Photo: Andrew Kennedy, Tour of Pendle 2009.
At the higher levels, Road Racing is essentially a team sport and in every team there are riders who week in, week out are the designated leader, whilst there are others who are capable of winning but are equally at home working for others. Kristian House - nicknamed The Dude for his laid-back style - is just such a rider and at the 2009 British Road Race Championships after working for others in his team, he found himself crossing the line first to claim the national title in front of a number of European mega stars. It was easily his biggest victory to date.
As the road season enters an important phase for British teams, Kristian and the riders in the Rapha Condor team are being kept very busy indeed with races in France, Ireland and Britain before heading Down Under for more major events.
When I spoke to Kristian at the Blackpool Nocturne, it had been around a month since his memorable victory and the British champion was quite taken aback at just how quickly the time had gone by. Asked what he has learnt from his big win to take forward into the rest of his career, Kristian replied "Racing with your head as well as your legs."
"So often you get caught up racing with your legs only but there I was racing with my head and most of that was because I wasn't racing for myself: when you do that, you ride differently. I ride a lot for other people and so to get something back from that was a good feeling. It helped kick start the season again for me and gives me the determination I'll need for the rest of the year."
After a Premier Calendar event at Blackpool, Kristian was part of the Rapha team that went to ride a stage race in China and, being diplomatic, said the racing out there was "interesting" before adding that it was perfect preparation for what the team are doing from August onwards.
"Racing at altitude was difficult" he explained when chatting about the race in China. "You'd be riding along in the bunch and it was dead easy even at 60k an hour. Then, you'd step out to try and move up and you're out of breath. Or, you'd be going up a climb and not realise how quickly you are going - then it hits you. It comes out of nowhere. Even when sleeping, you're having trouble breathing."
The stage race in China did prove to be a tough training camp for the big races ahead for Rapha like the Tour of Britain and Tour of Ireland where Kristian will get to race with a rider, Lance Armstrong, who comes from Austin, Texas, where the British Champion spent many formative years.
Back to the Chinese stage race, though, and it was an opportunity for Kristian to wear his champion's jersey which he admits felt good. "I saw a lot of mates of mine from Belgium and so on who I haven't seen in years and they were coming up and saying 'nice jersey', 'congratulations' and so on. It wasn't so nice when it was raining and the white jersey became black though!"
One of the recent changes to the distinctive balck Rapha team kit is the addition of some stripes - creating a very striking jersey indeed. Whilst Kristian's champion's jersey remains unchanged except for some cool Union Jacks on the shoulders and the sponsors name front and back, the black kit for the other riders now has pink and white stripes as well as similar Union Jack badges on the shoulders.
"It's very cool?" says Kristian, adding "they have kept the retro theme going as well as and the continuity with my jersey. The Union Jacks on the shoulders are brilliant."
But looking cool is one thing and getting results is another and after a good year for the team here in Britain and abroad, the pressure is on for the next few months in races which will be important for securing their sponsor publicity - they are, in effect, the biggest road races of the year outside of the British championships.
"All the races we have coming up are good races and that helps to keep you motivated and keep you going" Kristian explained. "Riding the Tour of Britain in the champion's jersey is going to be really special and if I get a result there in the jersey, that will be even better. I'm really motivated for that."
"The Tour of Britain has been a key goal of mine for three years to try and win something there whether it's a jersey like last year (King of the Mountains early in the race) or going for the overall or a stage win. The Sun Tour (big Australian stage race) as well will be really important as will the 'Tassie' (Tour of Tasmania) where Kristian has won the Points jersey in the past.
With all that racing to come, it means the season is a long one for Kristian and many of his teammates in Rapha Condor and a break from the racing isn't planned until the end of the year. Asked how he can sustain such a long season, Kristian is calm about it and says "You take three or four days off now and then and mentally that is a break and you don't lose anything physically. It's something you work into the programme and it works well for me."
Finally, with Kristian being based in Australia over our winter, he will get the opportunity to do something pretty cool - namely ride the Australian Road Race championship wearing the British champion's jersey. The race is held in the Southern summer and open to all comers although only Australian riders can win the champion's jersey. "I have raced the Aussie champs three or four times and will be riding for Lappers (Darren Lapthorne) and if we can help him win it, that'll be great."
As ever, Kristian seems as content racing for other as for himself - he remains a consumate pro and a worthy wearer of the national champion's jersey.