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"This year, maybe next year as well, is just to get more experience. And then, after two years, I want to become like Gerald [Ciolek], like Cancellara. Maybe one day, I can win Paris-Roubaix, that’s my dream."

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YOUCEF REGUIGUI

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02.09.2013 @ 17:00 Posted by Lukas Knöfler

The 25th of August was the day of the 2013 Vattenfall Cyclassics. On the startlist was a rider who was the first from his country to participate in a race of this caliber: 23-year old Algerian Youcef Reguigui. On the evening before the race, CyclingQuotes.com sat down with Reguigui for a talk about African cycling in general and his own future in particular.

 

 

Let’s start with being the first Algerian, so to speak. You’re in the middle of your first year in Europe as a professional, and I think we can agree that the level is higher than it is in Africa or in the Middle East.

“Yeah.”

 

How does it feel competing with European professionals?

“I’ve raced in Europe before, so I did know European races already. I stayed at the World Cycling Centre for three years and raced with the UCI Mixed Team.”

 

 

Indeed, Reguigui has enjoyed some success in the U23 ranks:

At the age of 19, he showed glimpses of his talents by placing in the stage top-10 of the 2009 Presidential Cycling Tour of Iran. Reguigui spent most of 2010 at the UCI World Cycling Centre, adjusting to the level and speed of European races. In the spring of 2011, he raised the first eyebrows with a podium place in the Dutch Nations Cup race ZLM Tour and second places on stages of the Toscana Coppa delle Nazioni and the Coupe des Nations Ville Saguenay in Canada.

 

Apart from that, Reguigui also raced in Africa with the Algerian team GSP Algérie; he won the national championships and one stage each in the Tour d’Algérie and the well-known Tour du Faso. He placed 5th in the African Continental Championships and finished the 2011 season with a podium place in the Pan-Arab Games. As a matter of fact, the Algerian national tour (where Youcef finished 7th) has another Reguigui in its palmarès: The 1987 edition was won by Abdelbechir Reguigui, Youcef’s father.

 

Last year, he finished 4th on stage 1 of the Toscana Coppa delle Nazioni in April and won stage 2; in May, Youcef won the Heydar Aliyev Anniversary Tour in Azerbaijan against a.o. the Itera-Katusha U23 team, ISD-Donetsk, Team Vorarlberg and national teams from Kazakhstan and Australia.

 

 

“But then I came to the professionals, and it was like another planet! The first five races were very difficult, and I was worried. I spoke with Gerald Ciolek, with Martin Reimer, also with Ignatas Konovalovas, with experienced pros, and they told me to stay calm. After about a month, I was OK. I progressed.”

 

 

The results show this progress as well. After not finishing the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Le Samyn, Reguigui achieved decent results in March and April: 24th in the Ronde van Drenthe, 30th in the Handzame Classic, 26th in the Scheldeprijs and 46th in the Tro-Bro Léon (with its ribinou gravel roads) won’t make the biggest teams get out their checkbooks, but they bear witness of a certain talent for one-day races.

 

 

 

African cycling is really coming through at the moment. But mostly it’s from Southern Africa, or from Eastern Africa; not so much from Northern Africa – at least not in Europe.

“Yes, not many Northern African riders turn professional. There’s Rafaâ Chtioui from Tunisia, and Tarik Chaoufi from Morocco, and then me. So I also feel like I’m representing my country.”

 

Does that make you proud? Does it make you feel like you have to prove something?

“Yes, I want to prove my worth! And I don’t look at myself only: I also want to open the door for other Algerians. In Algeria there are many strong riders who don’t have a chance to go to Europe, to prove their talent and ride for a professional team. I want to help the other guys in Algeria to get to Europe, because it’s difficult to get noticed and get a professional contract in Algeria.”

 

Do you have one particular rider in mind?

“Not at this moment. Douglas Ryder and JP [van Zyl], they see the races in Africa, maybe they bring one or two guys on board for next year. All the people who work in cycling in Africa have to work together.”

 

What kind of impact did the yellow jersey of Daryl Impey in the Tour de France have on you – he’s an African as well?

“Two days in the yellow jersey, helping his teammate [Simon Gerrans] win a stage, that’s like a dream for Africa. It’s unbelievable. And we, as MTN-Qhubeka – we’re a new team, a Professional Continental team, and we have had good results already as a team: Milano-San Remo, the Volta a Portugal where we defended the yellow jersey for four days. Maybe next year we can achieve even more.”

 

How do you see your own future?

“Eventually, my goal is to win. This year, maybe next year as well, is just to get more experience. And then, after two years, I want to become like Gerald [Ciolek], like Cancellara.”

 

So you want to become a classics rider, going for the big one-day races, especially the cobbled classics?

“Yes, indeed. I had a good program for this year: I raced all the one-day races we did in Belgium, and got more experience. Maybe one day, I can win Paris-Roubaix, that’s my dream.”

 

With this dream in his mind, Reguigui lined up in his first WorldTour race in Hamburg last week to gain more experience and see for himself what such a race was about. When he came through the finish, the young Algerian looked pretty much finished.

 

 

After the team’s obligatory post-race talk – as the goal of MTN-Qhubeka is to develop African cyclists and help them improve, the team gathers after every race to discuss how the race developed, and what could be done better the next time – and a phone call to his father, we spoke with Youcef about his experience of the race:

 

How did you feel during your WorldTour debut, and what were your tasks in the race?

“It was the first long-distance race in my career, 246 km, so it was pretty hard. I stayed at the front for a long time today, but I got dropped in the end; I’m so tired. My father was really proud. He told me that I was very good, getting bottles for the team and staying in the first 30 positions all day. I worked with the team to set up Gerald for the sprint, but I couldn’t continue on the last 2 km, as I had cramps. But maybe in the future, I can have good results in this race or others like it.”

 

Exactly, that doesn’t come by itself. Will you ride the world championships this year?

“I think so. I am not 100% sure, but I’ll speak with the federation if I can participate; and if I’m picked for the team, I’ll go to the world championships.”

 

The 279.6 km race finishing in Firenze will be another learning experience for Reguigui, and though a high finish seems unlikely, it’ll be another step on his way to becoming Africa’s first classics rider.

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