South African Mornay van Heerden feels he achieved what he set out to achieve at the Tour du Maroc, which finished in Casablanca on Sunday.
He said he went to Morocco intending to target certain stages and to get a decent result on at least one of the days.
“I feel I’ve met my expectations and I knew I was coming into some decent form after a hard Tour du Rwanda and a team training camp prior to this tour.
“It’s quite hard to set clear expectations because every tour and its conditions is different to the previous one.
“Also, because it’s a UCI tour we race against a wide variety of different riders and teams at various levels.”
Van Heerden was the highest placed South African after finishing 42nd overall in the 10-stage race, which started in Souk el Arbaa.
“Overall I’m satisfied with my performance. I felt increasingly better throughout – not only physically, but also mentally.
“Considering it was a 10-day stage race, that bodes well for any upcoming races.”
The best result he achieved was in stage five, when he finished eighth in the 154km ride from Nador to Oujda.
“I managed to slip into the break again [after stage four] on stage five. We were really well organised and rolling nicely and efficiently, which caused the gap to grow quickly to around eight minutes.
“With 25km to go it became apparent that we would stay away to contest the stage win. The roll into the line was lightening fast, which doesn’t really suit me as a sub-60kg rider in a group of heavier riders.
“I tried my hand at slipping away from the group a few times, but at 60km/h there was only so much I could do.
“The French team Venee U, who had two riders in the move, got the lead-out to the line going, and as the sprint opened it quickly became obvious to me that sprinting wasn’t quite my forte.”
Van Heerden said eighth place was the best he could manage, but he felt happy with the result. It was important to recognise when you had made progress and to celebrate before refocusing and getting back on track for the next goal.
The ProTouch rider said the first couple of days were difficult for them.
“We arrived at our hotel after 20-plus hours of travelling and could only fit in a 20-minute pre-race ride as it was quite late already and the roads surrounding our hotel were in a bad state. [We decided] that we’d rather rest than put ourselves at risk.
“The first stage was preceded by a five-hour bus transfer to the start where it was absolutely pouring with rain and gale-force winds that ripped the peloton to pieces in the so called ‘neutral zone’, and the second stage was pretty much the same story.”
The 22-year-old felt that in a tour such as this it was important to stay on top of fuelling and hydration.
“A 10-day tour is no time to restrict your calories or try to lose weight.
“The mental side of a tour can almost be the hardest part. You can find yourself just counting the seconds to finishing.
“As hard as it is, I find it important to stay positive, not to take things too seriously and just keep perspective. We’re travelling the world racing our bikes; things could be much worse.”
“Completing any Africa tour is always a very good experience and just makes you mentally tough on so many levels.
“I gained a lot of confidence in myself in all conditions. That’s really important for me and I hope it will carry through.”
He felt it was important for local riders to gain experience and exposure internationally – “not necessarily from a physical standpoint, but more mentally”.
“There’s just something about being in a foreign environment that we’re not used to that tests us in ways we simply can’t be tested while racing locally.
“A rider can have all the physical ability in the world, but if he can’t manage that mental aspect of racing abroad his physical ability is almost useless.”
Next on his calendar is the Tour of the Gila, which starts on May 1.
“It’ll be my first time racing in America so I’m definitely looking forward to see what that’s going to be like.”