Drew Christensen is one of the bright young talents on the U19 scene, photo provided

Meet Drew, one half of ‘Team Christensen’.  The duo are at very different stages in their careers, but the talent running through the family is clear to see.  We caught up with Drew and coach Dylan Stewart from Training Wheels to discuss the journey that Christensen the Younger is on.

Back in March Drew Christensen won the CHB Junior Tour.  While we’ve been aware of him on the domestic cycling scene for some time, it was the manner in which he won, consistent throughout, victory in the last stage and triumphant in the GC and KOM classification that earned him plenty of attention.  The indicators are there that Drew has all the intentions of following in the footsteps of brother Ryan, now riding on the professional scene with Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes.

Looking back on this summer there have been ups and downs and Drew is pragmatic in his assessment of the summer, putting the season into context as a rider right at the beginning of the road in terms of his career.  My feeling about where I am presently is very good, I realise I’m only at the beginning of my cycle career and a lot of the junior races probably don’t suit my strengths. The longer and harder a race is over undulating and steep terrain suits me more. Looking back over the last 1.5 years, some mistakes have come by the dozen but experience has come by the truckload,” Drew told RoadCycling.

“The CHB Junior Tour was definitely a high, I made some good decisions, took on some good advice from my coach and brother Ryan and had the strength to take the win.  The racing at Age Group Nationals was challenging.  When you race as an individual against a team like Team Skoda-Fruzio and their tactics.  However, looking back at these races, it has made me confident in my ability and I know what to do in the future.”

Part of ‘Team Christensen’ means more teamwork than rivalry with brother Ryan, photo provided

Part of ‘Team Christensen’

Drew’s brother, Ryan, spent a number of years under the Oliver’s Real Food banner, racing and training in New Zealand and Australia and building a bit of a reputation for his aggressive style of racing, before the first opportunities in Europe properly came along back in 2017 in Italy and Belgium.  It was in 2018, however, that Ryan’s breakthrough arrived, with Canyon Eisberg – as it was then known – signing him in June and giving him the opportunities to race against World Tour professionals in races like the OVO Energy Tour of Britain.

Dylan Stewart of Training Wheels notices strong similarities between the two that naturally comes with being siblings.  Their potential for success in the in the sport is strong in each of them and he also sees the advantage that siblings in the same sport can bring. “An advantage is knowing you have someone who will be honest with you, someone you can turn too. Cycling can be a very lonely sport at times,” Dylan said.  “Disadvantage is your brother or sister might smash up your favourite race wheels!”

“In terms of potential they are very similar and very different. Drew has actually been riding about the same amount of time as Ryan and is having success at an earlier age than Ryan did, some might say that he has more potential because of this.  Ryan has got to where he is with a massive work ethic, ability to learn quickly and a clear unbridled goal of the World Tour.  Ryan is showing his potential now as he is getting to measure himself directly to where he wants to be as he is racing the top teams from time to time now still at a young age.  Drew will continue to show potential as like many young NZ road cyclists the preparation needs to meet opportunity.”

For Drew it’s less about sibling rivalry – something that one might naturally expect – with having Ryan around providing a bit of added firepower instead as far as Drew’s concerned.  “I believe it is a huge advantage to have a brother who has reached the ranks of the pro cycling peloton. When I get the chance to ride with my brother in races such as the Team Championship, I often learn the most, watching my brother racing and learning from the way he handles himself off the bike, it seems that I have fast-tracked my own race tactics and thus, know what to do if I am in the same position,” Drew explained.  

“My brother’s persistence through the seasons is also inspiring to me at the least, and with what he has gone through in Europe it has also motivated me to do the same and start the path to being a professional cyclist.  I’ve not really raced Ryan a lot as he is 5 years older, but when we do, I like to think of ourselves as ‘team Christensen’.”

Living with the Christensen name carries with it the weight of expectation that Drew could well follow in the footsteps of brother Ryan, but Christensen the Younger is keeping grounded for now.  “Although the expectation of filling my brother’s shoes is high, with what he has already achieved in his own road cycling career, I feel no pressure on my shoulders to match his results, I am my own man and I know the results will come my way with the hard work I put in.  In some ways, Ryan and my riding strengths are similar, which gives me good optimism that I can make it as well,” Drew told us.

Drew will join Ryan Christensen later on over in Europe to gain valuable international experience, photo Marion Wright/RoadCycling.co.nz

The overseas effect . . . .

Opportunity to compare where young New Zealand cyclists stand on an international scale are few and far between.  The Oceania championships gives Kiwis the chance to compare against riders from across the ditch, but last year it was the Tour de l’Abitibi that gave Drew his first exposure to racing against a truly diverse international field.  Riders from New Zealand, France, Canada, America, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, Great Britain and the Philippines spending 6 days racing against one another provides one of the best international opportunities for junior riders of the entire year.  While it was Sam Cook who took the win in stage 6 and 4th overall, Drew played support role through the race, finishing a strong 15th overall despite the domestique role.

“Embarking on my first international tour at the Tour de Abitibi was a change of racing style I loved. Team racing and the tactics employed was right up my alley and so enjoyable.  The experience gained with the U19 National team, managed by John Rippon, was extremely valuable.  Racing together against the big named teams of the USA, France, Canada National and Canadian domestic teams started off with NZ being the unknown or underdog team.  However, a handful of good results on the first few stages gave us confidence and respect by the rest of the peloton.  Then teaming up with France with their language barrier and racing hard to try and strip the American GC contender of the win was massive.  

“Looking back on the 6-day race, I enjoyed the racing scene and its new aggressive style of racing and look forward to more races like this in the future. My coach Dylan Stewart believes, the harder the race, the better I go.”

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. . . to domestic bliss

So far it’s been a case of domestic bliss for Drew this year, with two very contrasting tales to tell at the CHB Junior Tour and Te Awamutu Junior Tour.  At the one a stroke of misfortune put him in hospital within 300m of the end of the race, at the other it was a case of everything coming together in victorious fashion to give him the overall and KOM crowns.  

“The TA Tour ended up badly for me with a crash with 300 metres of the tour to go, sending me to hospital for gravel rash from head to toe and stitches to the elbow. Not an ideal build-up for [Age Group] Nationals.

“I believe it is important to set goals in life, short-term and long-term in order to achieve results, so every year I set goals. On my list of objectives, the words ‘CHB Tour win’ was at the top after narrowly missing out with 2nd on GC the year before. I knew the courses suited me, and being just 8 seconds off the win last year would hold me in a good position. The lead-up training and the numbers I was producing with my brother before he set off for another season abroad, were strong and so I had good faith in my form and mental toughness going into the Junior Tour this season.

The Tour kicked off with a 3.2km prologue time trial that put Xander White into pole position.  White posted the fastest time of the field, stopping the clock in 5.08mins with Jamie Dennis second at 3 seconds and Christensen third at 7 seconds.  What began in very promising fashion for Christensen threatened to undo itself for him and the rest of the GC contenders in stage 1 though as Ollie Simcock Smith and Ethan Craine put almost a minute into Alex Williams and Christensen.  It was the former who took the stage and with it the race lead as Drew sat in third place with a 41 second deficit to make up.

Christensen’s finest hour came in stage 2, where not only did he win the stage but he did it in emphatic fashion.  While a total of ten riders failed to finish the stage, Christensen found himself in his element as he crossed the line solo, with 2.31mins back to Jamie Dennis and Xander White, with overnight leader Smith conceding a little over 6 minutes; giving Christensen the title by 2.40mins from White with Dennis third at 2.42mins.

The future is bright for the Drew and Ryan combination, with Drew knowing that the tougher the race is, the better he gets, photo provided

U19 cycling and the future awaiting abroad in 2019

Junior Tours in New Zealand have become a staple for young riders, offering valuable race time in a nation where specific U19 racing is limited.  That is not to say that U19s have little-no opportunities to race, but not much with each other.  Dylan Stewart shared more.

“To be honest there isn’t much specific U19 racing except for some junior tours, and we have some very strong riders out there for sure.  They get to race each other a lot but not as peers very much, I’ll explain: with Teams Series and the Calder Stewart Series they will race each other with the U23s and elite men if they are good enough otherwise it’s cat 2 with some older hitters.  This gives them good racing experience in those environments.  They often do this on open gears and some train on them not their restricted ones.  U19 racing on its own is and should be super aggressive last man standing racing at u19 international standard distances.”

With Age Group Nationals now passed the focus now turns to rest and recuperation in view of tackling an International phase to the season later on in our New Zealand winter where hopefully Team Christensen will get some sort of reunion.  “A fresh break after Age Group Nationals and some rest from cycling and not overtraining now will help to ensure the chance to remain fresh which will help my racing in the future.  I’m hoping to head to Europe in July and catch up with my brother Ryan to compete in a few races and then back home with tours like the Tour of New Caledonia which Ryan did previously,” Drew said.  “I want to take this opportunity to thank my Family, Coach, Mentors, Teams I’ve raced for and Sponsors for their support in getting me to where I am now.”

We have a feeling that this is far from the last that we’ve seen of Drew and ‘Team Christensen’ in the coming years.  

To find out more about Ryan, Dylan and Training Wheels click here.

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