Youngster Julian Jessop shows his versatility
07 November 2016
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Hello and welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, I’m Gerald de Kock. For the next 10 minutes it’s mountain biking we’re talking about as ever and there’s so much to talk about. So many topics of interest around this wonderful sport of ours. Today I am at an event and it’s a big stage race down in the southern cape called the Cape Pioneer Trek. I’m sitting talking to the youngest man in the race, Julian Jessop. How old are you Julian?
Julian Jessop: 19.
GDK: Your first big stage race for you, you’re a serious cross country racer, you’re a national champion in your age group. But how has it been, big distance, big step up.
JJ: Yes, the stage racing is definitely a different dynamic. Cross country is only an hour and a half and the last few days have been 3:50, 3:40. Definitely at the last 10km I’m tired a lot, but also one of the major focuses, as important as the racing is the recovery. Once you’ve finished it’s shower, eat, massage, sleep, not much walking at all. That also plays a big part in stage racing.
Teaming up with James Reid
GDK: You’re racing with the South African champion, James Reid, who is just back from an Olympic experience. You’re obviously using that as a great learning curve as well?
JJ: Yes, with James, with the recovery and that being so important, I’m following his schedule and his programme which seems to work really well. Yesterday I suffered a lot and really hurt in the last 10km and today I was a lot better. But it’s always really nice to ride with James, I’m learning a lot.
We’ve ridden a few times before and in a few training camps together and actually one of the training camps for Olympics. This is where he came up with the idea for riding together the Cape Pioneer Trek. I’m really enjoying it so far and hopefully tomorrow with a slightly shorter stage we can be more active.
GDK: Right, now let’s go back, let’s get away from the Cape Pioneer for now and go back to why and how it is that you’re racing. I suppose in a way heading towards a full-time career in this business. But a year ago you were just finishing school, where did you finish school?
JJ: At Clifton College. Actually on Monday I got a Facebook memory saying a year ago it was my last day of school, so that’s quite cool to see. I was probably struggling, a year ago now, to learn for finals.
How I got into mountain biking
GDK: Mountain biking is in the family clearly, because you’ve got brothers who mountain bike, but it’s not a traditional school sport. So how did it come that you turned to mountain biking?
JJ: Actually I didn’t mountain bike until I was 10 and my dad just came home one day with a bike for myself and my brothers and from there we just rode bikes. The following year I did my first race and I think from there I got hooked and been racing a lot of weekends.
At school it’s not a school sport at my school, but with the Spur League, there’s a lot more schools now introducing mountain biking as a school sport. Which is definitely broadening the mountain biking in the community, in all the schools. Also top schools like Paul Roos and Stellenbosch, mountain biking is a big sport, so it’s definitely nice to see that.
GDK: What attracted you, I think as a young boy, perhaps you started winning races. What made you go back to your next race and go back to your next race and then go out and train?
JJ: With brothers, you become quite competitive, especially if you’re the oldest one! That competitiveness really got to me and my first cross country I came second. Then from there it was actually focusing on making the KZN team for National Champs which was in George. George where we are speaking right now, a few years back when I was u12 I had my first ever national cross country. So definitely nice to be back in the same town.
GDK: Training and doing not only the physical training, but the skills training as well. While you’re at school, was it something you did on your own? Did you have a coach or how did it fit in with your other activities around school?
JJ: Skills, where I live is the city, other than Umhlanga, so there’s not many trails. My brother and I, we always built jumps and that’s actually how we learnt our skills on our BMX’s. Even in these stages I feel, in the longer stages, the marathon riders from cross country, I feel my skills help me recover where they are a little bit more wary.
With the school, it was quite hard to balance cycling, with it not being a school sport in my school, and academics. Academics is also very important to myself and my family. I actually spoke to James Reid in the beginning of last year, that’s how I actually met him properly, on how he balanced it. Because he had done it before really well. I stopped school sport, just focusing on cycling.
It was definitely a hard balance, I actually missed my trials when I went to World Champs. So I wrote three trials before I went to World Champs, didn’t learn once while I was at World Champs where I came 14th. Then came back and I had three days before math paper one. I wrote the rest of my trials by myself in a room and it was definitely hard. But it was well worth it, I wouldn’t change the plan at all.
What is the plan going forward?
GDK: 14th at Junior Worlds, you’re stepping out into the big world now, what are your ambitions? What are your plans, what are you thinking about in terms of mountain biking?
JJ: Definitely at the moment I’m running with the wild dogs at the moment. My ambition is to become professional, I would like to become a professional mountain biker. I’m still studying at the moment, BCom Financial Accounting, UNISA degree through Varsity College. but I want to become professional, hopefully next year.
It’s just with South Africa, not many teams, so you have to be really good to make the team. Hopefully through this race, also can get me a lot of exposure on Twitter with Oliver Munnik and that, so we’ll see next year. Hopefully I am professional and racing more races like this.
GDK: Is cross country going to be your focus?
JJ: Definitely cross country, I really like it, especially when I’m younger, the explosiveness, but cross country ends in September with World Champs, normally. So all the big stage races are afterwards, so I really enjoy marathon. I was 3x marathon, well once youth and then two Junior SA Champion for marathon. So I really enjoy it and I also use it for training. It’s great racing, just racing your mountain bike, that’s it.
GDK: There’s no secret that in order to really make that big step and I don’t think Burry Stander was the great example. He went overseas and he spent a long time there, we know what the problems are with cost and sponsorship and the like. But would that be your ultimate thing, to get out there as soon as you can and spend a whole season there?
Racing at the highest level in Europe would be the ultimate
JJ: Definitely. The whole European racing is just so different. You have 130 riders on the start line and where you normally have a gap in the SA between rider A and rider B of 30 seconds with nobody in between. In Europe you have 10-15 riders all in between that 30 second gap, the guys are strong and it just ups your level like nothing other. I would really like to get to Europe as much as possible.
GDK: You’ve been there and you’ve raced there and you look at those riders, is there something in you that says: I’m up with these guys?
JJ: In the beginning of the year in April I went to Germany to do a Bundesliga and then Italy to do the Italian National Series, the cup. In Germany I came 18th for u23, I actually beat Lukas Baum who was Junior World Champion when it was here in SA. So I’ve shown some good results with some potential.
But it’s kind of once-off, I haven’t had the opportunity to do it time and time again. I definitely would like to hope and that’s why I’m trying so hard, so that I can compete with those big boys. But hopefully next year I can get some more exposure and then really make my mark with those guys.
GDK: Your brother is still competing, one of your brothers is still competing, Thomas?
A family affair
JJ: Yes, Tom is competing, he’s in matric now, so he’s actually doing the graft of finals. I think he writes AP math this week. Unfortunately, at the beginning of last year he had ACL reconstruction on his knee, it’s the second one, so that’s kind of hindered him. But he’s really coming on strong.
We train a lot together, he’s very strong, especially with me, the brotherly competitiveness, with the brothers. Next year he’s following the same route as me, studying at Varsity College and cycling. Hopefully maybe we’ll even be teaming up to do the Cape Pioneer Trek next year.
GDK: Fantastic. If you were to look at where you’ve come in these short years and those schooling years and a youngster here at the school here in George would come up to you. Say: What would you do differently, or would you do anything differently in terms of how you’ve gone about your last 5-6 years?
JJ: That’s quite a hard question. When you become very focused on mountain biking, you’ve got to tick all the boxes, it’s not just training and cycling. Like I thought it was just that, but it’s not. It’s sleep, you have to sleep properly. You have to eat properly. You have to do core gym work. You would think it’s not important, but it’s very important.
So if you want to do it at a really high level, you’ve got to put in the work and tick all the boxes. It’s a lot of dedication, a lot of sacrifice. But with all the sacrifice, when you do something, like go to World Champs, it makes everything worth it. If that’s what you really want to do and you’re still motivated to wake up early and train and suffer on a hill, then you must go for it and give it your all.
GDK: You’ve certainly done that, Julian, thanks for chatting to us, good luck with all those dreams and ambitions. May you continue to bring excitement and joy, you seem to love what you do?
JJ: Yes, mountain biking, there’s nothing quite like it, just the freedom and the trails, you get so much out of it and you meet so many people. I’ve got a friend network around the whole of SA through mountain biking and one of my best friends, they understand you and what you do. It’s always such a pleasure to be with them and meet them at the SA National Series. Mountain biking, sometimes in school when I had an off period, I don’t know what people do with spare time, I couldn’t study all afternoon, so I was like, I should be training.
It’s certainly had a big impact on my life and I’ve really enjoyed it. I couldn’t have done it without my family, my parents support me through and through. As soon as I get back from my stage, the first thing I do is find my phone and message them on my Pioneer Update Group, with my gran and my brother. So it’s all very much a family effort. You need that support, but mountain biking, hopefully I can make it a way of living in the not so distant future.
GDK: Julian Jessop, thanks very much for chatting, he is one of the future talents, one of the current talents for the future in South African mountain biking. Cross country specialist, but cutting his teeth on a big stage race here in the Southern Cape, the Cape Pioneer Trek.
Wonderful story, wonderful inspirational story of a man who had a goal and he’s chasing his dream. Which is what all of us should be doing in whatever walk of life we inhabit. I hope you’ve enjoyed that podcast right here on the Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, if you did so, you can download once more. Until next time, take care, cheers.