Christopher Jennings is best remembered by Scottish readers as the winner of the 2012 Davie Bell Memorial race. We interviewed him just after his win, back in the summer and used his biog, from the Rapha-Condor website to do the introductions;
“The son of English parents, 20 year-old Christopher Jennings actually hails from South Africa and comes to the Rapha Condor Sharp team via a year spent racing in Spain for the Burgos 2016 team.
“Jennings is a former National Junior Road Race Champion of South Africa, and represented his country in the under 23 World Road Race Championships in Copenhagen last year.
“A slight rider and strong climber Jennings can also perform on the pave, and will be a useful addition to the team’s stage race potential in 2012.
“Christopher Jennings likes: Belgium, cobbles, British Fashion, apples, Newcastle Brown Ale, the Geordie accent, winning bicycle races, Switzerland, blonde Russian girls, South African weather, travelling the world, the Tour de France, smashing intervals, Ethiopian coffee, driving lorries, merino wool hugging my body, tea, achieving goals, Sabie, Inbetweeners, English football, muesli.
“He dislikes: Body hair, bonking, getting robbed at knife-point, punctures, studying, Julius Malema, queuing, baggage weight-limits on airlines, squatting toilets.”
But the young South African has decided that rather than spend – some might say, ‘waste’ – another year in the UK, he’s headed for France and VC La Pomme, Marseille.
Of current professionals, Nicolas Roche, Dan Martin, Daryl Impey, Rémy Di Grégorio, Philip Deignan and Fumiyuki Beppu have all served their time with the Continental team.
With the last figures we saw giving them a budget of roughly 700,000 Euro for season 2011, and a programme which takes it all over Europe and into the Asian calendar, Jennings’ move is a sound one.
Remind us how you came to be with a Spanish team for 2011, Christopher.
“I have a Spanish agent who organised everything for me.
“As a junior I did well in one of the biggest Spanish tours, Vuelta al Basaya, so the team where happy to take me on.”
And you’re still with the Velofutur rider agency – why a Spanish agency?
“Again, it happened after I was junior.
“They approached our team manager at the time and offered two of us a place in the agency.
“I have been with Velofutur for three years now and they are absolutely great when it comes to supporting their riders, whether its advice on races, support through hard times or just generally helping with anything they can.”
And then Rapha Condor Sharp for 2012?
“The deal with Rapha Condor basically came about after the Tour of South Africa 2011.
“I got onto John Herety’s radar there, and then sent him my CV at the end of that year.
“I was lucky that John wanted to put together a young team that I fitted the place for.”
What did you think of the UK scene?
“The UK racing scene didn’t really suit my strengths; hence I never really performed there.
“I found the races to be few and far between, which I struggled with, although the level of competition was good with four or five strong teams.
“Generally I would sum up the UK racing scene as average.”
What was your best UK result?
“I won a race in Scotland called the David Bell Memorial.”
What was the best aspect of your time in the UK?
“Racing for a team that actually spoke English! For the first time I made genuine friends that I stay in touch with.
“Also my whole family comes from Newcastle up north, so being able to see them fairly often was convenient.”
And the worst?
“Lack of racing, unfortunately.”
Why not another year at Rapha Condor?
“When I got the chance to ride for La Pomme Marseille I told John about it straight away.
“He said to me I should definitely take it as the French racing would favour my strengths.
“I trust John’s opinion 100%, so naturally took up the offer.
“He did say to me if things didn’t work out I would have a place back at Rapha Condor.”
Why La Pomme, do they supply a bike and accommodation?
“The French racing appeals to me a lot.
“Also I think La Pomme Marseille is probably the best team for young rider development in the world at the moment.
“You only have to look at the names of the guys that rode for the team in the past, guys like Dan Martin, Darryl Impey, Ignatus Konovalovas to name a few, to see they produce some of the best riders.
“Yes, we get two racing bikes, a training bike, a climbing bike and a TT bike.
“We get a salary, so we are financially independent. Myself and another South African, Jason Bakke, are renting an apartment together just outside Marseilles.”
Have you much experience of French racing?
“Yes, when I rode for the Spanish Burgos team I did Mi Auot au Bretonne, and with Rapha Condor I did the Tour of Normandy – I loved the French racing!”
Are you back in the RSA for the winter?
“Well, it’s the Euro winter, South African summer! Sometimes on my training rides it gets so hot I wish I was back in the UK.”
MTN are going Pro Continental – is a ride with them a goal for the future?
“My main goal is to ride in a World Tour team.
“If MTN become World Tour some years down the line then for sure I would love to ride for them, but at the moment I think La Pomme Marseilles is the better option for my development.”
Is there anything specific you’ll be working on with your training, this winter?
“This year I’ve incorporated specific gym work for the first time, so I’m pretty keen to see if it helps.”
What’s your take on the Lance mess?
“I think it’s absolutely necessary to clean up the sport.
“I think in a few years we will be able to look back and be proud that we went through this tough period. The young cycling generation of now has the fortunate opportunity of building up a new cycling image, one that is credible and transparent.”
Did the UK scene seem ‘clean’ to you?
“Yes 100%; there was absolutely no doping culture whatsoever.”
You like soccer – will you be getting along to some Olympique Marseille games?
“If I get the chance to go and watch a football game then for sure I will.
“It will be a real treat if Newcastle play Marseille in the Europa league or some other League, then I will be obliged to get tickets.”