Up and coming British rider Jacob Hennessey has said his first month with his new Mitchelton – BikeExchange squad has been “surreal”.
Hennessey, who was on the British Cycling academy in 2017, raced mainly with the Great British team on the road at U23 events last year. He signed for the China-registered Mitchelton-BikeExchange, sister team of Mitchelton-Scott over the winter to focus on road racing.
“It has been surreal,” Hennessey told Cycling Weekly ahead of his first race at the Dubai Tour.
“I went on the WorldTour training camp, I got to ride with the Yates brothers and Roman Kreuziger. For the first minute its like ‘wow they are like idols’ and then they’re kicking your head in and it feels like a bike race.”
He added: “We were with the climbers, there were a load of climbers and whenever we started going uphill they are tapping, pressing on but not really trying. I’m not a climber so I was like the fat lad at the back sat really pressing on.”
Hennessy came into the team off the back of a successful season in which he won the U23 Ghent-Wevelgem, Grand Prix Pierre Dewailly and a stage of the 2.2-level Paris-Arras Tour.
The Cambridgeshire-born rider explained his decision to join a trade team for 2018: “With GB it’s very focused on the track and because of the training specifically for the track you do lose a bit of focus on the road. Races weren’t really a goal you just turn up and try and do well.”
He was coy about his goals for the season but as a China-registered team the Tour of Langkawi in March is a earmarked as a place the Continental-level squad wants to perform well.
Hennessy was “well chuffed” with his result in the first test of the season finishing sixth in the Dubai Tour’s first stage sprint ahead of the likes of Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo).
“Last year I did a lot of work with Chris Lawless [now at Sky] he was the best sprinter by far out of the two of us but it was good to get an eye in in the sprints.
“I had a little bit more of an idea of what it was going to take and what position I needed to be in but yesterday I looked ahead and they were already sprinting. From then it was carnage, a proper blockade but it’s got nothing on an U23 Italian one dayer.”
Some of sprinting’s bigger names including Cavendish and Kristoff had slated the chaotic nature of Tuesday’s sprint on what is the most technically difficult finish of the race but Hennessy wasn’t phased by it.
“We sat around laughing [when we saw those comments] they should come and race one of the U23 races. If you want carnage you should see 200 riders who think they can win rather than one rider from each team. When everyone is sprinting for the win it’s a bit more all over the place,” he said.
However, the early success won’t change Hennessy’s plan for the race which he said was mainly about “learning”.
“I’m happy with were I am but it’s not a goal, I’m not pinging [on form]. It felt quite safe for me because ideas giving everyone room, if people were pushing I’d just move because its not worth it for me,” he said.
“For the big name sprinters it’s the first race of the season and it’s really important… They come to win, there’s no messing around.”