Rider Interview: Not too much was expected from the EOLO-Kometa team in the Giro d’Italia, but they had better results than many of the ProTour and WorldTour teams. One rider who was seen many times off the front in Italian Grand Tour was Mark Christian, Ed Hood had a word.
‘The Pink Race,’ aka; ‘The Giro d’Italia,’ it’s molto glamorous, right? The sun and ‘piano,’ chatting, cruising along in the peloton until Mario says, ‘race’ when the TV helicopter appears overhead with an hour to go, right? But there’s another version: two degree temperatures at the top of mountain passes followed by 30 kilometre descents in freezing rain. And ‘piano’ starts? Not these days, more like 60 kph madness as teams with no results become ever more desperate for column inches as the race goes on. And then there are the crashes – and illness, when all you want to do is survive. . .
But let’s speak to a man who has the full collection of all these T-shirts, EOLA Kometa’s Mark Christian. The 30 year-old from the Isle of Man has paid his dues in the sport; he went pro with AN Post in 2012 and since then has ridden at all levels, from UK domestic with Raleigh, Wiggins and Canyon to international Pro Continental with well-intentioned but ultimately plane crashed Aquablue, with whom he rode the Vuelta – and now he’s with Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador’s Proteam, EOLA Kometa squadra.
Giro’21 stage 7 break
When Dave and I used to chat to Androni Capo, Gianni Savio at the Giro he always used to tell us; ‘you must honour the pink race!’ EOLA Kometa did that, ‘for sure!’ There was a spell in the mountains jersey for Vincenzo Albanese, representation in just about every break which ‘stuck’ and the icing on the cake – Lorenzo Fortunato’s magnificent win atop the legendary Zoncolan. We caught up with Mark a day or two after that dramatic closing final time test into Milan.
PEZ: Congratulations on finishing the Giro and showing your colours in the breaks, Mark – you rode the Vuelta with Aquablue, how does the Giro compare the Spanish race?
Mark Christian: I think the racing was similar but the weather added another dimension; people had said to me that the weather in Italy can be a bit of a hit or a miss at that time of year and the cold and rain certainly made the usual battle even harder.
Giro’21 stage 7 break
PEZ: How’s the recovery going?
It’s going well, I’ve not done much this week and next week will be pretty chilled too, usually you’d be thinking about the National Championship at this time of year but they’re not until October in the UK, incorporated in the Lincoln Grand Prix so I’m having a bit of a mid-season break before the second part of the season. My programme isn’t confirmed yet but the team has some nice races like the Vuelta a Burgos and Tour de l’Ain coming up, as well as a lot of late season Italian one day races. And a big target for me is my home Tour of Britain which comes up at the start of September.
PEZ: You were very active in the breaks.
I was in the ‘break of the day’ several times but also in a few which didn’t quite stick. Before each stage we discussed who should try for the break, based on their characteristics as a rider and the percorso, if it was a hilly day then it would be the climbers in the team who went but if it was a flatter stage then the sprinters would get their chance. And of course, if you’d been in the break the day before then you wouldn’t be expected to go again.
Giro stage 19 break
PEZ: Your best day?
That would be a day I was in the break, we ended up with 17 or 18 guys up the road and I was last man standing from it. But then I had a wee bit of illness at the end of the first week and was on antibiotics for a couple of days – I went in to survival mode but made it through. What was disappointing though was that in the last week I was starting to feel good again and went with a move – but there was a crash right in front of me with nowhere to go and I went down; my injuries weren’t too bad but it was disappointing because I had good legs that day.
Giro stage 7 break
PEZ: And your worst day?
When I had that bit of illness there was one day where the weather was really bad, two degrees at the top of the big climb then we had a 30 kilometre descent in the cold and rain; I’ve never been so cold on a bike in my life – made worse by the fact that I was suffering with the effects of illness.
It was steep at the top but remember that was the ‘easy’ side, the other side is harder, albeit the last couple of K is a wall; I was on 36 x 32 for that part – but there was actually a climb in the last week which I felt was harder. But it’s nice to say I have the Zoncolan under my belt.
Tirreno’21 stage 7 time trial
PEZ: Lorenzo Fortunato’s win on the Zoncolan must have been good for team morale?
The atmosphere was great, not just with the riders but with staff too – there was a lot of emotion on show. Before the Giro we knew a stage win was possible, that was our ambition – but to pull it off was simply a dream and of course, it took a lot of pressure off us.
Tirreno’21 stage 6
PEZ: What’s your rest day protocol?
I do and hour or maybe 90 minutes easy, you have to do a little or your system shuts down and the day after the rest day becomes very difficult – you have to keep ticking over.
PEZ: What about some of those crazy fast stage starts?
Once the GC started to take shape there are a lot of teams searching for opportunities and who wanted to get in the break; particularly big teams whose GC ambitions have come undone – teams like Movistar for example, so they have to change their objective and hunt for a stage win. And as the race goes on the teams with nothing to show get more and more desperate for a result – it makes for very aggressive racing.
Oman’17 stage 2 break
PEZ: There’s no real ‘Capo’ in the peloton now is there?
It’s not what it used to be like, on one stage the break had gone but there were still guys jumping around and trying to bridge, everyone was sick of it and just wanted the race to settle down. I didn’t witness it Sagan had words with one of them – the commissars punished him for, ‘intimidation’.
PEZ: It must be good to have a man like Ivan Basso in the team car?
It’s ace – and remember it’s not just Ivan, we have Sean Yates, a guy who’s guided riders to Grand Tour wins – this was his 37th Grand Tour as a rider and DS. And then there’s Stefano Zanatta, he rode 14 Grand Tours during his career and guided Ivan to his Giro win with Liquigas.
Yorkshire’19 stage 3
PEZ: The techie questions – disc brakes?
I’m happy on them, you have to accept that it’s the way things are going, INEOS are the only team not on them in the peloton. I know that it’s an industry driven thing, the manufacturers have to sell more bikes and disc equipped bikes are something different but they definitely do give you better braking performance in the wet.
PEZ: Tubulars or clinchers?
MC: We’re still on tubulars; I know that some of the time trial specialists are on clinchers because the data suggests that they have lower rolling resistance but the thing is that with a tubular, if you puncture at a bad moment then there’s still rubber between you and the road but with a clincher that’s not the case; the rim is on the tarmac and you’re down.
PEZ: You’re happy with your move to EOLO Kometa then, Mark?
Yes, very, I’m settled here and picking up Italian, that’s the team language so you have to make the effort to fit in – the team has big ambitions for 2022; but first I’m looking forward to the rest of my season after I have my break. . .