South African Travis Stedman, 17, surpassed his goal of a top-20 position in his debut Junior Tour of Ireland in Ennis on Sunday, ending up third overall as well as securing the best young rider classification.
The Hillcrest local’s expectations weren’t high heading into the six-day tour, but after the first few days of racing he realised he could achieve far more than he initially thought if he played his cards right.
And his success came despite suffering two setbacks in the early stages, a mechanical and a nasty fall.
“The six stages were very different and all had their own challenges,” said Stedman.
In the 48km first stage he ended up in a big bunch sprint. However, he dropped his chain in the last 50m and ultimately placed 14th.
The 94.6km second stage was a “big upset” after a group broke off the front of the peloton and held a 2:30 gap until the end.
There was a sharp climb just before a fast descent to the finish, where the group split up.
“I unfortunately fell with almost half of the bunch on the speedy descent due to really hard rain and no traction,” said Stedman, who finished 35th on the day and 19th overall.
“This made stage three a tough day to recover in the bunch and not lose time. There were a few nice climbs which helped me sit near the front, out of trouble.”
He said the stage also ended in a sprint and he was glad to place 13th and avoid a crash that took out a large chunk of riders near the finish.
“Stage four was my toughest day where I put everything in to get some time back on GC after placing 17th overall on the previous day.
“I got into an early break only 17km into the 109.9km stage. We worked quite well together over the main climbs and had a big lead of almost four minutes.
“At this stage I realised this could be my chance to step up in the overall standings, so I did my part to keep the break away and ended eighth on the day, seventh overall, and took the white jersey.”
Stage five was the decider day on GC as he was eight seconds behind the leader.
“I took my chances a few times during the stage to get away, but I was marked out by one of the strong American teams. On the last climb I sat on the front and tried to tear the group apart.
“On the last kick I went and gained as much time as I could, finishing third on the day as well as on GC.”
The final stage was fast and mostly controlled by the top teams. Stedman finished 37th on the day and remained third overall, still only eight seconds behind winner Nicolas Rivard.
“I’m so happy to have achieved these results. This tour has had big names take part in it and I’m honoured to wear this jersey,” said Stedman, who competed in his third international tour.
The KwaZulu-Natal provincial road champion said the biggest challenge physically for him was the big bunches and the intimidation from the larger teams trying to push him out on the fast sections.
“Mentally, I wanted to get the best result I could to see if this racing was for me, but as the tour went on it all eased up as I gained confidence.”
The highlights for him were the team aspect and the crowds who came out in support. “This made it feel like a proper overseas race,” he said.
“It was also awesome to race internationally with people from all over. At first it was intimidating, but once things got under way it was so much fun and I made a lot of new friends.”
Stedman felt it was vital for anyone who had ambitions in cycling to race internationally.
“It opens your eyes to how tough it is overseas and how much more training or time you need to put in.”