Sam Jenner made it back home to Armidale this week following an exceptional January in which he won the U23 National Road Race title and was part of the wildcard UniSA team that won the Teams Competition in Australia’s UCI World Tour curtain opener, the Santos Tour Down Under.
Although he’ll be off racing again shortly, he made time to get in touch with Armidale Cycling Club who of course have followed his recent progress with interest and more than a little enthusiasm.
Our very own club wildcard, Andrew Kirk managed to usurp just about every sports journalist on the continent, including Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen by calling Sam straight from the front bar at the Bowling Club once he’d heard news of Sam’s Nationals win. Bizarrely enough Sam answered his phone and then received some sage advice from Kirky who’d just finished a very tough criterium race himself so clearly they had a huge amount in common on that day.
Strange phone calls seemed to be a theme on the Saturday. After his win Sam rode across to the podium for the customary celebrations, interviews, photos etc and then wheeled over to the ASADA tent next door for his first experience of serious anti-doping tests which of course make most people just a little bit nervous. He dealt with that fine though, producing the necessary samples with consummate ease. That dealt with, he started to relax and even had the presence of mind to check with his soigneur and make sure his bike was packed and in the trailer before the team headed home.
He was half-way back to Melbourne when his phone rang, it wasn’t Kirky this time, it was ASADA the anti-doping people calling him. You can imagine what rattled through his head in that split-second, what’s gone wrong, what’s happened, why are they calling me, there must be some problem? And indeed there was a problem. The problem was Sam’s bike was still leaning up against the side of the ASADA tent where he’d left it. His other bike, his spare one, was packed in the trailer just like his soigneur had said. Fortunately there were still a few people in Buninyong, including some great guys at the South Australian Sports Institute who packed his bike up and brought it back to his hotel.
Sam had got in the break early on that day in the 132km road race along with around 20 other guys. By the time they got down to the last 5 laps of the 10km circuit he was aware that he was doing a lot of the work and decided to jump away on the next downhill twisty section just where you could quickly get out of sight. “I really just wanted to check what the reaction would be and see if I could cause a bit of confusion” he says but he quickly pulled out a good gap and of course by then there was no going back.
He was giving it everything and with one lap to go was cramping badly in both legs. “I was constantly switching sitting, standing, sitting, standing all the way up that last climb to make sure I kept going but didn’t feel much pain as I was just totally committed”. Although he had pulled out a good gap on the chasing group of nine riders, by this stage of the race he wasn’t sure how far back they were. With 2km to go his Subaru NSWIS team car which had been tailing him throughout his break was instructed to deviate off the course, a move which to Sam meant the chasers had closed the gap and were coming fast. Fortunately though it was just a bit of race protocol from the commissaires and they weren’t closing in at all meaning Sam had the pleasure of freewheeling over the line, arms aloft to win by 47s amid scenes of jubilation and high emotion in the Jenner camp.
A few days later the news was out. On the back of his win Sam had secured a ride with the UniSA team in the first 2017 UCI World Tour event, the Santos Tour Down Under. A major race attracting some of the biggest names in world cycling, including current and two-times World Road Race Champion Peter Sagan along with a host of Australian stars. Sam would be the youngest rider in the event and his young team would be going head-to-head with 18 other world tour teams such as Team Sky, Orica-Scott, BMC and Movistar.
All the stages were televised live in Australia which made for fascinating viewing for everyone back home. Although it’s a highly competitive event with riders jostling for places and recognition before teams are finalised ahead of the new season, plenty of Aussie pro riders made a point of saying hello and congratulating Sam on his performance in the nationals. When the overall Tour winner, Richie Porte of Team BMC comes up to you and shares a few positive words on your riding ability, you know you must be doing something right.
Those catching up with the coverage in the evenings will have seen young Sam quite literally rubbing shoulders with the big names in the pro peloton. Towards the end of the last stage he was on the front driving the leadout for team-mate Callum Scottson as the pace was picking up. As often happens in these high-speed moves the riders drift from side to side and he soon found himself wedged between the barrier and a Bahrain Merida rider causing him to bump into Ulissi who was sitting in 5th place in GC. Ulissi gave him a good friendly shove back again at which point he must have been thankful for the solid grounding gained in club criterium racing at the Traffic Education Centre in Armidale.
Fortunately everyone stayed upright and although Scottson didn’t win the stage, he did finish ahead of Ulissi that day and as the results were analysed it became clear that UniSA had taken out the Team Award for the tour. That particular award goes to the team with the lowest cumulative time for their top 3 riders across every stage of the event and UniSA won it by a huge margin of 1m:19s from Movistar with Trek Segafredo just one second further back in third. Not bad for a young Aussie wildcard team with five of the six youngest riders in the race and four world tour debutants. Congratulations Nathan Earle, Cameron Meyer, Lucas Hamilton, Jai Hindley, Sam Jenner, Callum Scotson and Michael Storer, and of course also to director sportif Brad McGee.
So what’s next for Sam Jenner? Rest-assured he has a few irons in the fire and no doubt we’ll hear news of his schedule pretty soon. Hopefully in the meantime he can kick back, enjoy a few well-earned days at home with family and friends and maybe turn up at the odd local road race to give Kirky a run for his money.