You have been incredibly successful in your career, and stand as a source of inspiration to young South African riders. What helped you make the leap from South Africa to international racing: was there a specific moment or turning point?

I think the turning point was at the end of 2011, when I got to race the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. I surprised myself with a stage win on the 2nd stage and finished just off the podium in 4th in the general classification. I did not expect to do so well and it gave me a lot of confidence, that performance was immediately followed up by a 2nd on GC in Tour of Hainan two weeks later. Finishing 2011 so strong gave me the confidence to for the next season in 2012, where I won 12 UCI races.

Photo credit: Stiehl Photography.

What lessons have you learned along the way and do you have any advice for young South African riders looking to make a career of road racing?

I think a lot of youngsters get shell-shocked when they come to Europe for the first time. I have always said racing in Europe is a different sport compared to South African racing. You can not expect to jump in and be top dog in any race in Europe. It takes time and a willingness to work hard and keep your head down.

It's important for them to ensure they are following a proper diet once they come over to Europe and then work on their bike handling skills, positioning skills, and other technical skills like cornering fast in a group and descending, but also to keep working on building a bigger "engine".

Lastly it's most important to ensure they are enjoying themselves, otherwise, the sacrifice is not worth it. I think a young rider's environment is very important. Unfortunately, we don't have the system set up like the Australians, so it's up to the youngsters and their immediate support system, to make sure they are setting up themselves in an environment which is conducive to performing well. That is the number one reason why Team Dimension Data have set-up the Continental team, to provide talented African riders with an environment to perform.

Your team suffered several setbacks during the Tour de France: especially losing Mark Cavendish to a crash on stage 4. How did these setbacks affect team morale, and how did you get over it?

I think a lot of hope was pinned on Cav to grab us a stage win or two. So it was a big blow for us. But it also opened up new opportunities within the team, and it was pretty much business as usual. We kept our objectives the same and tried to do the same job, just with a different sprinter on the back in Edvald Boasson Hagen. Off course having one less in the lead out made it harder and then losing Renshaw after stage 9 made it even trickier. But it didn't affect the morale, and we still believed we could win if we got everything right. I relished the chance to be the final lead out man for Eddy.

ccs-62657-0-88334500-1502038473.jpgPhoto credit: Scott Mitchell.

ccs-62657-0-40272000-1502038492.jpgPhoto credit: Stiehl Photography.

There were a lot of crashes in the Tour this year. Do you think riders are risking more in the quest for victory, or is simply a case of business as usual? Is there anything you can do in the peloton to stay safe or do you just hope you are lucky?

I think there were actually fewer mass pile-ups this year. There were quite a few rider's who went down on the wet and slippery roads in Dusseldorf in the opening Time Trial, but also a few rider's crashed on the descents. Opening the race book and seeing so many descents to the finish it was pretty much sure that there would be crashes at some point, so I wasn't surprised. Descending is becoming more and more important as it gets harder to make the difference between the top riders on the climbs, and we seem to be pushing a lot faster downhill nowadays.

Positioning is crucial in avoiding crashes and also having some good technical skills could help you avoid quite a few crashes. Something that you need to keep practicing.

Are you doing anything differently this year in terms of training?

There hasn't been any major changes to my training. This year my training has been broken up quite a lot by a few muscle issues that I have been struggling with. I think what is making the difference is experience and also being technically better in the bunch. That is crucial especially in bunch sprints and doing lead outs. Having guys like Bernie Eisel and Mark Renshaw guiding me has really helped me improve as a rider.

What was your role in the team at the Tour de France, and how much did that change with Cavendish and Renshaw having to abandon the Tour? Is there much flexibility within the team to adapt as the race progresses?

My role was to be "4th" in the lead out. So I had Eddy, Renshaw, and Cav behind me. I initially moved down to 3rd, but then became the lead out rider for Eddy when Renshaw started having problems with his back. Normally we have a set plan coming into each stage of how we are going to execute the lead out and it doesn't change much from then, unless one of the riders has a problem or the race situation turns into something we did not expect.

How do you see your role within the team changing and progressing with your career?

I hope to still get the chance to sniff out victories in certain races. But I also like being a lead out rider as long as we have a World Class sprinter. Renshaw is now approaching the end of his career and it will be great if I can take over the mantle from him.



Photo credit: Stiehl Photography.

Watching your lead outs at the Tour you look like a rider who might enjoy the Classics. Is there a particular race you have your eye set on for victory?

There is a big difference between leading out and the classics. But I do think I have the attributes to do well in the classics. It's, however, a case of getting into the top 10 in a classic before I can think of winning one.

What are your plans for the remainder of the season, will we be seeing you at the Vuelta a España?

No Vuelta for me this year. The team is not sending any sprinters due to the difficulty of the route this year. On paper, it doesn't seem that there will be a lot of opportunities for the sprinters there. I will do BinckBank Tour (Eneco) starting on Monday, followed by Hamburg, Plouay, and the Canadian one-day races.

What was a particular highlight for you from the 2017 Tour?

Off course, when we heard Eddy won on the race radio. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical as I knew all the riders would be marking him, being the fastest guy in the break of 20. But he managed to pull it off and save our tour by giving us a stage win.

What was your darkest moment during the Tour?

When I crashed early on stage 17. It was at a point in the race where we were still going full gas. I landed right on my coccyx and despite knowing that I had to get on my bike as soon as possible I wasn't able to get up for 2-3 minutes afterwards. I thought my race was over at that point, but fortunately, I was eventually able to remount. Luckily they let the break go and slowed down in front, which allowed me to get back to the group. I still felt very uncomfortable for the rest of the stage, which happened to be the hardest day in the tour crossing the Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Télégraph, and Col du Galibier.

What was the first thing you did after the tour that you were not able to do during the race?

Have a glass of champagne followed by an ice cold beer.