EOLO-Kometa’s Mark Christian Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Interview: Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso’s EOLO-Kometa team is making a big step up for the 2021 season and has been signing experienced riders alongside their young up-and-coming riders. One of the new men is Mark Christian from the Isle of Man. Ed Hood caught up with him for a chat.
Mark Christian leading the stage 4 break in the 2017 Baloise Belgium Tour
It’s been a while since last I chatted to Isle of Man professional, Mark Christian – ano 2014 in fact. The big lump of rock out in the Irish Sea has a population of only some 84,000 souls but keeps churning out quality bike riders; Commonwealth Games Road Race Champion, the late Peter Buckley; British Junior Road Race Champion, successful professional and six day man, Nigel Dean; double British Elite Road Race Champion, Pino Cerami winner and World and Olympic Champion on the track, Peter Kennaugh; Worlds u23 road race medallist, Jon Bellis – and of course, some lad called ‘Cavendish.’
Christian continues the tradition and when we heard he’d ‘bounced back’ from the demise of the great intentioned but ill-fated Aqua Blue team to move back up to UCi ProTeam level with Alberto Contador’s EOLO-Kometa team for 2021 we thought it was high times we had another word with the 30 year-old.
Under 23 Worlds time trial
He was a British and European champion on the track 2008/09 as a junior and we began by asking if he had any regrets about not going down the, ‘GB team pursuit route?’
Mark Christian: I enjoyed the bunched events on the track but my preference has always been the road.
PEZ: You were with Sean Kelly’s AN Post team in 2012, how did you get that ride?
I was with the British Cycling Academy and they had an arrangement with the team to let young riders experience the road as well as the track.
PEZ: You rode cult, hard man events like the Kattekoers, Nokere-Koerse and the Handzame Classic.
Yes, full gas races, very aggressive, physical. Whilst it was a good experience, let’s just say that I didn’t fall in love with Belgium.
With AN Post in 2012
PEZ: Then back to the UK with the Raleigh Continental team for 2013/14 – a change in cultures?
A very different style of racing; unlike Belgium there was no strength in depth in the fields – you had five or six strong squads and if they were all represented in the break then that was an end of it.
PEZ: The Wiggins Continental team for 2015/16.
Seasons 2014/15 I was still flirting with the track but my second year with the Wiggins team I was focussed on the road – we had a good programme, Brad was still racing and it was a good bunch of lads.
PEZ: Some nice results in 2016; sixth on GC in the Tour of Slovakia and fifth in the Tour of Alsace.
As I said, we had a good programme, we rode races like those and the Dubai Tour, Tour of Croatia, Tour de Yorkshire, Tour of California and Tour of Britain. My role was to show the jersey, get in the moves and get the team’s name on television.
PEZ: And those rides caught the eye of ill-fated Aqua Blue Sport, which was Pro Continental.
Personally, I enjoyed my time with the team, it was a good set up and it gave me great opportunities, I rode Flèche Wallone, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Vuelta with them. It’s just such a pity it ended on a sour note, simply stopping in August of the second season.
Belgium Tour stage 3 TT
PEZ: How much of a culture shock was it moving up to competing against WorldTour teams?
There’s much less control in Continental level racing, when you move up to WorldTour it’s much more controlled, in a race like the Flèche, once the break goes it’s steady, settled – but all of a sudden, in the finale it’s full whack, double hard!
PEZ: The 2017 Vuelta?
My first goal was to get to Madrid; but I crashed on Stage Four which set me back for the first two weeks, in the last week I was getting back into the race but it was a great experience just to get to ride a Grand Tour.
Tour de Suisse 2018
PEZ: You took the mountains jersey in the 2018 Tour de Suisse, no mean accomplishment.
One of the team’s big goals was to get a jersey in a major tour, I got in the break on a couple of stages, got mountain points and defended it to the end. It was nice goal to achieve.
PEZ: I have to ask, those now notorious bikes the team rode?
All I can say is that I’m glad I’m not riding one of them anymore! As far as the road goes, the ‘one by’ transmission concept has vanished – the ‘jumps’ between the gears were just too great. But it wasn’t just the transmission, there were other problems with those bikes and what was frustrating was that we had the same problems with them in July as we’d had in January.
Mixing with the WorldTour stars
PEZ: Back to Team Wiggins Le Col for season 2019.
Aqua Blue folded just before the 2018 Tour of Britain and we were left high and dry so it was great to get back into a good team for season 2019. We rode the Tour de Yorkshire, races in France and Belgium and the Tour of Britain.
PEZ: You had a nice result in the GP Lucien van Impe in Flanders.
I rode that as part of my build-up to the Tour of Britain, those Belgian pro kermises are great races, aggressive; you have to be in the mix from the start. I was third in that one behind the Roubaix guy who won, Samuel Leroux; Alvaro the Quick-Step sprinter was fifth so I was pleased with that result.
Oman’17 stage 2
PEZ: Canyon DHB for 2020 – but a frustrating year?
The Wiggins team folded after the Tour of Britain in 2019 and I got the Canyon ride but of course, along came Covid. It flared here in the Isle of Man in April and May but they shut the border with only residents allowed in and having to self-isolate if they did. Things are pretty-much back to normal now but the tight controls on coming on to the island remain in place.
PEZ: How did the EOLO-Kometa ride come about?
Word of mouth – through Sean Yates, he was looking for experienced riders as well as young lads to develop. I didn’t even know he was with them but it all moved along quickly, he got in touch, a couple of emails and phone calls and it was sorted.
Oman’17 stage 5
PEZ: Does the team have a designated leader?
There are solid riders like Francesco Gavazzi and Luca Wackermann but no ‘stand out’ leaders, there’ll be a team plan going into each race. The team has big designs when it comes to a programme, nothing is confirmed yet but the names Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso carry a lot of weight when it comes to approaching race organisers.
PEZ: Will you be based in Spain?
No, I’ll continue to be based in the Isle of Man; I’ll have to see how the quarantine situation develops, perhaps remaining in Spain between races?
PEZ: When’s the first get together?
This month in the Calpe area where many of the teams do their pre-season preparation, I’m looking forward to it.
U23 Worlds TT
# What is it the song says? ‘I get knocked down but I get up again!’ They might have written that one about Mark Christian – and he’ll even have TWO chain rings on that nice Basso/Contador, Aurum team machine. #
You can find out more about the EOLO-Kometa team on their website.