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Making a Mark: Mark Christian interview, part 2

The Manxman recalls the tumultuous closure of Aqua Blue, reflects on this time with Team Wiggins Le Col and hints at what is to come next season

For the second year in a row, Mark Christian has found himself looking for a new contract with his current team facing closure. Last season, his team Aqua Blue closed unceremoniously, pulling the plug before the Tour of Britain, leaving riders without a shop window to show themselves to potential suitors. His ‘lifeline’ this year, Team Wiggins Le Col, has also announced its closure, albeit in a far more orderly fashion.

I never quite lost hope. I always had faith that something was going to work out

In this second part of our two-part interview with the Manxman – you can read part 1 here – Christian recalls the tumultuous closure of Aqua Blue, reflects on this time with Team Wiggins Le Col and hints at what is to come next season.

2018 Tour de Yorkshire, Mark Christian. Photo: SWpix.com

Just over a year ago you were getting ready to race the Tour of Britain. But then the news broke that Aqua Blue had pulled out of the race…

It was only a couple weeks before the race was due to start that the news came through about the team. So that was just a massive shock. We knew the team was stopping. We found that out one morning, but it was like ‘oh well, a couple of weeks from now is the Tour of Britain and that’s another chance for us to show ourselves’ – because obviously we didn’t have a team for 2019. So it was like one last final chance.

The way it ended wasn’t great at all. Just to come to a sudden stop like that, which caught a lot of us out really

But then, I don’t know what had happened behind the scenes, but they had decided that we weren’t going to be doing the Tour of Britain either. And that was literally the end. The season just stopped there and then, which was pretty difficult.

We had a great couple years with the team and I’ll always be grateful for the chance I did get with them. But the way it ended wasn’t great at all. Just to come to a sudden stop like that, which caught a lot of us out really. The fact that it was so late didn’t leave us with much. I had already agreed verbally to stay on for another year with Aqua Blue. That was a real frustration because it meant I hadn’t been looking at other teams.

So in effect, you’d stopped looking at other options, other teams?

I knew from quite early on, mid-season, that I was going to be good to stay on for the next year. But I wasn’t in a mad rush to actually sign anything. And then it was only like probably a couple of weeks before the team closed that I started pushing to actually set a firm agreement with them.

And then there were a few things behind the scenes – plans for the team to merge with that other team [Ed – Vérandas Willems–Crelan]. So the team said, “Oh, wait until that gets sorted out. Then we’ll start getting out the contacts for next year to sign.”

Luckily, I was able to find a spot on Wiggins and they were great, to have me back. I really appreciated the opportunity they gave me. It was almost like a lifeline, and it was great to be able to fall back on that. I really want to thank the management and everyone at the team for the opportunity to come back.

It was a notoriously tough contract year in 2018, with a number of teams closing. How tricky was it finding another team? Were you close to kind of quitting last year?

I don’t think I ever gave up, to be honest. You know, like you say, it was like a tight year. And it seemed to be an exceptionally bad year for some reason. I think there were a few other teams dropping out and it just seemed to be a really busy market. I think it’s difficult every year, but people seemed to be saying that last year was more so than ever for some reason. But I never really lost hope.

I always felt in myself that I still had a lot more to give

I knew I’d been getting better physically over my previous couple of years at Aqua Blue and I always felt in myself that I still had a lot more to give. So I never really wanted to give up. I suppose you are faced with the reality at the time of, “Oh shit, what if I don’t get anything”. But I never quite lost hope. I always had faith that something was going to work out.

HSBC UK National Road Series – Cycle 360 Manx International Stage 4 – Mark Christian of Wiggins LeCol. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

And with your team this season, Team Wiggins Le Col, closing down, you find yourself once again looking for another team. How have things differed? It didn’t seem to be quite the sudden, unexpected announcement you encountered at Aqua Blue?

Yeah. There’d been a few rumours that it could potentially be happening. And then I think also for me personally, I don’t think I would’ve been on the team next year anyway, even if it had continued. So I don’t think it’s really affected me the same way it did last year. But it’s definitely a big change for a lot of the guys on the team and put them in a hard position. But yeah, I think there had been talk about it in the background as well at any rate.

We all know about Tom Pidcock’s massive potential. Having spent some time with them, are there any other Team Wiggins riders that we should watch out for in the seasons to come?

Like you say, Tom Pidcock is setting the world alight at the moment. And then I think [James] Fouché has really shown himself well this year. And Gabz Cullaigh as well. Obviously, he’s moving on to World Tour next year. But I think some of the other guys are worth watching too. Like Ben Healy, who popped up with a stage win at the Tour de L’Avenir. I think he’s shown really good progress considering he’s only a first-year senior. To be honest, I think with all the lads on the team, everyone puts a lot in, and everyone works really hard and hopefully everyone will be sorted for a contract next season.

HSBC UK National Road Series – Chestnut Homes Lincoln Grand Prix – Tom Pidcock of Wiggins Le Col. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

What difference do you think Team Wiggins disappearing will make to the domestic scene and the development of riders going forward?

I think it’ll be a massive gap. I think what it provided was a great opportunity for guys getting into European racing. I think for riders coming out of the junior categories, that wanted a British setup, it’s been the first ‘go-to’ team really in terms of applying for teams. If you look at that programme they have ridden, riding UCI races in Europe and the mix of under 23 races like the Baby Giro, it provided a great opportunity for some guys. And I think it’s been the perfect kind of set up really to discover that scene and then be able to show yourself to kick onto better things as well.

So I definitely think there will be a gap there … It’s just a shame. I think this is the sort of thing we saw last year with teams dropping out of the British scene [with JLT Condor and One Pro Cycling disappearing]. I think that last year it seemed to pull through okay, with other teams stepping up. But I think Wiggins is a little bit different, where it was really focused on that development side of things and they really looked at young riders. So I think it’s a shame on that front really.

In total, you were on the team for 3 of the 5 years it was in existence. What are your favourite memories of riding for the team?

It’s been a right mixed bag, but there have been a lot of very positive memories along the way. I think racing with Brad in his first year or two of the team – there were a few good highlights in there. I mean, doing the Tour of Britain with him, post-Olympics when the amount of attention around the team was incredible. He was a massive star in Britain and not even just in cycling terms. He was getting to that status of being a sporting icon. So being on the team with him and having so much attention around the team bus before the stage starts was a cool experience. And it was great to learn from the guy as well.

Mark Christian in the 2016 Team Wiggins kit Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

The Team Wiggins kits always been pretty striking over the year. Could you pick out a favourite?

I’d probably go back to the 2016 one actually. But I’ve got to say I do really like the current one as well. I think every year they’ve pretty much nailed it, to be honest.

And finally, how do things stand with looking for a team next season?

I can’t say much at the moment, just that I am still working to finalise plans for 2020.