As he completes the final stretch of his schooling career, 18-year-old cross-country mountain bike star, Julian Jessop shares some of his highs, lows, and future plans for the season to come.
2015 has been a great year for Jessop. Finishing 14th at the 2015 UCI MTB World Championships in Andorra in September was a career highlight for aspiring young cyclist. The Concept Cyclery Ballito/Specialized SA rider made a remarkable recovery after an accident that set him back in July 2014. Jessop was out of the game for close to four months after breaking his back in a sudden twist of fate. “It was absolutely heart breaking - I was devastated,” he said.
When asked to explain the full story of his accident, he said:
“In the beginning of 2014 I set ‘Racing in World Champs,’ to be my goal. On 8 July, I was putting on my shoes and getting ready to go for a ride when my coach, Johann Wykerd, phoned me to tell me the news that I could only dream about - I was selected for the national team. I was ecstatic. After about an hour of celebrating it was time to get on my bike. Behind our garage we had recently built a really cool jump that we had been jumping the whole of the previous afternoon. Just before we left I was going to do one jump. I cased the landing with my front wheel, which caused me to go flying over the hands bars and I landed directly onto my back on super hard ground - no grass, just dirt. I describe the feeling as being like a stunned fish - I couldn’t move nor breathe.”
After gaining some movement shortly afterwards, Jessop went to the hospital for X-Rays and an MRI, which revealed a compression fracture of T9 vertebra and a crack straight through T12. “This is your upper vertebrae - they are the little ridges you feel when you run your hand down your spine. T12 is about 3/4 down your back and T9 is three vertebrae above it,” he said.
Jessop then spent three months in a brace and no exercise, followed by three months of intense rehabilitation in order to build strength back into all the muscles and restore his core stability. “I found it very hard to get back into cycling. I had been in the best form of my life when I crashed and my mind battled to comprehend the difference in riding a bike,” he said.
Starting out in 2015, he wasn’t convinced that he would be strong enough, especially after his first National XCO race. “I couldn't handle the severity of the race pace intensity. It was just too much for me. And at the second National race it looked doubtful that I would be able to achieve my dream this year,” he added.
After the rocky start, he regrouped, re-planned, and became more committed and determined than ever, making a lot of sacrifices. All whilst trying to keep up his grades and focus on his matric year. He began to gain his strength back and started to see results towards the end of June.
His luck turned around this year when he was selected for the 2015 UCI MTB World Championships. “2015 World Champs has been the most incredible experience I have ever had - what made it truly special was that I got to share the experience with my family.
Shredding ‘Commencal’ - a downhill trial - with my bothers was one of the coolest things I have done in my life,” he said.
“I don't think my eyes have ever been so opened,” said Jessop. The world circuit of mountain biking is on a different level - the level of professionalism, competition and intensity absolutely blew me away,” he added.
Jessop mentioned that the support received from home was incredible, and felt that more people in South Africa haven been able to recognise him now. “Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio was there watching the elites and she even knew about my race and congratulated me - that was cool!”
He described the conditions as being rather different to those which he is used to: “Living in Durban and doing almost all of my training in the week on an indoor trainer and only riding outside on the weekend, the conditions were a fair bit different but I still loved it.”
“Stoked” with his 14th position at Worlds, Jessop described his last few metres of his race: “I will never forget riding down the finish straight for the last time with the South African Flag in my hand - I cant express in words how that felt,” he concluded.
The current SA Junior MTB XCO Champion, described by many as one of the most humble characters on the national circuit, injects life into everything he does, on and off the bike. Currently, he is writing his final Matric examinations at Martizburg Boys College.
Together with a large number of provincial titles, Jessop already has a number of national titles under the belt:
2015 JNR MTB XCO Champion
2015 JNR MTB XCM Champion
2014 JNR MTB XCM Champion
2014 JNR SA Cup Series Winner
2013 Youth MTB XCO Champion
2013 Youth MTB XCM Champion
Jessop said that he would like to race his bike as much as possible overseas next year, but also values the importance of attaining a university degree. “I will be studying BCOMPT at either Varsity College or through UNISA - right now I feel these are the institutes that will facilitate my riding the best.”
It is only onwards and upwards now for the rising star, and cycling supporters wait in anticipation for what 2016 holds for him.
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