Rohan du Plooy won his second race in Belgium on Sunday, exactly a year after claiming his first victory in the European country.
“It’s just very ironic that exactly a year ago I won a race here and now I won my first race in 2018 on the same day. I guess it has to be a special date,” said the South African, who won the GP Perwez – the fourth round of the Belgian Cup – on Sunday after having won a small race in Kotem last year.
He added that in a way the win came as a surprise, but not completely as he knew he was in good form.
“It [his form] has been really good these last few months; especially in the last two to three weeks I’ve started to hit peak form.”
Du Plooy achieved a 10th place in the Circuit de Wallonie at the end of May, which was a boost for him as he headed into this weekend’s race.
“It’s a 1.2 UCI race and had been my biggest result in Europe. That definitely helped with my confidence.
“Coming into this race I knew my form was up there. I just had to make sure I was in the right move at the right time.”
Du Plooy, who is living in Sint-Truiden with a close host family, added that races in Belgium were complex to win and it did not mean that the strongest rider always won.
He felt that the most crucial part of the race, which covered 153km, was during the first 12km when there was a cobble section of 500m.
“With those you always need to be in the front as there can be a crash – a silly bottle can go out of its bottle cage and you don’t see it, go over it and crash.”
At the 80km mark there was a King of the Mountain spot that featured a short and steep climb with a false flat area at the top. Du Plooy attacked over to a small group on the climb, but then the bunch was brought together.
“You just see a move happening and you have the feeling that this is the one that’s going to go and you have to be in it because everyone for those two seconds sits up and looks at each other.
“I seized the moment, attacked and rode across to the move. That was the breakaway of the day.”
He added that the whole group then worked well together and the gap stayed at a buffer of around one minute. In the last kilometre he attacked and there was a rider who joined him, but Du Plooy sensed he was riding at his limit.
“I had to force him to go first into the last corner 500m before the line. I saw he was going way too quickly and I had to back off a little in case he crashed.
“I then put my head down and sprinted flat out as I couldn’t wait for him because the breakaway was just behind us. Even if I had hesitated for a second I maybe wouldn’t have won.”
He said it was a really good feeling to pull it off. “I knew someday, somehow it would come. It’s not every day you win a Belgium Cup race and I feel very fortunate to have received the opportunity to race here.
“I learn something new in every race, but what will always stick with me is to believe, believe in more and believe in yourself.”
The CC Chevigny Crabbé rider said it had been an honour to ride with them, even though there were a few obstacles.
“We don’t always understand each other that well, but you grow a bond that is very special. Why do the sport if you’re not willing to be in uncomfortable situations? That’s where you grow and that’s certainly what I’ve been through on a few occasions.”
The 23-year-old felt the overseas racing style and quality of riders were at a higher level than locally, which made the racing tougher.
“It’s harder to get into breakaways and move around in the peloton. In SA you literally stand up, accelerate and you’re in front as the roads are wider. Here it’s narrow roads, which means you accelerate, brake, swerve and dodge anything and everything. That’s what keeps the adrenaline going.
“There’s on average 120 riders in every race. Three quarters of the bunch are amateurs and the other quarter, 20, are guys who can win, whereas in SA it’s maybe only five.”
He said it was this that also made it difficult to judge a race and make sure you were in the right move at the right time.
“Only after two to three months did I know the riders better and was I able to judge them, follow the right moves or be in the right wheel for taking corners.”
Du Plooy, who is leaving the country at the end of June, said there were some possibilities to get in contact with bigger teams but there was nothing concrete at this stage.
“The only way for me to come back for a longer period is to get a form or contract from a team because in that way I can get a work permit.
“That is the unfortunate part for us coming from SA – that we can’t stay long enough to actually develop and get properly used to the weather and racing.
“Even though I don’t know what’s next for me, it doesn’t stop me from being motivated, keeping on riding and being the best I can be.”