Millionaires living in Monaco and the late, great Alan Van Heerden apart, the recent Tour de Langkawi saw perhaps the best ever result for an African cyclist with Algerian and MTN Qhubeka climber/sprinter Youcef Reguigui taking the penultimate stage up Fraser’s Hill, grabbing the leader’s jersey and holding on to it through the frantic last stage criterium in Kuala Lumpur.
The Fraser’s Hill stage was substituted for the now famous mega-grind up to Genting Highlands resort – officially the reason given was that construction work made the finale dangerous.
However, the most likely explanation is that the resort owners didn’t want their flagship seen by the world’s Media in anything but it’s glory.
And lest you think it was a ‘soft’ win, Reguigui had to hold off World Tour squads Astana – with Valerio Agnoli in second spot on GC and Sky – with Sebastien Henao in third spot on GC to take the honours.
In addition he had a diminished team around him on the stage he won and on the final day – MTN being among many teams hit by a nasty stomach bug during the race.
Reguigui has good genes – his father, Abdelkader won the Tour of Algeria in 1987.
Reguigui junior rode for the UCI Centre Mondial du Cyclisme and Groupement Sportif Petrolier Algerie between 2010 and 2012 before moving to MTN-Qhubeka for season 2013.
In 2009 he won the Ouverture Saison de l’Algerie and was second overall in the Tour of Algeria.
The following season saw numerous North African wins including the prologue in the Tour of Algeria.
He won the Algerian U23 road race and time trial championships in 2011 along with a raft of other North African races and there was second on a stage in the very hotly contested Ville Saguenay, Nations Cup race in Canada.
There were wins in North Africa, Switzerland, Tuscany and Azerbaijan in 2012; with 2013 seeing more wins on his home continent and the Arab Championships in Bahrain go his way.
Last year there were more African wins and a stage win in the ever more prestigious and tough Tour of Azerbaijan.
But Langkawi is his biggest result so far.
MTN-Qhubeka main man, Brian Smith very kindly put or questions to his rider soon after his fine win.
Did you think before you won the Fraser’s Hill stage that you could win the overall, Youcef?
“No, when I was sitting third on GC I was only thinking of a top five finish…”
What did you think when you heard that the very tough Genting Highlands stage was out?
“My first my target was to win a stage in Langkawi – but after I heard the Genting stage was out I began thinking of the GC.”
I believe the humidity in Langkawi takes a bit of getting used to on those climbs?
“Coming from Algeria I don’t have any problem with the weather!”
That last stage when you were battling to keep the jersey must have been stressful for you?
“Yes, I’ve never felt stress like that in my entire life; I couldn’t sleep the night before the last stage.”
Your dad, Abdelkader won the ’87 Tour of Algeria – did you want to ‘follow in his footsteps ?’ he must be a big fan?
“When my father won the Tour of Algeria 1987 I wasn’t even born.
“But I have a lot of pictures of him during that tour.
“When I won the Tour de Langkawi he was really happy – I’ve never seen my dad as happy as that before.”
How big a sport is cycling in Algeria?
“In Algeria football is the number one sport but when my MTN-Qhubeka team did last year’s Vuelta a Espana and when this year we got the wild card for the Tour de France a lot of the focus now is on cycling.”
Has the Algerian media made a fuss over your terrific win?
“Yes I have a lot of media attention from Algeria – and I also had a call from the Algerian Minster of Sport after the victory .”
What’s it like training in Algeria, are the roads good, safe?
“The roads are very nice for training, especially in my city, Blida which is about 45 kilometres from the capital city, Algiers with the Atlas Mountains to the south.”
How did you get the MTN ride?
“When was at the UCI Cycling Center in Switzerland I won a lot of races in the U23 age group.
“MTN knew me from there and I received a call from the boss, Douglas Ryder – and JP van Zyl who was with the African World Cycling Centre as well as MTN supported my joining the team.”
You rode Kuurne earlier this year – what was that like?
“The first part of the race very hard but I felt better as the race went on.
“I spoke with Tyler Farrar and he said for me to work for Edvald (Boasson Hagen) – I do my job 100% for the team in a situation like that.”
And you rode the Tro Bro Leon a year or two ago – what was that like?
“I really liked that race on the dirt roads.
“Last year I was in the front group but I had a puncture in the last 30 kilometres.
“I hope this year I can make good result in that race.”
You won a stage in Azerbaijan in 2014 – that was a nice result.
“That was my first professional win so I was really happy with that result, yes.”
And I have to ask; what do you think of the new stripy strip?
“Yes, it’s good – you can see the team easily in the peloton during a race.”
We never thought of that, but now that Youcef mentions it… With thanks to Brian and Youcef – see you ‘en France’ gentlemen.