The Davie Bell Memorial – a great race, but VeloVeritas can’t be everywhere and we had to choose between Ayrshire and Fife, where the National ‘50’ was being fought out. Being a couple of old testers, we went for the ‘50’ – but we didn’t forget about the Davie Bell. We decided we best have a word with the winner – a young man who comes all the way from South Africa by way of Belgium and Spain; Christopher Jennings.
Here’s what the Rapha Condor Sharp website says about him:
“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.
“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.”
It’s hard to argue about the blonde Russian girls – here’s what he had to say to us…
How did you get into cycling in South Africa?
“My mother actually got me into cycling.
“She raced locally in her age category, and just going to races with her as a kid got me hooked on racing bicycles.”
What’s the cycling scene like in South Africa?
“The scene is fairly healthy, South Africa has some really strong riders, the problem is all the ‘races’ are aimed at mass participation rather than the pros.
“This means all races are never more than 100km and are always pan flat.
“It’s very similar to what you guys in the UK call ‘sportives’.
“Unless you are a really fast sprinter you have a slim chance of winning a race in South Africa.”
You spent time in Belgium 2009/10 – 5th in the junior Tour of Flanders – why not set out your stall there?
“I love everything about Belgium, especially the culture of cycling there.
“I spent my first year as a U23 there, racing for a team called Wallonie Brussels.
“An opportunity arose in Spain at the end of the year that I couldn’t resist, so I ended up moving to Spain the next year, but Belgium will always be in my heart.”
That was Burgos 2016-Castilla y Leon – tell us about that, how did you get the ride, and how did it go?
“I have a Spanish agent that set everything up for me.
“When I was junior I won the Polka dot jersey and got 2nd on a stage of an important junior race in Spain, so it was easier to get into a Spanish team with those results.”
The Worlds in Copenhagen, you were 46th – were you happy with that?
“No not really, but our team plan was to set up Rehinard Janse van Rensberg for the sprint.
“He was by far the fastest in the South African team.
“Also the course was suited to the sprinters so I had no chance anyway.”
Rapha, how did that come about from Burgos?
“At the Tour of South Africa last year I won the young riders classification on Team Burgos.
“Kristian House won the overall for Rapha Condor Sharp, so after seeing how well the Men in Black operated, it was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to ride for them.
“Anyway, at the end of the year John decided to change the teams focus to a development squad for young riders which was perfect for me.”
Did you ever think about a ride with MTN? (South African Continental team which Daryl Impey has ridden for)
“MTN did offer me a contract back when I was 17, but we mutually agreed that I preferred to race in Europe rather than SA (MTN didn’t travel to Europe back then) so I chose the Belgian team instead.”
How does the UK race scene compare to SA?
“I prefer the UK race scene purely because the racing is a lot longer and harder than in SA.
“Also cycling gets a ton more media exposure here with the Tour Series and all the other Criterium Series on the go.
“We don’t have anything like that back home in SA, like I said; it’s all about ‘sportives’.”
Where’s ‘home’ in the UK, who do you train with?
“I rent a room from the Rapha Condor Sharp team manager John Herety, in Middlewich, Cheshire.
“Ben Grenda (an Aussie on the team) rents the other room so we generally always train together.
“Kristian House, Rich Handley, Rich Lang and Mike Cumming all live within an hour’s ride of us so there’s always a good training group out.”
Why the Davie Bell?
“Why not? Great route, great organization, great weather and great support!
“Scotland is on my agenda for a hilly training camp…”
What did you think of our Scottish weather?
“When we drove up on the Saturday before the race it rained literally right up to Carlisle, then when we crossed the border into Scotland the sun was beaming.
“Apparently it’s supposed to be the other way around?”
How did the standard of race promotion compare to the Premier calendar races?
“I think it should definitely be a Premier Calendar race next year; it ticks all the boxes…”
How did you rate the Scottish opposition?
“It wasn’t the biggest turn out but I suppose that was because of all the other races that where overlapping.
“Perhaps it would be better to hold it on a less busy weekend next year to attract more guys?”
Talk us through your race, please.
“Early on the race split up into a small select group of riders, due to the ferocious pace of Mike Cumming.
“The only Rapha Condor Sharp rider to miss out was Rich Handley, but he did the ride of the day with a solo effort across from the peloton to the front group on the first big climb of the day.
“Everybody rolled through keeping the pace steady until the final couple of local laps, apart from Mike who challenged for the K.O.M points.
“He was helped by Luke Mellor, our first year U/23 who set a blistering pace up all the climbs to neutralize anybody considering attacking.”
How would you describe yourself as a rider?
“A real rouleur; I love the medium length climbs more than the mountains or flat roads.
“In fact if there was ever a course that described me as a rider the Dave Bell would be it.”
Does the UK crit based programme suit you