When the U23 team for the UCI World Road Championships was announced there were little surprises at the names of James Fouche and Ryan Christensen; but to many the inclusion of James Mitri would have been the relative eyebrow raiser. We decided to try and get to know him a bit better.
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At 19 years of age Mitri boasts the distinction of being not just one of the younger riders who will be on the start line in Innsbruck this week, but he is also one of the youngest cyclists in the world to have reached the professional ranks. In 2018 he joined the Burgos-BH team on a three-year contract, the very same Burgos-BH team that lit up many a breakaway at the Vuelta a Espana this month.
As he gets set to line up in Innsbruck, it’s the continuation of a proud family heritage that stands out to James. “The prospect of lining up for NZ is a proud moment for my family as it continues the family’s run of representing NZ,” James said. “On a personal level I’m happy to ride in Innsbruck, I think it’s a very beautiful course and will be cool to ride my first worlds in this place!”
Mitri’s history on the bike is very European-dominated as he has spent much of his life in the UK; moving out of New Zealand when he was just 4 years old. That’s where it all began for him and where he first discovered life on two wheels. “I was five years old and I started with a mountain bike and then I joined a local club in the UK because my parents were there for work; and I got into mountain bike, track, road, cyclocross; everything really. That’s where it took off.”
His time in the UK, which saw him take on the national series and junior races around the country, were more enjoyable than serious for Mitri. Although Spain has been the location of his big breakthrough, it was signing for JLT-Condor that saw a more serious approach come in. “I was racing around Europe with them, and I did some good races and got strong results mainly in Spain; and that got me spotted.”
“Last year I was strong in the Spanish climbing races with the victory of Pamplona and 7th in Itzulia GC which got me spotted by Burgos because these races have been won and ridden my lots of big names when they were juniors.”
His first season with the team has been very much about breaking in easy in a sense, with no serious pressure to get the big results at ProContinental level at just 19 years of age. “This year I have been a worker for the captains of my team and the team have been very pleased with my work and the prospect for next year’s calendar is exciting. This year has mainly been to learn the trade as I am part of a very small club to go from Junior straight to professional Continental.”
Mitri certainly doesn’t seem to have been taken aback by being the ‘small fish in the big pond’, instead feeling that this has been a more suitable development for him than some of the more conventional avenues towards professional cycling for many Kiwis. “Going to ProConti has taught me a lot and now when I look back it was the best decision because there is no substitute with the real thing. I think development teams have their place but for some riders they aren’t the best move because the calendars aren’t always suitable for the type of rider,” Mitri explained. “Some people thought I was crazy but I have stepped up to the level fine and next year will have opportunity to display myself more.”
The U23 men’s road race will take place from Kufstein to Innsbruck on a 174.3km course that takes in a monstrous amount of climbing. The Igls climb, which is 7.9km in length and averages 5.7% gradient will be tackled four times before the fast descent and flat section to the finish. Mitri is already familiar with the course and was able to provide valuable recon information for Cycling New Zealand prior to the race.
“I went to look at the course in April to get an idea and help NZ by feeding detailed info to all their riders about the parcour,” Mitri said. “I have had this race in my calendar as a goal however I haven’t pressured myself because it’s the end of the season, a one day race where anything can happen and I will simply do my best with what I have on that day.”
The U23 men’s road race takes place on Friday 28th in the evening New Zealand time.