Monday, 13 July 2015

Next week LEADout Academy from South Africa starts their journey in Europe and for most of their juniors it will be the first time to taste European racing. Read my interview with one of them, Aidan Van Niekerk

Hello Aidan, for the start, could you give us a small introduction about yourself?

I'm Aidan van Niekerk, an 18-year-old cyclist from George, South Africa. I've been a massive cycling fan since I was about 11, but only started cycling with serious intent when I turned 14. Most of my cycling thus far has been racing on our MTB marathon scene, but since the beginning of the year I've had a more serious focus on road racing. I love all kinds of climbing - but being quite a small guy, I'm pretty sure it's the only terrain that suits me.

How did you start cycling?

Contrary to popular belief, we don't actually live in grass huts and ride around on elephants here in the RSA, so sorry to disappoint if you're expecting a story of where I was forced to ride 30km to and back from school everyday! My parents actually started MTBing to improve their health (and probably because of a mid-life crisis), and being a little 11-year-old, I followed suit. As the years progressed, I discovered my competitive nature and started taking things seriously.

I know you are now riding for LEADout academy in South Africa. Can you tell us more how did you get there and how is the academy working?

Well, I guess Barry Austin (LEADout Principle) was impressed by something I did in race and I got a call from him offering me the opportunity. LEADout academy is actually "restarting" this year after a few years of absence. The academy aims to develop young riders and give them the opportunity to get some exposure against the best juniors in the world when we race in Europe. It was previously know as "ACL" and its alumni include Louis Meintjes, Johann van Zyl, Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg, Jacques Janse van Rensburg, John-Lee Augustyn, and Jaco Venter. This year LEADout will be sending a 6-man junior squad over to Europe with Barry Austin and John-Lee Augustyn as our managers.

How would you sum up this season so far ? Are you happy with your results?

Up to this point I'm quite happy. I really aimed to win a national title, but that didn't go as planned. That being said, my biggest aim is obviously when we head to Europe next month, so I'll evaluate my season based on what I achieve there. In January, I didn't even dream about going to Europe, so having been offered that opportunity I can already view this season as a success.

Next month, you are heading to Europe. Which races are you planning to ride ?

We'll be based in Oudenaarde, Belgium for the most part and will do a few kermesses in the area to keep us race-ready. Our UCI race schedule is as follows:
- Oberöstereich Juniorenrundfahrt
- Internationale Niedersachsen Rundfahrt
- Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniores
- Aubel-Thimster-La Gleize
- Ronde des Vallées

Are you going to ride as national team in Europe or as LeadOUT academy ? I've noticed that none of the races are from Nations Cup calendar, why is that ?

We're representing LEADout Academy in all of our races and not acting as a national team. Quite honestly, I'm not quite sure why there's no South African representation at some Nations Cup events because we have quite a few capable riders who are already in Europe. There's too much politics involved, I guess.

Does the national federation support your trip to Europe ? Seems like an important part in developing future champions!

Unfortunately there's no structured development system like the well-oiled machine that the Americans have. We have to go about covering all our expenses at our own cost (luckily LEADout helps with subsidising certain expenses). For example, bringing my TT bike with us just creates a bigger logistical nightmare and extra expense, so it's staying behind. If it wasn't for LEADout and their work, I'm really not sure how SA talents like Meintjes, Van Zyl, etc., would've got the necessary exposure as juniors. Sure, we might not be a cycling nation like Belgium or France, but there are a lot of young South African juniors who have the talent and work-ethic to become professionals. All they need is the high-level exposure in Europe and they're good to go. It's a pity that many talented guys will never get that opportunity because of the financial constraints of traveling abroad for weeks. It's definitely something that is lacking on the part of Cycling South Africa, and I would love to see that change for the good of our national development.

MTN-Qubeka seems like a team focused on developing African riders, they have u23 team but what about juniors ? Does young riders in SA get any support from MTN team ?

There's no development team for juniors. We don't receive any direct support or assistance, but the feeder team does a very good job at developing the u23 African riders. For this season, they signed a few juniors from last year and, if anything, it's an incentive for juniors to perform.

I have heard you never rode on cobbles! Is that true ?

Another aspect lacking in South Africa is cobbled roads! Besides for a few driveways, there are no cobbles in sight. We do, however, have some really shitty roads which could pass for cobbles - and I spent some time on gravel to get used to a different kind of surface to tar. But I'm looking forward to tackling the pavé in Flanders!

What are your expectations before heading to race in Europe ? Any specific race that you would like to perform well ?

It's my first time ever riding at such a high level and I expect to get my ass handed to me at every race! That being said, I am in the best shape yet, so maybe I won't be too useless. The biggest aim would be to learn as much as possible to build a platform to come back in the coming years. I'd like to target climbing races and stages, most probably Oberösterreich and La Gleize.

Which race was the highlight of your career so far ?

Having never had the opportunity to race internationally, I can't really say I've had any major results. Grabbing a podium at SA TT champs was probably my best ride. It was my first-ever proper TT and considering I was mostly a mountain biker up until then, I can view it as a nice surprise.

In few months you will end your career period as a junior. What are your plans for the future ?

I've never planned on turning pro, despite loving the sport and racing, because riding in Europe was more of a fantasy. With LEADout I now have the opportunity to head to Europe in the coming years as well, which has opened a lot of doors. I'll be studying in Stellenbosch (which is SA's cycling-Mecca) and will hopefully return to race in Europe during July-September of every year. Guys like Chad Haga, Adam Hansen, and Romain Bardet have convinced me that studying and a cycling career can be combined. Perhaps I can do a post-grad course in Europe and turn full-professional in that year. It is a cliché, but we can never be sure what the future will bring, can we?

Do you have a cycling idol ? Or a rider you are cheering for ?

I draw a lot of inspiration from the South Africans on Team MTN-Qhubeka. I can relate to them a lot and have a lot of respect for being able to get where they are. Seeing Louis Meintjes ripping it up on the mountain slopes is definitely something to cheer for too.

Last question: who will win Tour de France 2015 and why ? :-)

Mmm... I think it may be Quintana's year. He's been trying to keep a low profile so far and that may be with good reason.

Thanks for your time!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Swiss rider Marc Hirschi won 68th edition of GP Général Patton in Luxembourg. German rider Georg Zimmermann finished second and Bjorg Lambrecht from Belgium was third and won the mountains classification while Zimmermann won the points jersey.

Final race podium (photo: swisscycling)

The first stage from Ettelbruck to Troisvierges (102 kilometers)  finished with a successful breakaway that splitted on the final kilometers. Slovenian rider Ziga Horvat won solo just two seconds ahead of National Belgian road race champion Bjorg Lambrecht and Marc Hirschi from Switzerland. The peleton was shattered by a fast pace on climbs and windy conditions. The breakaway consisted 16 riders and it's certain that the overall winner will come from those 16.

Ziga Horvat wins the first stage (photo: Herve Dancerelle/ Directvelo)

The final stage around Wincrange (97 kilometers) won German rider Martin Salmon after an attack in the final kilometers. Italian Nicola Conci tried to go with three kilometers to go but Salmon managed to counter his attack and won solo. His teammate Georg Zimmermann finished second and Andre Carvahlo from Portugal was third. Thanks to his fourth spot Marc Hirschi won the overall. Ziga Horvat lost almost a minute on the second stage and dropped to seventh place overall.


Final GC

Friday, 10 July 2015

Despite having only two stages, GP Général Patton, is one of the most important stage races of the year in junior category. The first edition of the race held in Northern Luxembourg was in 1947 as an event for cadets. Since 1964 it's an junior event and since 2008 it's a part of UCI Nations Cup.

Kim Kirchen, Simon Spilak and recent climbing sensation, Jan Hirt won the race in previous editions while Michael Matthews, Michael Valgren and Mathieu van der Poel all finished on the podium. Interesting that local hero, Bob Jungels, was far back in both editions he raced despite being a big star in his junior years.

The route is basically the same as last year. We have two stages over the weekend with the first one from Ettelbruck to Troisvierges which is 102km long and should end up with a bigger group finish. Riders will face four short categorized climbs but the last 25,5km of the stage  held on the circuit around Troisvierges is quite flat and should help sprinter teams to bring the race together for the final bunch sprint.

Stage 1 profile
Last year the stage ended with successful solo breakaway in the final kilometers. Valentin Madouas, French track specialist won ahead of his team mate, Damien Touze.

The Sunday stage is shorter (97km) but harder as riders will face five laps around Wincrange with Boevange climb (1,8km long with average 6,74%) on each lap. The last pass is 14,5km from the finish and should give an opportunity for late attack or at least will split the bunch and we can expect reduced bunch sprint.

Last year, Russian Alexander Vlasov won solo, ten seconds ahead of the reduced peleton brought by Italian rider Lorenzo Fortunato. Stage win also gave Vlasov final GC win ahead of Madouas and Fortunato.

Last year's GC:
Names to watch: Szymon Sajnok, Alan Banaszek, Hakon Aalrust, Tanguy Turgis, Kevin Geniets, Michel Ries, Dennis Van der Hoorst, Jakob Egholm, Dusan Rajovic, Sander De Pestel, Siim Kiskonen

Race website

Thursday, 9 July 2015

In the shadow of Tour de France there is quite a lot of junior racing planned for July. The first event was 52nd edition of Sint-Martinusprijs Kontich, Belgian stage race held last week.

Mikkel Honore on the podium (photo: Team Kel-berg Roskilde)

Mikkel Honore from Denmark, the defending champion, won again on Belgian roads. The podium was completed by two Belgian riders: Sander De Pestel and Ward Jaspers.

The race started with evening time trial on Friday. Team Kel-berg Roskilde (as you probably know, one of the strongest junior teams in the world) won despite Jacob Egholm's mechanical  over Monkeytown Cycling Team and Van Boer Group Team. Mathias Norsgaard was the first leader just ahead of Mikkel Honore.

Team Kel-berg Roskilde on the road for the stage win (photo:

The second stage around Antwerp was decisive. 29 riders went clear including Honore, De Pestel, Jespers and other big names like Nieuwpoort, Panis, Schelling and cyclocross superstar Eli Iserbyt. They managed to gain two minutes over the peleton and it was sure that the GC will be decided between those 29. In the final kilometers Sander De Pestel jumped away from a group of ten riders and finished solo, just three seconds ahead of Honore and Finish rider Jaako Hanninen. Thanks to his second place, Honore was the new race leader while De Pestel took two other jerseys: points and youth.

Sunday was Sasha Weemaes day as young Belgian won both stages: morning time trial and sprint stage later on. Mikkel Honore was fourth in the time trial and extended his lead in GC as De Pestel was tenth and lost a handful of seconds. The sprint stage didn't affect the GC but showed first sparks of Weemaes talent on international level. Last year, he was one of the strongest riders in U17 category and scored big amount of wins, almost as much as Philipsen. On both stages, Mathias Norsgaard was second.

The final stage around Kontich finished with a unusual bunch sprint and the GC didn't change at all. Dutch rider Tristan Rijsdijk won by a solo attack in the final kilometers, few bike lengths ahead of Batuhan Ozgur from Turkey (big surprise!) and Laurens Vandermeer from Belgium. Mikkel Honore was the final winner, the first rider in the race history who managed to defend his title.

Tristan Rijsdijk winning the final stage (photo: Het Nieuwsblad)

Final GC: