South African teenager Jason Oosthuizen said he has gained valuable experience from racing in Europe.
Oosthuizen, 19, who won the under-23 national road championships in February, has been racing in Belgium – one of the world’s cycling hubs – since the beginning of June.
Riding for the Baquet-Miba-Indulek-Derito cycling team, Oosthuizen said he encountered a whole different calibre of competition in Belgium.
Since arriving in Belgium he estimated he had taken part in a total of 12 races, one, sometimes two, a week.
Oosthuizen will be returning to South Africa in a week’s time and he confessed he had not achieved “the results I wanted to”.
“The level is extremely high in Belgium,” he told In the Bunch today. “You can’t even compare it to that of South Africa.
“A normal amateur race, which anybody can take part in, is 120km here. That is crazy; the distance factor can definitely play a role.
“The intensity is also much higher and the roads much narrower. That is hectic, considering you would have 175 riders going at about 50km/h through narrow openings, which also include road furniture.”
Oosthuizen, who rides locally for Barzani Pro, said he got off to a steady start in Belgium before slumping slightly in his next couple of races, one of which was UCI 1.2-rated.
That race was “proper hard”, he added, saying he did not know “how to put it in words”.
“There’s a saying doing the rounds in Belgium that if you can win a ‘proper’ race in the country, not just any ‘around the block’ kind of event, then you can win anywhere in the world,” Oosthuzien said.
“That’s why I came to Belgium, to compare myself to the best and take part in the hardest form of racing.”
He said the normal inter-club and UCI-graded races in Belgium usually saw “the proper riders come out”.
“I’ve raced against the Lotto-Soudal and Cofidis feeder teams as well as all the fully developed teams.
“Racing here, you’re busy comparing yourself to riders who already consider themselves pros.
“There were some former WorldTour riders who probably lost their contracts who I also raced against.”
Oosthuizen said that was telling, considering they were usually in their 30s. As a 19-year-old, the difference in experience was paramount.
“The type of racing is just so different; anyone out of 175 riders can win a race and it is very unpredictable. You always need a bit of luck, as clichéd as that sounds.
“You would generally think that I had wasted my time if I came 50th in a race here, but in the meantime that position was probably harder [to achieve] than any race I did in SA.”
Despite the difference in the level of racing between the two countries, Oosthuizen felt the quality of racing in South Africa was on an upward curve.
“The number of South African riders who have been racing in Europe over the last two years has grown a lot,” he said.
“That should definitely move our level of racing up a notch. For instance, we could probably have about 15 South Africans riding in different countries in Europe who have all gained a different aspect of racing.”
Each rider would have had unique racing experiences. “The competitiveness and level of SA racing should definitely rise in the future,” he said, adding that he had become a “stronger rider with more depth” during his Belgian spell.
He said the best result he achieved abroad recently was coming 21st in an inter-club race.
Now Oosthuizen is returning to Barzani Pro where he will take part in his next contest, the Race for Victory on September 9, before featuring in a few other smaller local events.
His next major goals, though, Oosthuizen said, would “fall onto next season again”.