A nice result we spotted recently was Raleigh’s Mark Christian taking a top ten on stage two of the tough Tour du Haut Var.
We decided to have a word with yet another product of that sea air on the Isle of Man.
Christian’s first international result was the overall win in the junior Niedersachsen Rundfahrt in 2008, the same year he won the Junior European Madison Championship with Luke Rowe.
In 2009 he was on GB elite championship podium with Chris Newton and Alex Dowsett in the scratch race.
The following year he teamed with Rowe again to take the British Elite Madison Championship and followed that up with third in the points race at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
In 2011 there was a World Cup team pursuit podium in Beijing and silver medal in the European U23 Team Pursuit Championship.
For season 2012 he was with AN Post and a stage podium in the hotly contested Ville Saguenay stage race in Canada – part of the UCI Coupe des Nations, the world’s top competition for U23 riders.
Last season saw him back in the UK with Raleigh and taking placings in the UK and Belgium.
A nice ride in Haut Var Mark – tell us about it, please.
“Coming into the race I was feeling good.
“It was the second race of the season after the Tour of the Med the week before, which I think was important in getting that racing feeling and pace back in the legs. My condition was good coming out of the winter, and after a race-long break in the final stage at the Med I knew I had a good feeling in the legs.
“The form was good for the beginning of the season and I knew I could go into Haut Var with confidence. I had ridden the race last year so had an idea of the course and roads which I liked.
“The second stage is the type of race I like, with a total of 3500m climbing; and the bunch naturally got smaller and smaller all through the stage until there was a final selection on the last climb at around 10km to the finish.
“It was on that climb I realized that I was on a really good day and was able to follow the strongest riders.
“It was great to be able to take a top 10 result from it, especially with it being such a difficult day with a good field.”
Your form was much better than in the Tour of the Med – do you think you perhaps needed a hard race to bring you on?
“It definitely helps to get some racing in the legs to get that race pace back.
“I came out of the winter with good condition and the Tour of the Med was an ideal first race for us – not overly difficult but with long enough stage distances and a mix of terrain. Just riding those races certainly brings the form on and I would even say there is noticeable progress as the race itself goes on.
“You just get that extra bit of strength from racing which I think is hard to replicate in training.”
Does the Haut Var result make you wish you were still based on the Continent?
“I have found that living back on the Isle of Man since signing with Raleigh has been good for me; I had a year in Belgium with AN Post the year before and didn’t feel I got the best out of myself.
“The training on the island is good with a good mix of roads and plenty of climbing; it’s never an easy place to train. I think it’s an ideal training ground to return to in between racing away.
“I loved being based in Italy with the GB academy through 2009/10, that was a great experience and the whole set up and lifestyle out there was perfect for what we were doing.
“But at least for now, I wouldn’t say I am missing living abroad.”
On that subject, how did the AN Post ride come about – and why come back to the UK, last year?
“The AN Post ride came about through the GB Academy. I still lived in Manchester with the Academy and rode the track over the winter prior to moving to Belgium for the road season. I think at the time it was a good opportunity for me to get into bigger races and the year was an important experience.
“I felt I rode well in early races like the Tour of Algarve and the Volta Limburg classic but I don’t feel that on the whole things worked out as well as they possibly could have for various reasons. The program with AN Post is a very good one but I felt I just needed a change.
“Raleigh is a UK based Continental team and I definitely don’t see it as a step back at all. It’s a team which is progressing with a lot of big races on the program in Europe as well as in the UK.
“I think the team is somewhere where I can have a few more opportunities to show myself.”
Tell us about how you got the ride with Raleigh.
“It was quite simple, I spoke to the management towards the end of the previous season to talk about the possibility of signing with the team, and then came to an agreement quite quickly and that was it.”
Kurt Bogaert to Eddie White and Cherie Pridham – quite a contrast in styles?
“Yes; they all come from different cycling backgrounds and cultures so they all have their individual styles of management.
“I think Kurt is perhaps and bit more old school and what you’d imagine a typical Belgian DS to be like!
“Eddie and Cherie are busy building Team Raleigh and are very professional.
“I do think though that like all managers they just expect the best effort from the team.”
You were on ‘the squad’ and a Euro junior and U23 track medallist – did you ever consider the team pursuit avenue?
“As I came through the British junior and academy squads I had always found I was able to do a good job in my role in the team pursuit teams I rode with. Since starting with the Olympic development program as a junior I always liked to get on the track, and found it was something I was good at.
“Through the early academy days I think I showed myself well in the team pursuit and so then had an opportunity to train with the Podium squad.
“It was a big step up at the time and I found I was just short of breaking into that team, which was obviously a tough thing to do with the strength of riders that GB had in the squad at the time.”
How would you describe yourself as a rider, now?
“I would still say I am an all round rider on the road.
“I definitely prefer a hillier profile and although I wouldn’t call myself an out and out climber, I find that races with enough climbing to really break up the race and whittle the bunch down by selection is where I can be at my best.
“I haven’t had too many opportunities to race time trials for a couple of season, mostly just the odd short prologue, but feel that it’s a discipline I have been good at when I was younger and could again improve with some work.”
Are you based in the Isle of Man – doesn’t that involve a lot of travelling?
“There is that extra leg of travel back and forward between the UK and home but I have never found it a problem. The flights over are only ever a maximum of 1hr so it’s not such a huge trip.
“I will normally stay on the mainland between races whenever there are a few events close together to cut out the return trip. I am getting to know some of the departure lounges quite well!”
The Isle of Man only has a population of 85,000 but keeps turning out top riders, Cav, the Kennaughs, Jonathan Bellis, yourself – why is that, do you think?
“That’s a question which we get asked quite often, and I’m not sure there is one definite simple answer. The Isle of Man has a strong cycling scene with a good history going back further than the current riders.
“Ever since I have been riding there has always been a good club run scene, so there are always good riders to train with which I think helps as it pushes each other on. The terrain on the island is certainly perfect for training hard, always up and down so you can find yourself working quite hard without realizing some days.”
I believe the Tour of Normandie is on the agenda – you’ve ridden before and must be looking forward to it with the form you have?
“I’ve ridden the Tour of Normandie twice in the past, once with the Academy in 2011 and again last year with Raleigh. I was third in the prologue in 2011 after the winter on the track.
“Last year I had a heavy crash on stage three, and although I finished the race it lead to an injury which put me out of racing from the end of March until the nationals in June – so a mixed time at the race in the past!
“I am looking forward to it again this year though, and after a good solid start to the season I hope I can continue to build through the race and give a strong performance.
“We will have a strong team for the race and I believe like last year, with two stage wins (Alex Blain and Tom Scully) and contesting for GC right to the final stage, we can again be looking for similar success.”
What does your programme look like for the spring?
“Next up is the Tour of Normandy over the last week of March then we have some UCi one-day races in France through April.
“The race program isn’t hugely packed with race days but I think the quality of the races is good.
“I hope to show well in Tour of Normandie and also use it to continue to build the form for the races in April, which I think can suit me.”
Will you be doing the Tour Series crits – or rather a road programme?
“I won’t personally be looking towards the Tour Series as a main objective but we have spoken briefly about coming in for some of the rounds when needed.
“I missed the whole of the series last year as I was out with a long term injury but would like to be involved this time round.
“I would say my strengths as a rider have gone more towards road races but I wouldn’t say I have a problem with crits. I raced in the Elite circuit series last year and was able to pick up a third in one as well as playing a team role in others, which I like to do.
“I enjoy mixing up the racing a bit and both the Tour series and Elite crits would be good to be part of.”
Are the Commonwealth Games an objective – road or road and track?
“I’m planning to race both on the road and track at the Games.
“I will compete in road and time trial as well as the points and scratch races on the track. It’s now been quite a while since I raced on the track.
“I won’t have had as much track training and racing in the build up to the Games compared to Delhi in 2010, but hope by adjusting the training slightly I can still be competitive.
“When I have had spells away from the track in the past I have found that it all comes back quite quickly and naturally.”
What reaction have you had to the retro Raleigh strip?
“It has definitely gone down well.
“The initial reaction was great – especially so with the older generation of riders and fans who remember the original TI Raleigh team from the 70/80’s.
“I think it’s great to bring back such a recognizable and iconic jersey and keep that retro look to it.”
Can you understand what Evan Oliphant is saying yet?
“Not all the time – I can pick up a few words and then I try to string a sentence together with them!
2It doesn’t matter though; it’s normally a load of rubbish anyway!”