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John-Lee Augustyn will make his return with MTN-Qhubeka
South African believes injury troubles are behind him
There may have been times when he considered throwing in the towel, and he almost did when he chose to take a break from the sport, but he says that forgetting about cycling was easier said than done. "Racing is in your blood, once you start. It's a hectic sport. Once you get used to it, it's almost addictive," Augustyn told Cyclingnews ahead of the Tour de Langkawi.
"The pain afterwards and that rush that you get in the peloton, you get used to it and that's what keeps you motivated and keeps on going. It was good to have a good rest and get my head sorted out. Everything is settled, but it's nice to be back."
The South African rode his first race for well over a year at La Tropicale Amissa Bongo in January. The Tour de Langkawi is his third race since coming back and he says that he felt nervous when he lined up in Gabon. "I did some amateur races back in my hometown so I sort of got the feel for racing. But when I started my first pro race, it was nerve wracking and exciting. I wasn't sure what to expect."
Augustyn spent a year and a half out of cycling when he called an end to his contract with the Utensilnord-Named team midway through the 2012 season. The decision came after a number of issues, which included having hip resurfacing surgery as a result of the ongoing effects of that 2007 crash. Augustyn says that the last few years, which included a two-year stint at Team Sky, have been a mental struggle for him.
"It's been frustrating, especially when you know what you are capable of," he told Cyclingnews. "After my crash, I was sort of ok when I did the Tour [with Barloworld in 2008 – ed], but after that I always had needles and pains, and I wasn't 100%. Then I had knee injuries and then I had this problem, it's always playing on your mind. When I had the resurfacing done that was a big thing. I think it was more of a mental breakdown more than anything, but I got back up. It will take a while."
The time out provided Augustyn with a new perspective and gave him an opportunity to live a normal life and spend more time with his family. He believes that it allowed him to develop as a person. "I definitely learnt a lot of life and cycling. I have grown up a bit more as well. I got stuck so much into cycling; all you know is cycling and you sort of forget all the things around you."
The 28-year-old was never too far away from cycling, though, and he ran a bike shop during his time away. Last October, after a whole host of medical tests – so many that Augustyn reckons he could now pass for a doctor himself – he rejoined the professional peloton by signing for MTN-Qhubeka.
Augustyn believes that the pains that have plagued him are finally behind him, but it will take time before he can reach his previous level. "I'm not in any pain, so that's a big relief. The main thing is to build up the power and make the muscles strong enough so that they can sustain the threshold for that amount of time. I can feel after certain amount of powers then I sort of start going a bit skew again."
Like Augustyn, MTN-Qhubeka is still finding its feet in the professional sport. He believes that his experience can help the team to develop, while he does the same as a rider. The team has made a big impression in its opening season at Pro Continental level, with Gerald Ciolek winning Milan-San Remo. However they're yet to ride a Grand Tour and have missed out on wildcard invitations to the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France this year.
Augustyn is confident that it will happen soon, however, and doesn't think the decision is all bad for the team. "I'm sure that in the future we will get invited to a Grand Tour. There are a few guys who are capable of getting very good results," he said.
"I think that maybe it was a good and bad thing [missing out on the Giro]. I think it was maybe too soon for our team. It will have been good for us as well. We have a sponsor from South Africa, from the sponsor side it would have been good. But we still have to learn a lot and get the team properly run, which is a good thing. We have got a lot of new teams and quite a young team. I think if we get an invite to the Vuelta a España that would be a good thing."
While a win would cap off his return, it's not his main focus this season. For now Augustyn is taking things as they come and is just happy to be back on the bike.