The dream’s not over for Augustyn
Johannesburg – John Lee Augustyn will be watching the start of the 100th Tour de France on Saturday with a smile over what has been, and with hope for what could be.
It’s been five years since he rode in the Tour de France, five years since he was one of the most spoken-about young riders in cycling.
On July 22, 2008, the remaining four riders from the nine who started the Tour de France for Team Barloworld began the 16th stage with a simple plan: get into a break and get some TV coverage. Augustyn did that and much, much more.
He was the first rider to crest the Col de Bonette, the highest point of the Tour that year and the last big climb of the day.
The red and white of Barloworld was on TV screens around the world at the biggest and grandest bike race of them all.
Two minutes later, Augustyn got them even more coverage. He overshot a right corner and crashed down a steep gravel slope, his Bianchi bicycle flipping over him. Cameras kept on him as he struggled up the hill.
When he got there, he pointed down to his bike, which had fallen further down the hill, seemingly asking a policeman to fetch it for him.
“I thought it was a sheer drop and thought ‘this is it, I’m a goner’,” said Augustyn.
“Luckily it was just a slope and I eventually stopped, but then I had to try and get back up with cycling shoes on.
“I don’t remember what I said to the cop, but I did have to wait a good couple of minutes for another bike. I was freaking rattled and took it very easy after that. The mechanics went down to get the bike, and amazingly it was not even scratched a bit.”
Augustyn eventually finished 35th on that stage and 45th overall. Stage 16 was the highlight.
Augustyn got in a break in a group with Jaroslav Popovych.
They were two minutes ahead of a group that included yellow jersey holder Frank Schleck, his brother Andy, Carlos Sastre, the eventual winner of the 2008 Tour, and Bernard Kohl, the Austrian who won the King of the Mountains classification but later tested positive for EPO.
“I still remember that day like it was yesterday,” said Augustyn.
“The plan for us was just to get in a break and get some TV coverage. I tried many times. I almost fell off the back of the bunch and thought, ‘How am I going to finish today?’ A break went and Robert Hunter told me to go. I thought, ‘Oh well, one last try.’
“As I looked back I saw that no one was chasing anymore… that was it. I looked after myself, and on the last climb of the day I slowly started to feel really good.
“Valerio Tebaldi, (Barloworld directeur sportif, who had won stages in the 1988 and 89 Tours) was in the car.
“They said, closer to the top, that when I feel the moment is right, I should go as hard as I can. I went for it.
“I could see no one had the legs to respond. Soon after it got really steep, I felt like I wanted to get off and start walking but I could see the TV motorbike in my face and thought to myself, ‘The whole world is watching, I cannot get off now’. I just carried on stomping the pedals to the top. I was absolutely on the limit.”
Augustyn’s role had been to work for Mauricio Soler, the Colombian climber who had won the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour the year before, but he crashed and pulled out early in the race. It was a hard tour for Barloworld with Spaniard Moises Duenas testing positive for EPO.
“The morning of that is still with me. We went down for breakfast and Duenas had not come down yet. (Australian rider) Baden Cooke even joked that maybe the cops were raiding his room. As we went upstairs, the whole area was filled with cops.
“We were all shocked. It was unreal to me. Everyone in the team was furious with him. It was a great pity as Barloworld was a great team to be involved with.”
Augustyn signed for Team Sky for two years in the 2010 season, along with Brits Steve Cummings, Geraint Thomas and a certain Chris Froome, who is the favourite to win the Tour de France this year.
The South African struggled with injury in his time at Sky, needing a hip resurfacing operation.
“After removing the plate and screws after the operation, the blood flow to the head of the femur must have broken and that started to cause the osteonecrosis where the bone starts to die,” said Augustyn.
“At the beginning of 2011 I battled to sleep and walk.”
MRI scans and blood tests followed, and in May last year he terminated his contract with the Pro Continental team Utensilnord Named, and decided to take an indefinite break from racing. He returned to Port Elizabeth and opened a bike shop.
After a year of rehab and taking part in some local races, he felt strong enough to have another go at making it in Europe. He has moved to the Lombardia area close to Brescia.
“I have been chatting to a few sponsors, but nothing is confirmed yet. Hopefully something good pops up soon.
“I am riding, mainly on the mountain bike, as well as doing different kinds of cross-training and strengthening routines. I’m just trying to get back into the regime of a pro cyclist.”
Augustyn is just 26, but the taste of the Tour de France is still strong with him. He wants to get back.
“I am still young, but the years are creeping by really fast. The main goal would be to get back on to a Pro Tour team and carry on with the dream.” – The Star