Willie Smit said he felt privileged to have secured a contract extension with Katusha-Alpecin for 2019 despite the WorldTour arena this season having seen the fewest signings in “almost 15 years”.
Smit rode for the South African-based RoadCover in 2017 before linking up with the Swiss-based WorldTour team last year.
The 26-year-old went on to represent SA at the UCI road world champs shortly after signing with the outfit near the end of 2017. He clearly impressed the team since, making the cut for 2019 despite a reduction in overall numbers.
“I’m very fortunate to [still] be in the WorldTour,” Smit told In the Bunch.
“I like everything about the team. It’s a very professional set-up and they literally do everything for you.
“Unfortunately when I’m racing in SA they won’t come all the way here for an amateur tour. That’s just the way it is,” he said.
“But overseas it’s great. I literally don’t have to do anything. I just have to pitch up with one bag and get ready to go.”
Due to the higher standard of racing in terrains and conditions that were very different to what he was used to in SA, Smit said he had improved in several areas. This had benefited him considerably.
“My body and economy improved quite a lot. I’m much skinnier and fitter,” he said.
“I learnt many things in terms of being a professional such as how important nutrition is, about race strategies and equipment and how to incorporate all of these to improve your performance.”
SA’s average one-day race distance is about 100km, with Europe’s races often spanning up to 300km.
Smit said this had required a significant adjustment from him in his first season riding in the WorldTour.
“I had to train more, while recovering enough as well. That was really difficult because it resulted in me having much less time for my social life and then it all became about making sacrifices.”
Despite the 24-man team being represented by an assortment of nationalities, Smit said mutual respect underlined their success as a unit.
The Lydenburg-born athlete admitted he had “a long way to go in terms of development” within the team. Therefore he did not expect to rack up victories just yet.
“I would like to get a few more top-10 finishes. The victories are definitely still possible but I’m not a sprinter so there are fewer opportunities with regards to that.
“I would also like to take part in a Grand Tour this year. That would be pretty awesome.
“It’ll be three weeks of suffering although some of my teammates don’t think that’s a good idea,” he quipped.
He and the team are expected to begin their international racing season at the beginning of February.