the life of a professional athlete is hardly imbued with security. and unlike the starving artist in his/her garret, painting as if their lives depended on it, the athletic milieu is rarely one tinged with receipt of a sympathetic ear towards the iniquities that must be suffered in pursuit of a very different art. we all like to cheer and support a winner, but rarely have time to dwell on those of a lower order or adjudged a few years past their sell-by-date. i recall the fervour of debate and opposition when it was suggested that school teachers have their salaries depend on rated performance, yet from those whose very careers depend entirely on annual performance, we hear very little by way of complaint.
the professional cyclist, even at world tour level can often only count on a year's contract, perhaps two at best. in essence this is mostly a two way street; perform well over the duration of the contract and what happens next is as much at the rider's behest as it is at the discretion of team management. fail to meet the challenge however and there's always a distinct possibility that a contract renewal will either be at a reduced rate of remuneration or simply non-existent. add to this, the fact that riders themselves cannot continue to perform at the top level as they get older and you can see that it's a career choice that could be very short or only a matter of a decade or so before a team car driving seat beckons.
kristian house is a rider whose amateur career began in 2003 with team pca orbea veneto zeus, progressing to that of midex t-mobile in 2005 before turning professional the following year. i recall coming across him sitting on some building steps at george square in glasgow during a pre-tour of britain criterium, at which point i made some banal remark in order to present my impeccable cycling credentials. at that time he was riding for recycling uk. how did he make the step from the amateur ranks of midex t-mobile to the professional scene?
That's not an easy question to answer and if I'm honest I don't really know. I had a few close moments to move up to a second division team as it was at the time, but it never really came to anything. The last time was when I had a deal all set up with Wiesenhof for the end of 2005 and 2006 and at the last moment it fell through. I was almost ready to pull the plug on it all, but John Herety said to me to come to his team that he'd just taken over (Recycling.co.uk) and give it everything for one more year, to see if I could get a contract. I did that and had a pretty amazing year, both in the UK and abroad. I ended up with a contract for 2007 at Navigators as a result."
there is, of course, a further part of the equation that can often play a major part in the progress accorded the intrepid bike rider: that of speciality. while we expect our team leaders to be able to sprint, climb and time-trial, those with upward aspirations may find the need to specialise in one of the preceding. being regarded as one of the sport's better climbers could conceivably make him/her of great use to a team leader. in the early part of his career, did kristian have just such a speciality, or was he more keen to be seen as an all-rounder?
"I don't think I've ever really had a speciality. Maybe that was an issue when I was 18 or 19. I've always been an all-rounder. When you look back at the races I've won, I think it shows that. Not just in the types of races I've won, but also in the way that I won them. I never really thought about what 'type' of rider I was viewed as; I just raced to the best of my ability."
though house was born in canterbury, england, he grew up in austin, texas where he began cycle racing. at 17, his cycling career moved him to belgium, before the roads of the uk beckoned. he has, however, not lost all trace of his american accent. after a season with john herety's recycling team, he signed with the american navigators team. was this an intentional return to the usa, or simply the result of circumstances. did he always plan his future to be based in the uk or europe?
2006 was my year to really give it a go to get a pro contract. I really focused on several races to win, and I was able to pull that off most of the time. I think that year I won races in six different countries, from February to November. When Navigators offered me a contract, it had nothing to do with the USA. In fact, I think i only did three races in North America that year. I was signed to be part of the squad that would be based in Belgium. I never really thought about where I would be based."
it would not be stretching credibility too far to state that house is best known for his years at rapha condor and subsequently jlt condor. now that he will ride the 2016 season in one-pro colours on a factor bicycle, no longer will we expect to see a black jersey being swapped for the tour of britain king of the mountains jersey, nor winning the revitalised milk race. kristian house has been the backbone of the men in black; would it be safe to assume that he found john herety's teams to be the ideal place to fulfil and progress his career?
"I've really enjoyed the last eight years riding for Herety's team. I always wanted to move back up to the pro ranks but I wasn't willing to do so if it meant riding for a team that was unorganized or just there to make up the numbers. I had some options in the years that followed, to move back, but it never felt right. John always had a great mix of supporting the UK scene but also venturing into Europe to give riders the chance of progressing, and that was important to all the riders that came to the team."
In the 2013 road race championships held in glasgow, i followed the race in the rapha condor team car with john herety. he remarked that the others with whom kristian was riding in the latter stages were better sprinters and that the 9th place he figured was achievable, would be considered an excellent result. then as we entered glasgow green for the final time, house nipped off the front and took a highly creditable sixth place. was that a calculated move or a spur of the moment decision?
"Ha! Did he! If I had of gotten 9th in that group I would have been disappointed. In fact, part of me was still disappointed. When Luke Rowe attacked, I could have (and should have) gone with him. And I know I should have been part of that group up front, although I don't think I would have gone the distance if I had been up there. It became a calculated decision in the few kilometers leading up to it. ÊI remember two of the other guys, who were a bit quicker than me in the sprint, eyeing each other up leading into it. They would miss turns to get in the right position. It happened two or three times. They'd leave gaps, and I would fill it and it would happen again. So that last time when it did, I hit them right away, knowing they would hesitate."
in the light of house's decision this year to leave the jlt condor team and move to one-pro cycling, it seems a stupid question to ask, but was the decision to move on after eight years a hard one to make?
"Yes and no. It's never going to be easy leaving a team you've been part of for eight years. John and I are more than just rider/manager; we're friends. I had the opportunity to leave last year, but the offer came so late, that I couldn't do it as it wouldn't have been right, even though I was keen to try something different."
the rapha condor set up remained at uci continental level throughout its seven year existence, with the jlt condor team continuing in similar vein. riding one step of the ladder up at pro-continental offers greater opportunities to race the professional calendar's major races, always assuming a wildcard comes your way. one-pro cycling raced at continental level throughout 2015, but are moving up to pro-continental level for the 2016 season. has kristian decided to move as a means of reaching a higher level of racing before retirement beckons. or will his role at one-pro be more as an advisor to the team's younger riders?
" I actually signed prior to the team deciding to make the step up to Pro Conti, with the sole intention to work with Steve Benton to see just how far I could push my abilities. No doubt being one of the more 'experienced' riders on the team, I'll be looked at to help the younger riders, something I'm looking forward to doing as the team really grows."
at the risk of being impertinent and proving how little i really know about professional cycling, isn't it a bit late in his career to be switching teams?
"Who says it's late in my career? (Kidding:-) No, I don't think so. This move was all about pushing my body limits with aÊnew approach and coaching."
john herety has proved he has an uncanny knack of turning out some excellent british riders, several of whom subsequently achieved success with his team and others. and one scottish rider in particular who saw out his final season with nfto before taking on a position as directeur sportif with one-pro cycling. thus in 2016, house will be reunited with jimmy mccallum. was that a factor in the move?
"It's going to be great working with Jimmy again, though now he's obviously retired from racing, it's in a completely different fashion. He's a great character and will bring a lot to the team. Again, I signed before he had announced he was working with ONE Pro."
despite house's protestations that he is not yet in the twilight of his career, it's probably never too early to start considering where that career might usefully lead when it's no longer necessary to take the bike from the shed seven days a week. many, as previously mentioned, head to the team car driving seat, taking on a managerial role. but with cycling's increased profile and television airtime, there are now greater opportunities to work in the media. kristian's presence alongside matt barbet during this year's tour of britain was impressively relaxed and informative. is cycling related television something he'd consider, post career?
"Thanks. I'm not really sure. I've had a lot of really positive feedback from the TV work I've done. Working with Matt and Rob was really easy. They both keep it pretty natural and make it easy to work with. The solo presenting I've done so far has been... well a little more nerve wracking, so we'll see where that leads. At the moment, I don't see myself slowing down and I'm not really looking at alternatives to racing."
and finally, as he enters his sixteenth year as a bike racer, does he still have the same enthusiasm for the job as when i made his brief acquaintance at that glasgow criterium nine years ago?
"In a word... Absolutely."
thanks to kristian house and one-pro cycling for their assistance with this feature.
sunday 13 december 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................