SHOOT: I caught up with Kristian House in Cape Town's Cullinam hotel in February, after his impressive and surprise win at the inaugural Cell C Tour of South Africa.
When I entered room 102 House and Rapha Condor-Sharp’s team manager, John Herety, were both sitting on a bed, pouring over a silver notebook computer. They were analysing the results of stage 6, the only stage where riders took some bites out of House 2’22” margin, set up on the crucial first stage. House went on to win by a credible 2’09 over the next South African, Johan Rabier [BONITAS]. Ex Radioshack rider, and Armstrong teammate, Daryl Impey, finished 2’11” behind House. I started off asking Kristian to describe in detail what exactly happened on the first stage.
Nick Van Der Leek: When did the break happen on the first stage?
Kristian House: After the first KOM but about 5-6km before the bridge, at around 59km, just before the road got narrow and twisty. The Czech rider Martin Blaha made a break and I followed him. I turned around after 30 seconds and we were away.
NVDL: Obviously that would have been to your advantage, the narrow roads…
KH: I think the peloton was hoping for what we’ve been hoping for all week – which was for a small group to go. Because up to that point there’d been a lot of attacking. It was about an hour into the race and people were a bit gassed, and we went at the right time, when the race wanted to settle, and that was that.
NVDL: Why did they give you such a big gap? It was 7’35” at most, with 50km remaining.
KH: I have no idea.
NVDL: How were the legs the next day?
KH: They were fine the next day. That ride for me…I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it wasn’t as taxing as people thought. I rode steady. What John always says is, ‘It’s down to them.’ So if they’re going to give you a certain amount of time, regardless of how hard you try. So if they were going to give us 5 minutes before Europcar decided to bring us back…I was very aware of that. So we weren’t going superfast, you kind’ve ride the hills at a steady tempo. And I thought the Czech rider was doing the same thing, but I guess he was working harder…
NVDL: Who were the main workers on your team?
KH: You can’t narrow it down to one guy. All of them did their part very very well. And depending on the terrain we alternate the guys. While [Graham] Briggs is not known as a climber, by any means, he’s more of a crit rider, and a sprinter, he certainly held his own over various terrain.
NVDL: You looked cool and controlled throughout the Tour. Were you?
KH: Yeah. The only time I was nervous…I was nervous this morning [before the climbs of stage 6]. Mainly because some of these hills I wasn’t sure about; although I’d ridden before 2 years ago during the Giro del Capo. In fact I actually turned around and went back to the start. Me and my teammate had had enough. We had a tough day the day before, and we were going up the other side of the Franschoek Pass.
NVDL: I believe the fabric you chaps are using, even though it’s black, it actually keeps you cool?
KH: Yeah. It’s a new fabric. It’s a bit technical so you’d probably have to speak to Rapha about that, or check the website. It’s cool It’s a new fabric which wicks the sweat away. Unfortunately I only got to wear the fabric on the first day [laughs]…I shouldn’t say unfortunately…but all the boys have been raving about it. I tested the jersey at the end of last year and kind’ve gave them a few ideas and pointers on it and they’ve kind’ve evolved from that.
NVDL: How did you find John Herety’s advice and strategy?
KH: I’ve known John about 10 years now, and I’ve been on this team…this is my fourth year, but even before then I rode with him, and he is probably one of the best managers I’ve ever had. His tactics…and he listens to what you say…so yeah, very very good.
NVDL: After your stage one win, did the team’s leadership automatically go to you, was there any discussion? Was it clear?
KH: My initial thoughts after winning the first stage was that I didn’t want the whole team to be devoted just to me. Because I knew Dan had ambitions, John Locke had ambitions here, Dan was in the Mountains jersey, you know, but the whole team was like: “Look, you’re in yellow, we’ve got to ride here, we’ve got to do this.” That was the conversation at dinner after stage 1. We still wanted to leave our options open with John Locke, which we actually did all the way to the end, and with Dan. But unfortunately Dan crashed. And he did a phenomenal ride considering how bad that elbow is, and how bad he was feeling after those two days.
NVDL: How did you find the overall route? Was it your cup of tea?
KH: In the end it suited me quite well. I realized today that I’m climbing better than I thought and Lill confirmed that afterward. Lill and I have ridden together and Lill said, “You’re climbing better than I’ve ever seen you.” [Lill, South Africa’s national champ, won the crucial stage 6, finishing 31 seconds ahead of House].
So in the end, the route did suit me.
NVDL: Was the heat a factor?
KH: The heat is always a factor, but I deal with it quite well. I grew up in Texas, but certainly the boys felt it; they spent the winter in England where it’s been snowing…
NVDL: How did you train for this tour, did you focus on climbing?
KH: I trained in Texas over the winter, but I put a very big block in, maybe a little bigger than I normally would, with a bit of intensity in it. I wasn’t coming here targeting this; I was targeting a stage maybe. Certainly not the overall. Our idea was for Dan to go for the overall win.
NVDL: Did you consider Impey a threat?
KH: Yeah. Yeah. He was going very very well, I thought, as good as I’ve seen him go. My biggest concern was George, actually. Once Lill had lost 40 seconds I knew it was going to be hard for him to get back.
NVDL: What was the toughest climb today on stage 6?
KH: The toughest climb was between the second last climb and final climb. The dragging highway climb over Helshoogte, before you went down into Stellenbosch. I wouldn’t say it was the hardest, but the most damage could have been done. Everyone was attacking and I didn’t have any team mates left on that part of the climb.
NVDL: Was that the most dangerous moment for you on the Tour.
KH: For me yeah. I thought so yeah.
NVDL: Do you want to ride the Tour de France?
KH: If I got the opportunity to ride it, yeah, but it’s not something I wake up in the morning and think about, no.
NVDL: What will you do after this?
KH: I have Singapore Criterium next weekend, and the Tour of Normandy after that, which is what I’ve actually been training for.