You have been incredibly successful in your career, and stand as a source of inspiration to young South African riders. What helped you make the leap from South Africa to international racing: was there a specific moment or turning point?
Not a specific point but I think when I started racing in Europe at Junior level and saw that I could ride with the best the world in my age group it gave me confidence and motivation to work hard and try and be a professional at the highest level.
What lessons have you learned along the way and do you have any advice for young South African riders looking to make a career out of road racing?
There will be a lot of obstacles along the way but I would say get as much European experience as you can , as early as possible after school.
Your team suffered several setbacks during the build up to the Tour, and during the racing: especially losing Mark Cavendish to a crash on stage 4. How did these setbacks affect team morale, and how did you get over it?
Yes we had some crashes and illnesses leading up to the tour but I think that’s normal in this sport and we just moved on. Losing Mark so early was a big loss for us, as there were so many sprint stages still left in the tour. Luckily we still had a good leadout team there, and a strong group of riders so we just kept on fighting. We were always up there, so that kept the motivation high.
There were a lot of crashes in the Tour this year. Do you think riders are risking more in the quest for victory, or is simply a case of business as usual? Is there anything you can do in the peloton to stay safe or do you just hope you are lucky?
This year some riders already crashed out on the first day, but that was mainly because of the rain and obviously taking a few extra risks, but other than that I think it was similar to previous years. It’s a stressful race and everyone wants to be in a good position all the time, so crashes will always happen. We saw Steve Cummings crashing hard and he was right at the back of the bunch where you would think it’s the safest. I think there’s not much you can do other than hope you are lucky and in the right place at the right time.
Are you doing anything differently this year in terms of training?
Not really, I have the same coach as last year. After Tour Down Under I got sick and we found out I had Epstein Barr virus so I had to take some weeks off. That affected my build up a bit, but luckily I didn’t miss that much racing because of it.
What was your role in the team at the Tour de France, and how much did that change with Cavendish and Renshaw having to abandon the Tour? Is there much flexibility within the team to adapt as the race progresses?
With Cavendish there I knew I would have to spend a lot of time on the front pulling back breakaways, but after losing him I didn’t have to start pulling from early on, and so had to help with other things like getting bottles and helping the protected rider for the stage to stay as fresh as possible, and then when we got closer to finish help in the leadout train. We always had to keep an eye out at the start of the stages as well to make sure the breakaway wasn’t too big and if it was too big make sure we had someone in there. So we always had to adapt to the situations on the road.
How do you see your role within the team changing and progressing with your career?
I always try and progress every year in whatever I have to do. We have some good race winners in our team and I like to support them to the best of my abilities and take my chances where it's possible.
You’ve come nail bitingly close to victory from breakaways in the Vuelta and the Giro. What sort of stage suits your style of riding? Does the team target these through the race?
I like to take opportunities in breakaways as I'm not really a climber or a sprinter and these are my best chances to get a result. Breakaways are difficult to stay away and the team always targets the days when we think have the best chance to stay away. Then you just try as hard as you can to stay away and save something for the end.
What are your plans for the remainder of the season, will we be seeing you at the Vuelta a España?
No Vuelta for me this year. For the moment I'm doing Artic race of Norway next in middle August. After that two single day races in Canada, Montreal and Quebec ending off with a few Italian races. My season will normally end in the middle of October.
What was a particular highlight for you from the 2017 Tour?
There were a few special moments in the Tour, the first road stage in Dusseldorf was a special day, I spent most of the day on the front pulling back the breakaway. It was unbelievable to see all the people on the roads. The day Edvald won was definitely a highlight, he was in the breakaway so we didn’t really help him to win but after trying and getting so close in all the other stages it was just awesome to finally get a win in the team.
Then obviously riding into Paris on the last day: I got goosebumps riding onto the cobbles on the Champs-Élysées.
What was your darkest moment during the Tour?
I had a hard day in the alps but other than that I was mostly enjoying it.
What was the first thing you did after the tour that you were not able to do during the race?
Had a braai.