With snow falling all over the country (excpet the Wirral) as I write this, three riders from much warmer climates have joined their Rapha Condor Sharp teammates in a frozen planet called England. Larry Hickmott writes …
Richard Lang and Ben Grenda from Australia and Christopher Jennings (South Africa) are three of the new recruits by Rapha Condor Sharp team manager John Herety. VeloUK paid the team a visit on Saturday before the Brits Richard Handley and Mike Cumming, who were the tour guides, led them away down some country lanes.
Coming from much warmer climates where temperatures at this time of year can be anything up to 40 degrees C, arriving in England and temperatures of the minus variety is always going to be a shock to them. At least they were sporting cool tans although in this weather, no-one’s likely to see them except when they’re indoors!
Christopher Jennings (South Africa), Richard Lang and Ben Grenda from Australia dressed for a ride in the cold of Britain
For Ben Grenda, who hails from the lovely state of Tasmania, this is the first time in Britain and he explained that after a few short rides in the lanes around Cheshire that the roads where he is currently staying are not only like those back home, but also great for training and everyone is getting on well in the Rapha house.
“We’re all chomping at the bit to race at the moment” he explained before saying he hadn’t seen snow before. He has now! “It’s a really great opportunity to come here and ride for a team with a great track record. After speaking with John, I can see there are going to be some exciting opportunities for us this season.”
While much has been made of how Rapha have signed a lot of young riders, they certainly aren’t riders without experience with all three of them having raced in Europe in previous years. Ben explained that he spent last year, his first away from Australia, in Belgium. “I have raced a lot around the World and I know that every country’s races are quite unique in different ways but at this level, the riders are always going to be pretty good.”
Part of the transition in going from one team to another is adjusting to a new bike and Ben explained that he’s been impressed with the Condor. “We’d sent our measurements over and after I‘d jumped on it for the first time, I found the mechanics had got it spot on. First impressions are really good and they feel very lively. Can’t wait to race it.”
Mike Cuming, Christopher Jennings (South Africa), Richard Lang and Ben Grenda from Australia and Richard Handley prior to going off into the lanes and returning with frozen bidons.
Like Ben’s first impression on arrival, Richard Lang also spoke of how cold it is but it’s the British accents that seem to have tickled his funny bone. In Australia, you can travel thousands of miles and not really hear a different accent in the city people. Here in Blighty though, you can find a different accent ten miles up the road. Richard then joked that he thought he was coming to an English speaking country but if he’s had trouble understanding the locals, he’ll have a lot of fun during the season with the variety of accents he’s going to encounter.
Asked what’s he done since he arrived, Richard replied, “the priority has been to recover from the travel and not push it. I trained pretty hard prior to flying out here by doing two big weeks so I could afford to have an easy week here. I don’t want get sick so I’ve just done a few couple of two hour rides.”
Richard has come from Sydney and during the summer, as a lot of Aussies will do, he has raced during the week. “We’ve been racing once a week, Tuesday night at Heffron Park with an hour of handicap work which is nice and intense. I’ve been focusing on getting the ks in though so I can come over here and back it off and work on the racing fitness.”
His goal in making that long journey from Australia is to make that step up and eventually turn professional and he says Rapha has the organisational structure and everything to help him see if he has what it takes to make that step up.
Richard spent two years in Italy with the Australian Institute of Sport with James Victor, one of my old sparing partners from when I raced in Nerang (Gold Coast, Australia) and so he’s benefited from the racing they have provided for him.
Having come from racing in a country known for its mountains (Italy), when asked what style of racing he prefers, Richard replied “hard racing, nothing super hilly, but the type of race where there’ll be only 30 or 40 riders left at the finish and I believe I’d be one of the fastest ones there.”
Fighting talk from the young Aussie and with luck, we won’t have long to wait to see him race and see how his finishing sprint compares to his rivals. Just one more reason why this season will for sure be bigger and better than those that have preceded it.
South African Geordie
The final rider in the trio from Down Under is a South African Geordie. He certainly doesn’t sound like a Geordie which is an accent for Richard Lang to enjoy at some point but of the three, Christopher Jennings is the only one to have raced here, only the once as a junior, and that event must have been memorable because he recalls a certain Russell Downing (riding for Pinarello) winning it.
Christopher’s parents are British but it was still a major shock to the system to come here when the temperatures are over 30 degrees colder than those he was enjoying in South Africa. Chris explained that back in South Africa, the training roads for him are not only mountainous with five to ten k climbs, but also a lot wider than the narrow lanes here.
“I’m not used to these small, really windy lanes as I’m used to these big wide roads and no cars almost.” Like a lot of people though, he’ll get used to them and come to enjoy the variety the lanes in Britain offer a cyclist when it comes to planning the training routes. A variety I certainly didn’t have in the places I lived in during my time in Australia.
Like Ben Grenda, Chris spent a year in Belgium as well as a year in Spain and his goal joining Rapha Condor Sharp is like every rider at this level, to earn a move to be in a ProConti or WorldTour team. Explaining that everyone has clicked really well, he’s confident 2012 is going to be a great year for him and the team.
Prior to arriving here, Chris has taken full advantage of the weather Down Under by getting in the hours back in South Africa where he has already seen the team in action in a stage race won by Kristian House (2011). He has also read about the team and how cool it was in Dan Craven’s monthly column in a South African magazine. – Some stats on Chris here
The Rapha Programme Early Season
So while the racing in Britain is still a lesson to be learnt, he was aware of how professional and well organised the team is headed up by the most experienced team manager in the country, John Herety. After the riders from Down Under had been take off on their tour of the area by messers Cuming and Handley, John explained that the team has a two tiered programme in February and Mark.
“We start off in Singapore with a few other British teams and we’ll be taking four riders, Kristian House, James McCallum, Ben Grenda and Dean Downing” John explained. “From there, we travel on to the Tour of Taiwan where Felix English will join us to make a five man team for that race.”
“The other guys will be doing domestic races such as the Clayton Velo, Eddie Soens, Jock Wadley, Roy Thame and so on. In March, the guys who have raced here will then go off and do the Tour of Normandy (UCI 2.2)”.
That race, the Tour of Normandy, will be the final preparation race for the first of two Premier Calendars (Maldon Dengie Tour & Tour of DoonHame) and a UCI race (Cicle Classic) that follow in April.
While a 2.2 ranked event, the French stage race, Tour of Normandy, is generally oversubscribed and has the quality of a UCI 2.1 stage race and so will be a very useful event to bring them the racing they will need. The race is over eight stages and will feature Rapha Condor and a GB Academy team up against the likes of Europcar, Rabobank, Leopard Trek, Astana, Katusha, Lotto-Belisol among the better known teams.
The final word though is for those who may wonder why a British team like Rapha and so many of the other ones, have brought in riders from Down Under. The depth in Britain just isn’t here at the moment which is why there are so many riders are being brought in for the new season to try and help teams deliver the wins for their sponsors.
It’s the intention of Rapha however to develop the young riders so that the strength in depth is here in Britain. Then, perhaps in future years, teams will need less foreign riders as those in Britain raise their game to be world class bike riders, just like those we talked to today.
Beauty guys, thanks for the chat and enjoy the ride… just make sure you add an extra layer or three!