Brandon Downes recently endured a harrowing experience racing in Cameroon, then followed it up with some gruelling challenges in Europe.
Downes, who rides locally for BCX after joining them at the end of last year, took part in the eight-stage Tour du Cameroun, which took place from May 26 to June 3.
However Downes, from Johannesburg, was eventually floored by a virus during the Cameroon race, forcing him to withdraw after the fifth stage.
“The journey in Cameroon was an interesting one,” Downes told In the Bunch today. “A lot can be learnt from racing there. It was very different from anywhere else I have been.
“Things like food and water are quite big concerns when racing in a country like that. I could not drink the water, so we had to constantly drink bottled water.”
There were other concerns too. “I did not know how the food was being prepared or how the dishes were washed. I was always careful about what I ate. So from a nutritional perspective, the tour was tough.”
The racing itself, Downes said, was also “very different”. “There were about 60 to 70 riders at the start line, which was not very big, but it did not make the racing any easier.
“The road conditions in Cameroon also were not the best, so I had to be very alert and keep my eyes on what was going on in the race all the time.
“At times there were barely roads at all or just speed bumps that we had to look out for and be aware of.”
After four days of challenging racing – stage three being cancelled due to heavy rains – where Downes rode a total 527km, he contracted a virus, which led to him suffering from dysentery and then dehydration.
Following a “long night” taking medication, he was unable to start the sixth stage.
“They then tried to put me on a drip three times but missed the vein every time. That is when I became increasingly worried about my condition.
“I was very disappointed with how things unfolded and I thought it would be best to return to France to get medical attention.
“I eventually got to my apartment to rest and recover for a few days before my bike returned with the team.”
Despite the challenges, Downes, who rode for Martigues Sport Cycling, still managed to finish fourth in the second stage and in the top 20 in stages four and five.
After returning to France he took part in two races last weekend where he placed 12th and 18th respectively.
Downes said when he signed for BCX last year he was provided with a release clause in his contract enabling him to race and gain more experience in Europe.
“I went over to Belgium for three months last year and, based on my results there, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to ride for Martigues.
“The team is beginning to get involved in bigger UCI races this year, which is beneficial for me.”
He then received “great news” on Monday when he was selected to race for the team at the Oberösterreichrundfahrt, a UCI-graded Austrian four-stage race.
Stage one took place yesterday, which comprised a 12.3km hill climb where Downes placed 84th overall.
“It was quite a tough stage; it was flat box, full gas from the get-go. I still think things went relatively well.
“There are some really big teams which will enable me to gain as much experience as I can. That is my main goal, so I am not putting too much pressure on myself in terms of results.
“I want to get out there, ride hard and learn as much as I can in a bunch of riders who are as strong as they are here. Quite a few of the riders here have raced for WorldTour teams before, so I can learn a lot from them.”
Racing in Europe was “significantly different” to South Africa, Downes said.
“The depth of racing is not nearly as big as it is in Europe,” he said. “In South Africa there are probably only about 15 to 20 riders who make the racing, whereas in Europe you would start with a bunch of about 150 riders all on a very similar level.
“Any one of those 150 riders could potentially win the race. We just do not have those numbers in South Africa, so the racing here [in Europe] is extremely hard.
“It is really great for me though, because it will just create more depth in my riding and I will be able to learn that much more and quicker.
“With the bunches being much bigger you need to be very aware of what is going on and keep your wits about you.”