Laurent Didier was the first Saxo Bank rider to arrive for Friday's training ride in Fuerteventura. Eager to impress his employers and teammates alike, the 25-year-old engineering graduate is embarking on his first full season, having ridden as a stagiaire for the team during the latter part of 2009.
After finishing his third and final UCI blood control that every new professional must undertake before racing in a Protour event, Didier spoke to Cyclingnews. Pigeonholed as a promising climber, Didier grew up in Luxembourg, often training with Andy Schleck and graduating through the ranks alongside Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas).
However, unlike the majority of his peers, Didier decided to juggle racing with university studies until last year, following in his father's footsteps as a qualified engineer.
"Securing a degree was a really big deal for me. My father is an engineer but it helps having that buffer and safety in case things don't work out on the bike. I tried mathematics for two years but it drove me crazy and I failed after two years but I still wanted a degree and did a three-year engineering course in Luxembourg," he told Cyclingnews.
During his studies, he rode for two German teams, Regiostrom - Senges and Kuota Senges, where he raced alongside Australian Luke Roberts (Team Milram). It was at Kuota that Didier caught the eye of Bjarne Riis and after impressing at the Tour of Denmark and then as a stagiaire, a full-time contract was put on the table. It was an irresistible offer for Didier and one that he fully intends on making the most of.
"I was top of the class in my year at university and I put in a lot of hard work. I want to do the same as a rider on this team. One day I'd like to put on the national jersey - I finished second in both the road and time-trial in 2009 - but for now it's about earning my stripes with the team."
Despite the squad talking up his prospects as a climber, Didier is more cautious, admitting that while at 69 kilos he has the physical attributes, he's yet to be tested on the sport's biggest climbs.
"I did the Tour of Pyrenees and finished third in a mountain stage. I've never done that many races with long hills so it's difficult for me to say that I'm a strong climber and if that's where my ability and future lie. The races I've done have hills but not mountains, especially at the top level. I have the build and along with my weight I'm 189cm tall, so I have the body shape for it."
Didier will start his racing season in Mallorca before lining-up at Pais Vasco, the Classics and then the Giro d'Italia, for his first Grand Tour. But while racing now takes centre stage in the young man's life he's aware that growing media exposure back home is a necessity he needs to deal with.
"I don't think the media interest can be any bigger than it is now. We Luxembourg riders get so much coverage in the newspapers now. Five or ten years ago there was very little. It's not so easy but you can get used to it. In my first interview on television I didn't even know where to look or when to answer the questions but after a few times you get used it."
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