Aidan in France

The past month and a bit in Europe has been a constant mix of excitement, challenges, and very interesting stories. I really have too much to say for a short summary, but I’ll keep to the essence of the experience.
 
As a junior last year, I did do a number of races so I did have a fairly good idea of what to expect. However, this year I would be competing in the elite category against some men who may be old enough to be my father! Don’t be fooled by the words “club-” or “amateur-” racing as the French league is notorious for an exceptionally high level in which many races are harder than some professional events. Plenty of these “club” teams also have equipment, support, and budgets that would put some professional teams to shame!
 
Thrown into the deep-end as an inexperienced and foreign youngster, I’ve found my feet quickly in various forms of racing – national tours, classics, criteriums, etc. I can use many words to describe the difficulty of any given race, but no description will justify the experience. Every race is an alloy of a technical route, big bunches, fights for position, numerous crashes, and constant attacks all of which burn in the furnace of a savage race-pace! Maintaining a position in the front of the peloton is a pretty mundane act for a European who is accustomed to the stress of racing, but for a South African used to wide roads and small bunches it is a constant battle. A battle, though, that gets easier and easier to fight as the time progresses!
 
The first step had been to prove to myself that I can finish a race – which I have been happy to done for all races thus far. As of my last tour, I’ve moved on to my next goal of getting in to the main breakaway of the day. I no longer want to be another “pack fodder”, but want to be a part of the sharp end of things. It is but another small step up the ladder with the end goal of winning a race! Of course, personal goals have to be put aside for the team at times. In the Tour de Dordogne, I made the front split of 30 riders (bunch of 130 riders) on a particularly difficult stage. Our team leader, present with me, punctured and I didn’t think twice to stop give him my wheel. After waiting long for a spare, I was resigned to finishing in a group further back, but I was happy to have saved the day for the team!
 
On the other end of the spectrum (the part that doesn’t involve cycling), has been adapting to a country where everything is different. And I mean everything! Even going to the grocery store to stock up is a completely different to the South African – let alone the foreign language! These are the behind-the-scenes challenges that go unmentioned and make an already challenging environment all the more challenging. However, with a positive attitude and willingness to adapt it all turns into a genuinely fun experience!
 
Being in a team with a shoe-string budget and without the resources of most of our rivals, really makes me appreciate the support I get back home. I’ve always been fully aware of the unconditional support and commitment from sponsors and the staff of Team Telkom Cycling, but I think I’ll give everyone an extra thanks when I get back home! From luxury hotels to full supplement support from Biogen, it all goes a very long way.
 
As I mentioned before, my initial objective was ensuring I was on a level to actually finish races, but no I’ve progressed to being a part of the race. No noteworthy results as of yet, but I am seeing a better performance every race.
 
GP Artuby Verdon | one-day | 80 starters |
– 6th (Regional classic with lots of climbing)
 
Tour du Beaujolais | 3 stages | 150 starters
– 41st overall
 
GP Mungia – Augastin Sagasti (Spain) | one-day | 200 starters
– Made it into an early breakaway, cresting the first climb in 3rd place. Got caught later, but finished in the front group of about 40 riders.
 
Tour du Pays Roannais | 3 Stages | 150 starters
– 71st overall. (The toughest race I have done in my entire life, just happy to have survived it!)
 
Tour de Dordogne | 4 stages | 120 starters
– 69th overall. (Moved my focus from riding to racing and tried as best as I could to get into breakaways!)
 
Aidan van Niekerk