Christiaan Kriek will no longer be that unfamiliar name on the Jelly Belly/Kenda team roster: the South African made himself known by sprinting his way into the race's green jersey and waging a cagey defense on the final stage to win the overall points classification at the Redlands Bicycle Classic in California this weekend.
The 23-year-old from Stellenbosch was part of a large breakaway on the second stage, and netted enough intermediate sprint points to don the green jersey after the stage. During the early part of the next day's criterium, Kriek's team delivered him to more points in the first two sprints, but stage 2 winner Luis Amaran (Jamis-Hagens Berman) came within one point of his lead in the competition in the later sprints.
Kriek used all of his energy to pad his lead in the first two sprints of the testing Sunset Road circuit on the final stage to secure the points classification win, and then was able to simply focus on getting to the finish.
It was never a plan, per se, for Kriek to target the green jersey competition, but he said, "when the opportunity arises, you have to grasp it with both hands and make the most out of it.
"As it turns out I lost a bit of time in the time trial on the first day, so I knew I had a bit of leash to go up the road if the chance came around. When I got into the break, I decided to go for it. I decided I had the fastest kick out of the group I was in, and if I could get onto the podium and get a jersey for the team, that's what it's all about."
Kriek's goal is to get to the top of the sport, but rather than take the usual path through one's national or local Continental teams, he decided to leave South Africa at a young age and pursue his career abroad.
"I raced in Belgium for a two or three months in 2011, but I decided the US might be a better option if you want to get into one of the Pro Continental or WorldTour teams that's based in the states," Kriek said.
"I decided I would have to go outside my comfort zone a bit in order to give myself the opportunity. We have a good racing scene in South Africa, but you're never going to jump from a Continental team there to the ProTour. I started mailing a few Continental teams but it's hard when you don't know them and they don't know you, so I had to go with an amateur team."
He joined the Simple Green squad in 2012, and quickly earned top honours in two Southern California road races, the Snelling Road Race in Northern California, and a stage of the Tour of Murrieta. Those results caught the attention of Jelly Belly, who signed him mid-season. He went on to finish fifth overall in the Nature Valley Grand Prix last year and won the Tour of Murrieta overall this year before putting in his impressive ride in Redlands.
"Jelly Belly has treated me really well and gave me a lot of opportunities. It's a great group of guys, and we have a lot of fun together. It's probably one of the best roads to get to the top."
The points jersey is just one step toward Kriek's dream of reaching the top in a journey which began on the dirt. As a junior, Kriek won the South African mountain bike cup, and when he landed in the USA he had only a year of road racing experience under his belt.
Kriek, like many South Africans, had the goal of winning the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, and only dabbled on the road for training, but while in University, he became part of the cycling team and was lured into the road team.
"One thing led to another, and I got into road racing and decided to switch it up for a few years. It's exciting, it's a new environment with new challenges. Mountain biking gets lonely at times, in the sense you're racing on your own and you're training on your own."
When asked if he would ever go back to the dirt, Kriek said, "I'll give myself another two or three years on the road, and see what happens, If nothing comes of it maybe I'll switch to cyclo-cross."