TOUGH: Whakatane cyclist Brad Jones competing with top amateur cyclists in Belgium. Photo Martine Verfaillie

CYCLIST Brad Jones is heading for the big time in international road racing.
Four weeks ago, the Whakatane 23-year-old left for Belgium to compete in top European amateur team Asfra.

The team competes in two or three races of about 120 kilometres each week and so far Jones has managed a ninth and a 14th in the 150-plus fields.

“The European cycling is a massive step up to what I have been doing in New Zealand,” he said.

“The first month up to now I was doing elite racing – mainly the best amateurs from Belgium and around the world do these to try make a name for themselves and get a professional contract and also some professionals attend. Belgians call these a kermesse race, which is 100-120 kilometres of four 10k loops going through various towns around the country, two to three times a week.

“The racing is technical with many corners and is chaotic, with up to 180 riders. Crashes happen often (I’ve been in one).

“My top three placings have been 22nd, 14th, and ninth with all finishes in the top 60, apart from the race when I crashed and when I got a flat tyre, which I did not finish.”

Because of the good results, his team manager picked him to race in this week’s Tour of Albania, an event of mostly professional riders from a range of European countries.

When he spoke to the Beacon overnight on Tuesday he had completed stage one, which he described as a relatively easy stage of 150km.

“There were some hills but the peloton (main group) maintained a relatively easy pace with only a few riders being dropped.

“The pace got up at the end with an average speed of over 50kmh for the final 15k.

“The sprint was crazy with some riders dropping back and others trying to get through on the narrow road.

“I couldn’t find a way through to the front and placed 29th.”

The following two days were relatively flat and Jones said he was “really looking forward to stage 4 and 5 at the end of the tour as we will hit the steep and long climbs which will see the stronger riders – I hope to be one of them – break away from the rest of the field.

“I think if everything goes well I could have a chance of a top 10 in one of these stages and move up the leader board for overall in the tour.”

Following the Albania tour Jones will be back in Belgium for three weeks where he hopes to be picked for a couple more big races.

Brad applied earlier in the year to become a part of Asfra and is paying his own way to gain international experience.