the heights of the WorldTour to the gritty reality of life on the British Continental circuit.
The British Continental spoke to the 28-year-old North Yorkshire native as he gears up for a fresh start with the Cornish outfit of Saint Piran – the ninth UCI team of his career so far. He is candid about the peaks and troughs of his journey, the allure of European racing, and the familial bonds that make his new team more than just a collection of cyclists.
Tanfield spent 2023 riding for the Dutch team TDT-Unibet, owned by YouTuber and former rider Bas Tietema. He reflects on his tenure with a sense of balanced satisfaction.
“It was good in the way that we had a lot of team success, but I think personally I was lacking in some months when I should’ve been better,” he remarks.
It’s one of those things where you pray and you hope you’re gonna be good and sometimes you’re a bit over-raced or over-trained
“I tried. It’s one of those things where you pray and you hope you’re gonna be good and sometimes you’re a bit over-raced or over-trained. Just didn’t go right in some moments. Others were good. So, I guess you get the good with the bad times.
“As a team, I was just in the team role riding for others and I did that really well. We had pretty much every race on the podium and the results for a team as a whole. So, I was happy with that and the team was happy with that too.
“I think my preparation at the start of the year wasn’t that great and it took me a while to get going. Maybe if I changed a few things I did in the winter it would have a different bearing at the start in the first month or so.”
The language barrier posed a minimal challenge for Tanfield, who had been learning the language anyway so roughly understood it. As time went on it improved further, even featuring in a team reel on social media speaking fluently in Dutch.
“It was difficult at the start. I didn’t really speak much of the language at all, but I’ve been learning for more than a year and I’ve picked up more through the season and by halfway through [the season] I could follow a lot of what’s happening,” Tanfield explains.
“I could follow quite well before but I always missed bits. Whereas now, I really take on everything and they don’t have to repeat things in English much. I could always ask if I needed to but it was really helpful in the team meetings that I could understand what everyone was saying.
Hopefully next year, we’ve got a good international programme and we’ll be doing a lot of the races I did this year
The team’s race calendar for him worked well too.”It was nice to be racing a different programme over there [mainland Europe] and I really enjoyed it,” he says. “It was a great experience. Hopefully next year, we’ve got a good international programme and we’ll be doing a lot of the races I did this year. I think a lot of UK Conti teams try to strive to do that as well. The .1 races and decent races in Belgium and the Netherlands.”
The allure of a European racing calendar was a significant factor in Tanfield’s move to Saint Piran, the Cornish-based team owned by Ricci Pascoe. Yet Tanfield says it was the ‘family feel’ of the team that was also a draw, bolstered further by the presence of Tanfield’s brother, Charlie, who already rides for the team.
“I was looking up other European teams at the time and I just believe that with Ricci and the whole mission about the team, they’re striving for improvement and they’ve been improving every year,” says Tanfield.
“They want to do things differently which is always nice. It’s not just the regular run-of-the-mill team. Which I guess is similar to TDT-Unibet with them being basically a YouTube team which is very different to your normal Conti team.
“Ricci is trying to change it up a bit and it’s nice that he really values the riders opinions a lot. Especially with Alex [Richardson] and myself, of course with Alex already there, our role as the road captains and also working closely with the management.
“I think we’re like the riders’ point of contact. Our experience of racing means we can talk to management and it’s quite open in that way which is really nice. I’m really looking forward to joining such a close knit family. That’s really nice to have in a team.”
TDT-Unibet, who recently announced the signing of Saint Piran star, National Road Series winner Zeb Kyffin, will become a ProTeam next season, moving up to cycling’s ‘second division’, a level that Tanfield has never been in, perennially either r a Continental or WorldTour rider. Does he see himself progressing back up the ladder again?
“Obviously, I wanted to stay in the team [TDT-Unibet] and go ProConti with them but that didn’t happen. That was my chance for ProConti racing next year, I think,” he shares.
I would like to move back up if the option came around but I just want to race my bike and get good results
“I enjoyed the role that I did this season but that was it. It was just a role in a team. That is what I would’ve been doing in the team next year if I stayed.
“Riding at the Conti level is good and means I can get some results. But yeah, I would like to move back up if the option came around but for me, I just want to race my bike and get good results.
“If Saint Piran steps up then that’s great! But for me it’s just finding a stable home and getting some good racing in. Getting some good results for myself but also helping and giving my experience to the younger guys as well.”
For British riders, the decision to establish a base has become increasingly complex. The post-Brexit regulation, which permits a maximum of 90 days within EU nations per annum, has significantly constrained their options. This new reality requires a delicate equilibrium of travel and training, a routine with which Tanfield has become well-acquainted.
Tanfield shares his strategy: “I will be between the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK I think. Next year I plan on staying in Belgium quite a lot during the season. When we’re racing in Europe it’s much easier but yeah, I’ll still be racing in the UK. I’ll be renting a place with Majo (girlfriend and pro rider, Marjolein van’t Geloof) through the season.”
The challenges extend beyond logistics, as the domestic road racing scene is currently facing a precarious situation with teams disbanding and races under threat. This instability makes planning a challenging task for teams like Saint Piran.
The whole model around cycling needs to change
“The whole model around cycling needs to change. It is difficult to just chip in and say this, this and this but yeah, it’s just hard with the red tape,” Tanfield reflects.
“It isn’t just the cycling scene. All the risk assessments just to get an event on the road. With every council it’s different. They want 50 grand for a weekend to close a road. The police want so much money. It’s just impossible to make an event viable in any way like that.
“Whereas, in Belgium, they just make a circuit of 8km to 15km and you just have some old guys who volunteer and stand out and help with the rolling road closures and it costs nothing. It’s just the policies that are in place in this country that you can’t change. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is.
“So races like the Tour of Britain happen because they’re a mass scale, they have money and it costs an absolute fortune. But, something like Nat B racing. There’s less and less races going ahead because they can’t get room anymore. Everywhere is busy. Traffic is busier. It’s just a shame.You can’t change that. But race costs are just ridiculous.”
The viability of even prestigious races like the Tour of Britain is under scrutiny as British Cycling has recently terminated its agreement with the event organisers, SweetSpot, over alleged outstanding rights fee payments.
Tanfield advocates for a transformation in the British racing scene citing races such as the Otley Grand Prix and the Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix as exemplars. These races transcend the sport, creating family-friendly spectacles that attract both cycling aficionados and the general public with their vibrant community-minded festival atmospheres.
Otley and Lincoln are engaging and are events the family can go to
“Otley and Lincoln are engaging and are events the family can go to,” argues Tanfield. “Non-cycling fans go to them to see what’s happening and there’s stalls, markets and other stuff happening. I think that’s the kind of thing it needs to do, really, to survive.”
Conversely, Tanfield says that events like the Ryedale Grasscrete Grand Prix struggle to garner attention, with sparse crowds and limited festivities.
“Like, Ryedale GP, there’s no-one there. It’s just some people riding around, it’s not an ‘event’, posits Tanfield. “The guy who runs it, it’s never going to be a profitable event. The guy just does it for the love of the sport, but when he stops doing it, that’s it . Race is done. Because it isn’t in any way financially viable. It has next to no coverage.”
Tanfield stresses the importance of community engagement and suggests that races should offer more than just the competition – they should be a celebration of the locale.
“So yeah, if you look at Otley or Lincoln they have more appeal because of the crowds that go,” Tanfield says. “People want to go and have fun. If that could be a model for racing that could work. But then you can’t have too many of them. Like, Lincoln closes down the whole city centre.
“Nationals can be good. This year the crowds were out. Considering the area it was in, my local area around East Cleveland, it was quite well supported. I remember one down in, I think, Sandringham. That was a good event.
“It just needs to be more than a cycling race. It needs to engage the community. Same with a weekend race. No reason why it can’t be like a Belgian race. Even small races. They engage with the locals and there’s a bit of a fair on and it is timed around something.
It is just a shift in mentality that needs to come with it. But whether people will do that, I don’t know. It isn’t ingrained in the UK culture, cycling, is it?
“It is just a shift in mentality that needs to come with it. But whether people will do that, I don’t know. It isn’t ingrained in the UK culture, cycling, is it? Like in Belgium and those sorts of places. So it is very hard to replicate it, I think.”
In a bid to contribute to the ethos he advocates, Tanfield has been running a sportive around his local roads of the North Yorkshire Moors with his brother, Charlie, and a team of volunteers to raise money for Yorkshire Air Ambulance and Yorkshire Cancer Research.
The day before he went out to Asia, it was the day of the event’s second year with participants getting a chance to ride alongside the Tanfield brothers and win prizes in the raffle or buy amazing cycling memorabilia donated by star friends such as Ethan Vernon, Alice Barnes, Ollie Wood, Mark Stewart, Katie Archibald, Meg Barker and Fin Graham.
“We got really lucky with the weather again. It was cold in the morning but it was really nice. Sunny the whole time. We also had a sideline auction with my brother managing to get a couple of jerseys from some guys in Manchester,” Tanfield shares.
“We raised more than twice of what we did last year for the charities. Really good event. We were super happy with how it went. Numbers were a little bit down from what we had last year, but we were a bit later setting it all up and I think the state of people’s finances at the moment makes it harder and harder for people to come and support events like that.”
Following a demanding season, Tanfield is currently enjoying a well-deserved holiday in Thailand with his girlfriend, Majo (who joins the Hess Cycling Team next season after a year on the Women’s WorldTour with Human Powered Health). The couple is embracing the tropical climate of Chiang Mai, Phuket and Koh Samui, balancing leisure with the commencement of training for the 2024 season.
“We suffered from the heat and humidity. It is always between 35°C and 38°C but with 80/90/100% humidity. So you’re just dripping with sweat the whole time.
“Now we’re in Chiang Mai and we did the first ride today. It was still knocking on 38°C again but with less humidity, so that feels nicer. We’ll adapt to it. We’re here now for two weeks so get a good block here and then we go home.
“Heat adaptation is good training. It was a shame that where we started in Phuket, we were unfit, but it is also just hard to cycle. Before you’ve even pedaled you’re at 120/130 heart rate just being there. Your body is just dying to dive into a shop and get air-conditioning. Still, we did 18 and a half hours last week. Getting back into it.”
The sun might be setting on yet another chapter of Tanfield’s career, but his zeal for racing appears undiminished. Still only 28, the Great Ayton cyclist’s resolve seems as steadfast as ever. If he can earn himself some results in 2024, it is well within the realms of possibility that another trip to the professional ranks could be in order before his career ends.
Featured image: Zac Williams/SWpix.com