After spending the cycling season in America Christiaan Kriek still believes that going to the States is the way to go for those wanting to pursue a career as a professional cyclist.
“It was the perfect first step and a very good learning experience,” said the 23-year-old rider from the American Continental Team Jelly Belly P/B Kenda.
Kriek started out by riding for the Simple Green/Bike Religion team. “At every race the competition got stronger and racing got more competitive. It was not just a case of putting in good performances and getting the victories though. As with most other things in life, there’s a margin of luck and good fortune that helps you to be at the right place at the right time.”
Kriek started chatting to one of the Jelly Belly riders during one of the races. “I heard that they were looking for a new team member. I won that particular race and that victory got a lot of coverage. The team-manager saw the race report on one of the American cycling websites. It was a very improbable thing to happen but fortunately everything just aligned for me.”
It was what Kriek wanted, but the experience was somewhat overwhelming at first. “You really want to feel part of the team and I think for the first time I really experienced cycling as a team sport. I had to learn very fast the finer aspects of team racing. All I wanted was to contribute to our victories and to prove that I was worthy of riding with the guys on the team.”
Settling at Jelly Belly wasn’t easy. After six victories in only two months Kriek’s luck had run out. He crashed out of possibly two of the biggest races of the season back to back, injuring his hand in the process, and suddenly lost his form. He experienced a lot of negative stress. “The harder I tried to get good results and perform the more difficult it became. I knew however it was not just a physical thing that I was not winning anymore- odds are in a road race if someone crashes in front of you, you are going down with him,” he adds laughingly.
The last race of the season was a four day stage race. Every stage was won by a Jelly Belly rider. One of these victories belonged to Kriek. “Brad Huff is the team’s main sprinter and arguably the best in America. In the flatter races we normally ride for Brad since he has the best kick for the line and has proved himself to be one of the most consistent sprinters in America. On that day he came to me and said he will give me a lead out and that I should follow his wheel through the bunch. He was giving up his almost certain chance for victory to give me an opportunity. It was a very stressful thirty minutes knowing that I probably shouldn’t mess this one up! Luckily everything turned out alright.”
For Kriek this was the watershed moment. “He believed in me. That meant a lot.” Kriek said that the victory meant way more than just the happiness of crossing the finish line in first place.
Kriek will be going back to America at the end of January for one more year with Jelly Belly p/b Kenda.
Photo credit: Nikky Cyp