By Hedwig Kröner
For the first time in its history, an African has won a stage in the Tour de l'Avenir. 21 year-old Rafaa Chtioui from Tunisia was the fastest man in the race's time trial in Sassay on Monday, and surprised even himself: "When I was young, I dreamed about winning time trials," he told L'Equipe. "But during the last two years, I didn't think I was capable of it. But like they say - inshallah!"
Chtioui, a Muslim, trained at the UCI World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland since 2004. After winning the Silver medal at the Junior World's in Verona, he joined the Espoir team of AG2R in Chambéry in 2006, but that experience turned sour. "It was horrible," he said about his difficult integration into the squad. "I was young and lonely, so after a few months I just wanted to go home."
Now that he has returned to Aigle, his talent pays off. While Michel Thèze of the Cycling Centre assures that his physical abilities are "enormous", Chtioui isn't sure of which cycling specialty he will yet have to develop if he wants to become a pro. "I don't know if I'm a sprinter, a time triallist, a climber or a finisher - I would need more references to make that out," he continued.
And isn't afraid of setting his goals as high as possible: "I just like to win, everywhere. I even think of the World's in Stuttgart - why not?"
Chtioui is happy with his multi-cultured team at the Tour de l'Avenir, which also counts an Algerian, a Chinese and three Colombian riders. "We're like a gang of friends, there is a lot of respect," he explained. "We help each other as if we were from the same country. I feel great in this team."
As for his immediate future, Chtioui doesn't know yet if he will accept the proposals he received to become a neo-pro next season. "I haven't decided yet, I'll see. If it has to happen, then it will - destiny will decide," he concluded.