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The Tulett team – multi-champions Dan & Ben and their family

29 October 2013

Brothers Dan and Ben Tulett may only be 14 and 12 years old but they have already won many major events and championships. Impressively, they are successful in multiple disciplines: road, MTB, cyclocross and track too.

Any parent of a racing child knows that a lot of commitment is needed from the family as well as from the rider themselves. We talked with dad Allister and the brothers about how the whole Tulett family supports their racing, and how they balance the demands of training & racing at a high level with schoolwork.

After reading this interview, check out our short article on their cyclocross bikes too.

On discovering cycling…

Allister: I was racing in cyclocross and on the road just at a local level, really. I used to race for Team Arctic, you know, quite a good team, and I did some Premier Calendars {Ed: the UK’s national series of elite road racing} but my passion was always racing off-road. I started off in mountain biking, then went on to road and then into cyclocross. I always thought that, in order for me to keep racing, if I got the kids involved as well, then they’d be able to do the kids’ race and then I’d be able to carry on racing myself. It became rapidly apparent that they were a bit better than I was!

They started riding from quite a young age and took to it quickly. I think Dan was probably about four and a half years old. I think Ben was probably about two – he had a kick-along bike. It worked well for us as a family.

We have a young daughter too. She’s happy to come and watch every now and again, but she’s not interested in racing herself, and that’s not a problem – she can make her own mind up if she wants to do some racing, and it’s always there for her. She’s quite supportive of the boys as well.

Dan: I think Eastway was the first place we ever raced. It’s quite local. {Ed: the Tuletts live near Sevenoaks in Kent}

It just gradually developed, but I remember one race, it was the first time we ever raced at the new Hog Hill circuit. I really enjoyed it and I thought that was, like, the place. I think I finished in the top ten, but I just really enjoyed it. I’ve always just always done cycling, really, not other sports. They never really seemed as interesting.

Allister: The boys played a bit of football in a village team but cycling was what they did. They always rode bikes anyway, just because it’s what we did as a family.

Dan: We were just mountain biking and doing cyclo-cross and then gradually came into road racing as we got older, around Under 8 and Under 10. We joined Herne Hill Youth CC. It wasn’t very local but it’s one of the best youth cycling clubs.

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© Huw Williams Photography

On cycling clubs…

Allister: Herne Hill Youth CC definitely was the key to their basic knowledge of mountain biking and off-road skills, without a doubt. At the Saturday morning sessions that my wife, Catherine, used to take them to they did warm-ups, stretching exercises – you know, they learned discipline. It was a really good session and a good foundation.

I think it’s worth mentioning that being part of a really good club makes life a lot easier, because there are always people doing things and sharing the load – it’s a good infrastructure if you’re going to start racing or travelling to places. I couldn’t always take the boys but there would be somebody in the club that you could meet and help get them to an event.

I think they get to an age when being part of a strong local club with lots of kids the same age still works, definitely. But if you live like us in a small village, where there aren’t many cyclists of their age, then we end up taking them places to train, or driving places. So they end up training quite a bit on their own and doing indoor work. So, I think a club’s location is important and how good that club is as well. Herne Hill Youth caters for kids up to about twelve, and then after that I think they need to start looking for something a little more challenging.

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On being self-sufficient…

Allister: Dan and Ben are quite independent. They sort themselves out with what they need to do. They’ve been doing it longer than I have now. They must sort their own race bags out. They must be in control of their own racing licences – if they forget it once, they don’t race, and then they don’t forget it again!

Dan: I’ve forgotten my helmet before – I’ve never forgotten it since.

Allister: You’ve had to do cyclocross training in running shoes before, haven’t you?

Dan: Yes.

Allister: I think you’ve forgotten your licence before, haven’t you Ben, for races?

Ben: Once or twice, I think.

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© Huw Williams Photography

On talent development and ambitions…

Allister: You know, I think you’ve got to trust the governing body. You’ve got to trust British Cycling and the structure that they have in place for spotting young talent. Just because you haven’t been approached by a regional or national development officer doesn’t mean that they aren’t aware of who you are or what you’re doing. I think everything comes in time and, obviously, if you’re competing at a national level then you’re going to be seen a lot more.

They say that the door is never shut. If you’re performing then there’ll always be room for you, and I think that gives everyone hope, doesn’t it? You’ve got to go on and just try and do your best, and it’s up to the kids how far they want to push it, really.

Ben: I want to become a pro when I’m older. I realised that when I was quite young.

Dan: I noticed when I started racing with the older categories at support races for Under 10s or Under 12s at national events that I was finishing up there in the category above. I realised “I’m alright at this”.

Allister: There aren’t often national-level races for kids under twelve. So, I think it’s important to sometimes expose them to things like the National Trophy in cyclocross where they may hold a support race. Or, the national mountain bike series where they hold a support race. The coaches there are getting kids ready for the kind of challenges that they’re going to face in Under 14 racing, which is when it gets more serious. Up until Under 14, everything is for experience really. Dan and Ben did the national circuit race series from quite an early age, and I think it was good experience. But, you know, we could have focused maybe a little bit more on doing other things – not travelling somewhere on a Saturday and then racing on a Sunday. We could’ve been mountain biking on Saturday, and then had a nice long road ride on the Sunday. You know, it’s expensive too.

In the younger age groups, as a parent you think it’s more important but you realise when your kids get older , that actually no-one can remember who won the series. Yes, just pick individual races and have those as goals.

Dan: Yes. I mean, as you get older, you start to do less local races. You do the bigger races and set harder goals. You just build up to them.

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On favourite cycling disciplines…

Dan: I still have time just for enjoying a bike ride, definitely. When I go out just for fun I probably choose to go out for a mountain bike ride, just because that’s what I enjoy more. But if I have to go for a road ride, then I will, and I do enjoy it a lot.

I’m open to all the disciplines, really. I enjoy track, road, mountain biking, cyclocross. If I had to pick one, it would probably be mountain biking. I just enjoy being off-road. I enjoy the different courses, the different challenges each time. There’s probably more skill needed.

Allister: I think mountain biking is definitely harder. If you choose to become a mountain biker you should be aware that you’re choosing a much harder path. I think it’s a bigger commitment as a parent too, because the national races tend to be spread further around the whole country. It’s also expensive. You can’t really get away with a bog standard mountain bike. That being said, when you’re there, the mountain bike atmosphere is great.

Dan: Yes, it’s far better than any road national, because you get the Elites there too. It’s the full package.

Allister: Everyone’s together, yes, exactly. Take the national mountain bike championships at Cathkin Braes this year – everyone was there. BC is there, and all the national level riders. They’re role models and they’re accessible as well – there’s not a big black bus that rolls in! You all get to ride the same course too.

Ben: At the moment, I think mountain biking is more fun to do, but road is still really good. I enjoy it all.

Allister: I think if you choose to go down the mountain biking route it leaves all the doors open because you’ve got the fitness and the skill too – the whole package. You don’t find many road riders who decide “I’m going to go and be a mountain biker”.

Dan: Peter Sagan and Cadel Evans are riders who’ve gone the other way – from MTB to road.

Allister: Mountain biking is good fun. It’s got a big family feel and you’ll always have those skills if you’ve done mountain biking.

1-Dan Tulett

© Huw Williams Photography

On training and skills…

Dan: We usually just try to fit skills into other longer sessions, all in one – to do a long ride with technical aspects to it. I still have to practice skill training. Now that the courses are getting ever more technical, I have to really work on it more.

Allister: With the kind of courses used now you’ve got to be able to do everything. British Cycling are looking for the ultimate really, aren’t they? You know, fearless, very, very good technical skills. That’s shown by the riders that are riding the World Cups at the moment. There’s a fantastic photo of Beth Crumpton and Alice Barnes three feet off the ground, jumping an eight foot gap. That’s something to aspire to, isn’t it?

When Dan and Ben were younger and they were frustrated with wanting to do better, then Catherine and I helped them understand that they didn’t have to go out and just ride their bikes, that they could do some specific training, some intervals maybe.

Now, I don’t badger them. I have very little involvement in that, because ultimately, they’ve got to want to ride their bikes.

As a parent, if you’re pressing your kid to do something now, then the chances are it’s not going to be happening for much longer. They’ve got to want to do it, and if they’re asking for advice and they’re asking for help then, fantastic, show them.

We’re working on things together that aren’t necessarily training such as bike maintenance, because you’ve got to be able to do it all if you’re going to be a good cyclist. It’s no good being in the middle of the woods and just having a pile of bits – you’ve got to know what they do. Dan and Ben have always been good at getting on with it and just asking if they should do something.

They aren’t particularly working with coaches at the moment, but we’re waiting to hear about the Olympic talent programme, which is the first level of BC’s structured programmes for athletes, and Dan’s waiting to hear about that for mountain biking. So, if he’s successful and he gets on that then obviously he’ll then have a coach. It would be down to him to get the most out of that.

Dan: My week usually includes two or three days’ intensive training. I usually do them in the middle of the week. I have a hard block of training and then I rest Mondays or Fridays, depending on what I have on at the weekend. So, this is my typical week: I won’t ride Monday if I had a race on Sunday, and then Tuesday I’ll probably do a bit of turbo training, either sprints or progressive efforts. We have cyclocross training which are hard sessions lasting for a couple of hours. On Thursdays, if I feel up for it, I do some more turbo, not as hard as Tuesday, and then Friday I’ll rest. I’ll obviously race or train on Sunday.

Ben: I do a structure much the same as Dan’s. I rest before and after the weekend and get the hard stuff done in the middle.

Allister: I think there’s a little less rest coming your way now, Dan, isn’t there? Saturdays always used to be a nice easy day, because you might have a big race on a Sunday. I think when they get older they start to work out that actually you can’t lose that Saturday. You still need to train on that Saturday and race on the Sunday, because, like this weekend {Ed: the weekend of the Rapha Supercross at Alexandra Palace in London} we went out yesterday and we were out for about three hours on the mountain bikes. It wasn’t very nice weather, but still good fun, and that’s what it’s about really, having fun. Being here today is fun, with friends, it’s not a very serious race but it’s good fun and everyone is here. It’s a good time for the team to get together as well, and to see lots of other faces that we’ve all known for a few years now.

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On managing travel…

Dan: You get used to it. It’s really important to remember to eat and drink while you’re travelling, and to try and get as much rest as you can.

Allister: You should never underestimate the importance of a Premier Inn as well! You just need good, reliable accommodation. It’s about getting them to a race as fresh as possible. You can have some pretty big weekends though – we had an 800 miler once, didn’t we? We’ve been to Scarborough for the day for a national race but, then again, if you’re in a club the chances are that you can all share the fuel or the driving. It becomes easier.

1-Ben Tullett

© Huw Williams Photography

On balancing cycling with education…

Allister: The boys both go to the same school now, the Hayesbrook School, which is incredibly supportive. It’s a sports academy and that’s worked well for both of them but ultimately we don’t have to juggle it – Dan and Ben have to juggle it for themselves, and if it comes down to schoolwork or cycling then it’s going to be schoolwork. It’s got to be schoolwork, always must be schoolwork because, you know, it’s going to be hard for these boys to become professionals. We’ve all got to have a dream but you can have a lot more dreams if you’ve got a good education… They’re both pretty good at knowing what they’ve got to do and getting it done.

If they come in and there’s homework to be done, then homework gets done. Then if there’s time for training, you train.

Dan: I always get the homework done the night I get it. I do that as soon as I get in and then I train. Usually I have some free time as well if I’m lucky.

Allister: I think Ben finds it hard. You find homework hard, don’t you?

Ben: Yes. I always do it though.

Allister: You’ll always do it, yes. It always gets done. It’s got to be school first. We’re talking about children, aren’t we? They’re good at what they do but they’re still kids.

Dan: I don’t really have much of a social life. I don’t get to see friends that much. The only time I see them is at school, really. I have some good friendships with people, and because I go to a sports college, I have other friends that take sport seriously too. Like, one of my friends does swimming, and he’s out for training twice a day every day.

Allister: It does affect social life but it depends what’s important to you, I should imagine, as a kid. Whether going to Tonbridge on a Friday night is as important as wanting to do better on a Saturday in a race is a decision that they have to make.

Dan: We’ve had the same group of friends that we met through Herne Hill Youth CC, and we’ve just stayed together for about five or six years.

Allister: Yes, we’re friends with the Barnes, both Graham and his brother Simon, and the Franklins. There are quite a few families in cycling which is good. When you’re in it, you’re in it – it can become all-consuming though and, obviously, the more disciplines you do, the bigger the demand on time. Ultimately, it’s all still pedalling in circles though.

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On equipment…

Dan: I think it doesn’t really matter much how light a bike is – it’s whether it works for you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of it if it works.

Allister: You can do everything to make sure that everything is reliable and perfect, but we’ve had bad days. Dan snapped a chain at the national championships. You can do everything possible, but you can only ever do your best. It’s about how you deal with problems when they happen and if it matters to you, you carry on.

Dan: If someone has a better bike, or better gear than you, it doesn’t really matter, because at the end of the day, you’re all just turning circles. It’s your legs that make the difference, and your mental power – if you want it badly then you don’t let anything get in the way.

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On advice and lessons learned…

Dan: I would say to prepare for a race the day before it. It makes it a lot easier. A lot less stress for you when you wake up.

Allister: I’ve got a bit of advice for parents. Don’t ever, ever look at the national rankings, because they mean nothing. You can easily get caught up in where your child is within the rankings, and ultimately it means nothing. Just set your own goals, and then work towards those, because nothing else matters. You could have a kid with 900 ranking points, you know, on the road. All it means is that they’re probably just doing a lot of races locally.

Ben: You need to learn the key things too, like putting on your number yourself. Learning what needs to be done and then doing it yourself is important.

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Dan and Ben also showed us their cyclocross bikes just before they were about to race on them. They pointed out a few key features and told us why they have their bikes set up as they do. Check out the short article and gallery.

Gallery

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The Tulett team – multi-champions Dan & Ben and their family

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