Interviews Riders

Domestic rider to watch: Jacob Hennessy interview

One of our domestic riders to watch talks about his season at Mitchelton-BikeExchange and his thoughts about the year ahead

As Matilda Price explained in her new faces for 2019 post, Jacob Hennessy is a rider that may not be familiar to many cycling fans. And yet, the 22-year-old already has a strong palmares and has shown he can compete with some of the very best in the world. With a strong sprint and proven classics pedigree, we think he’s a rider who could be deserving of a lot more attention by the season’s end, which is why we’ve tipped him as one of our domestic riders to watch in 2019.

Hennessy has returned to the domestic scene this season after a year with the Mitchelton-Bike Exchange development team. It’s a scene he is familiar with after racing with the (now called) Spirit Tifosi team in 2015, riding as a  stagiaire for JLT Condor in 2016 and spending a year with the Great Britain academy in 2017.

The 22-year-old first leapt to our attention with his win in the under-23 Gent Wevelgem race in 2017. Although missing out on a win last season, he nonetheless acquitted himself well, riding a programme with a big focus UCI Asia Tour. His 6th place in the opening stage of the Dubai Tour against some of the best sprinters of the world was particularly noteworthy. He should find himself with plenty of opportunities at his new team, Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes, whose race programme will have a strong Belgian flavour.

Photo: Hugh McManus / Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes

You’ve obviously got a fast finish, but clearly you have previous in some of the classics-style races. I’d be interested in your take on what kind of rider you’d say you are?

I don’t know really. I love watching the classics so, I really want to see myself racing there. Maybe race the proper Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix. I’m confident with my sprint but I’m still working on it, I’d like to think I can be there at the end of some of the harder days.

You spent your last year as an under-23 at the Mitchelton-BikeExchange Continental development team. Can you explain why you decided to move to that team from the Great Britain Academy? 

It was a really tough decision. Brian [Stephens], the coach at the time at GB, knew James Victor [Sports Director at Mitchleton-BikeExchange] from the Aussie programme and a conversation had been had after the Paris Arras Tour [a UCI 2.2. race]. The Great Britain Academy was honestly incredible, but it had a lot of track focus, and since I had had a good road season, I wanted to try to push that on. Mitchelton-BikeExchange seemed like the perfect move. 

It was your last year as an under-23 in 2018. Going into last season, what were you hoping to achieve? 

I really wanted to win the ZLM Tour last season. Having split the race with [Chris] Lawless the year before, and then leading him out to launch a solo attack, I really wanted to have my own go last year [instead, Hennessy crashed and broke his collarbone in that race].

A lot of my goals were about learning though. I’d never been on a Continental road team, I’d never raced the races I was doing. Obviously, I wanted to win, but I wasn’t under any illusion it would just happen. 

Paris-Roubaix was a choker; to be told four days before that the collarbone isn’t healing and you have to just sign on and pull out after the neutral zone really sucked

Hennessy after his ZLM Tour crash. Photo: Jacob Hennessy

And how would you describe how it actually went (and why)? 

Pretty naff if I’m honest, results-wise. I got a few podiums and plenty of top tens but after crashing and breaking my collarbone and shoulder at the ZLM Tour, I missed out on a lot of races that suit me really well.

Paris-Roubaix was a choker; to be told four days before that the collarbone isn’t healing and you have to just sign on and pull out after the neutral zone really sucked, but that’s life. 

However, I did get to race in some unreal places with a bunch of top lads and really did enjoy the experience so it wasn’t all bad. But from a performance perspective I was pretty gutted. 

Also, it’s worth mentioning that I think changing teams is a really underrated issue. New bikes, new staff, where you live, new teammates; I think it’s overlooked, but it’s super stressful. 

Could you say a bit more about that? What is it that is so challenging? What was your experience of it last season? 

The way cycling is, it’s very much a team sport. Moving teams means changing teammates, different staff, different ideas and different sponsors. It’s a big shift, it’s just like starting at a new company, even if it is the same industry. So it takes a bit of getting used to.

Last season was a big shift from the Academy to Mitchelton. Not unpleasant in any way but involved moving to a new place (Gavirate, Italy), and new everything else makes it a bit of a challenge. That said, the Aussie culture makes it a lot easier to feel comfortable. It was very welcoming and inclusive, as they’re a long way from home as well.

Any particular highlights or lowlights? 

Plenty of both. Highlights included riding my arse off for Rob [Stannard, who earned a World Tour contract with Mitchelton-Scott this season] and then to make the time cut at the Baby Giro. It was genuinely a super-hard race. Also, Kaden Groves’ win on the last day in the Tour of Qinghai Lake was a massive highlight. We all lived together all year. So was a real close group. 

The lowlight has to be crashing in the ZLM Tour. 

What were the biggest things you learnt about yourself as a bike rider last season? 

I pick up accents embarrassingly quick. A few months in and I was talking with an Aussie twang: very disappointed in myself.

Transfer time is always a bit of a blur, horribly stressful

You switched to Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes this season. How did that move come about?  

I’ve known Tim [Elverson] for quite a while, from when I raced for Spirit Bikes as it was back then. I needed a ride as Mitchelton was going to focus on Asian riders only and we just got talking. I’m not really sure if I’m honest though; transfer time is always a bit of a blur, horribly stressful. 

And what was your reason for joining them? 

Tim was explaining their race programme and it just sounded perfect for me. It’s another new team for me, but it’s a lot more familiar, I know the UK and European races and have raced most of the riders on my team before so it wasn’t overly new. 

Adam Hartley and Jacob Hennessy at the Dave Rayner Fund dinner 2018
Photo: Dave Rayner Fund

What do you think the big differences will be riding for a domestic team in the UK and Europe, compared with your mainly Asian-based season last year? 

The roads are much wider in Asia and the climbs are much longer there. 
If I’m honest, they really didn’t suit me, those sort of races. But it’s not like I didn’t race in Europe that much either. The first half of the season was mostly Italian one-day races which for sure sharpen you up to racing on narrow roads at four times the speed of sound. I don’t think there will be too many issues finding my feet back in Europe. 

You’ve just completed your first races for Canyon dhb at Mallorca Challenge. How did you find them? 

I loved it. But then again, I had the two days in perfect sunshine and didn’t crash. I really like those races. Top riders in the world turn up and properly race. 

How is your race programme shaping up this season? What races can we expect to see you in? 

Hopefully you’ll see me a lot: plenty of Belgium racing, French racing, Dutch racing and some UK racing. 

Are there any particular races you are targetting this year? And what your goals generally this season? 

None in particular. I haven’t been able to sit down with Tim and really iron out the plan but as soon as I do I’ll let you know.

Image: Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes