“They’d like to do an interview with you,” the Ineos Grenadiers’ press officers informs Joshua Tarling as he rolls up to the bus in Compiègne.
“No,” he grins, before obliging, towering over us at the age of 19 years and 53 days, the youngest Paris-Roubaix Hommes rider since 1937.
That rider, 86 years ago, was the Frenchman Paul Botquint, who placed 22nd on the day. He died just 14 months later, at the age of 20.
“I think it’s difficult to know what’s going to happen but it’s super exciting,” Tarling said, unsure of what his first Monument appearance would bring. “It’s going to be bumpy but it will be class, last man standing so just make sure it’s one of us.”
Tarling is in that period where everything is fresh, the life of a pro cyclist a series of first days. First day at training camp, first race, first Monument. He says with experienced road captain Luke Rowe and a talented squad with outside threat Filippo Ganna, any “scariness” surrounding the prospect of Roubaix is taken away, and the youngest rider since 1937 thing? “Yeah, it’s a cool statistic.”
There is only so much you can ask a rider about a race they’ve never done before, especially one like Roubaix. Instead, Tarling tells us about how his life has changed in the first few months of his professional career.
“Yeah I’m busy, I’m busy. It’s changed but it’s so much cooler. I live in Andorra, I get to hurt myself for many kilometres now, which maybe doesn’t sound so good, but it’s good isn’t it? Everything’s changed but everything’s better.”
The last time we spoke, you mentioned you’d been out on a training ride and passed Julian Alaphilippe, who nodded at you, which took you a bit by surprise. Have you had any other, sort of, “pinch me” moments since?
“I get to room with some of them,” Tarling says of the riders he was accustomed to watching on television before he stepped through the screen and became part of their world. “Ah, spooning with Ganna, that’s always a good one. Everything really, there’s not really any moments, everything we do with the team is crazy.”
We’ve heard Ganna likes techno, plays it on the bus before races. Does the techno ever get in the way of sleep when rooming with him?
“We have sessions of techno,” Tarling admits. “When he’s in the shower, speaker’s on, I’m usually waiting for the shower but he’s in there for nine years with his techno on.”
Tarling then rides off to prepare for the race. The next time we see him, Mathieu van der Poel has already stepped on the podium to collect his Big Rock, to borrow a phrase from yesterday’s victor Alison Jackson. The Ineos rider is outside the time limit, having battled on after a crash and multiple punctures, riding on his own for 120 km to make it to the velodrome.
“How was the race?” comes the first question after mics are shoved in his face in the post-race huddle, likely the first and biggest of his career so far.
“Long,” came the simple response. “We led the first two sectors and I crashed with Luke [Rowe], got back to the first group with Asgreen and then [had] two punctures. I was on my own for 120km. So just a long day you know? It was last man standing wasn’t it? It’s always hard isn’t it?”
You felt the need, like many riders do, to persevere and make it to the velodrome?
“Yeah, my girlfriend would shout at me if I didn’t make it here,” he joked. “And it’s Roubaix, isn’t it? You have to finish Roubaix.”
But you still managed to enjoy it?
“Yeah,” Tarling considers, his exhausted face caked in dirt. “100%.”