Charlie Tanfield adds Commonwealth gold to world championship glory

Martha Kelner on the Gold Coast
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">England’s Charlie Tanfield salutes the crowd after winning the 4,000m individual pursuit title in Brisbane. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Matt King/Getty Images</span>
England’s Charlie Tanfield salutes the crowd after winning the 4,000m individual pursuit title in Brisbane. Photograph: Matt King/Getty Images

British cycling has been short on heartwarming tales of late so how timely that Charlie Tanfield, a student who lives in a shared house and glues his own tyres, should emerge from the amateur ranks to produce one of the great breakthrough seasons.

The 21-year-old won Commonwealth gold in the 4,000m individual pursuit in Brisbane on Friday to add to his world championships victory last month. It has been a remarkable rise to prominence for a cyclist who turned up at a national championships two years ago having not competed on a track since the age of 15.

Even more impressive is that he has forged his own success outside a British Cycling system awash with money as part of the self-funded KGF team. They are bankrolled not by lottery money or a major conglomerate but student loans and full-time jobs.

Tanfield, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Derby, moved into a house in the city with his team-mates Jacob Tipper, Dan Bigham and Jonathan Wale to be close to the velodrome and devote as much time as possible to their mission to break into the national squad. Tanfield and Bigham did just that and sooner than expected, earning the right to compete for Great Britain at the world championships in Apeldoorn, in the Netherlands. On his first appearance in a British vest, Tanfield became world champion in the team pursuit.

“The results just keep on coming and it’s so good to keep on proving myself on the world stage,” Tanfield said. “It’s unbelievable. Two years ago when I went to the nationals it was my first time round a track since I was 15 and my ultimate goal was to get to a Commonwealth Games. I think I’ve achieved a bit more than that now.”

In qualifying in Queensland, Tanfield had come within less than a second of breaking the world record, progressing to the final in 4min 11.46sec, a Commonwealth best mark. “During the race I was thinking: ‘This is on,’” he said. “I could hear the commentator saying I was on world record splits. I didn’t even look at the lap board until two laps to go because I was concentrating on my ride. I just missed out. With 500 to go I hit a wall but I’m not too bothered.”

Tanfield faced Scotland’s John Archibald, a new team-mate at KGF who had considered cycling as merely a hobby until last summer, in the final. Archibald was aiming to make it two golds in less than an hour for his family after his sister, the Olympic champion Katie Archibald, had won the women’s 3,000m pursuit.

But Tanfield got off to a blistering start and, despite deteriorating rapidly over the last kilometre, managed to hold on for victory in 4:15.952, beating Archibald by 0.704sec.

“It was absolutely epic,” said Tanfield. “I knew I was in a good place after qualifying but towards the end of that race I thought I almost messed it up but I managed to hold on until the finish so I’m absolutely ecstatic with the result.”

Draped in the St George’s Cross flag, Tanfield leaned over the barrier inside the velodrome to embrace his mother who had travelled over from England. While he might be out in the bars of Australia’s Gold Coast celebrating, his mum said she was jetlagged so would be toasting his victory with a cup of tea at 4am.

Katie Archibald said there would be celebrations in her clan too. “The Archibalds aren’t known for parties but this is going to be the biggest Friday night we’ve had in a while,” she said.

Archibald, a former swimmer from Milngavie, a town six miles outside Glasgow, is one of the quirkiest characters in British cycling but her eccentricities do not obscure a ferocious competitive spirit.

She found herself trailing Australia’s Rebecca Wiasak after the home favourite made a fast start that she was unable to maintain. Archibald narrowed the gap from 1,250m onwards before taking advantage of her tiring opponent in the final two laps, posting a time of 3:26.088.

Speaking after the race, Archibald joked she “never really expected” her brother to feature in a Commonwealth final.

“Maybe it’s because I’m his sister, you get used to seeing this normal person,” she said.

Archibald had earlier set a Commonwealth Games record of 3:24.119 in qualifying, which was previously held by England’s Joanna Rowsell Shand.

“It means a lot,” said Archibald, who won bronze in the event at her home Games in Glasgow four years ago. “Especially in the individual pursuit because it’s not an Olympic event. I didn’t schedule for a Commonwealth record at all.

“You look at my splits, they were all over the place. I come out too fast but then you can’t put the brakes on, you can’t say: ‘This is too much.’ You’ve got to control the decline. I still died a death in the final but it was better paced.”

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