"That the WorldTour is a different level. You've really got to suffer just to get to the finish. It's a different level," Flakemore replied after placing 37th in the final stage time trial at 1:28 minutes to German stage winner Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep).
By the time Flakemore, 22, finished the tour in Lausanne he was placed 98th overall, and at 56 minutes 31 seconds to the race winner, Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha).
The week had taken its toll on many riders in the depleted peloton, especially the mountainous 166km fifth stage from Fribourg to Champex-Lac in which Flakemore placed 100th at 25 minutes 29 seconds to French stage winner, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr).
Flakemore, the world under 23 time trial champion and a former Avanti Racing Team and Jayco-AIS-World Tour Academy rider, believes the finish will strengthen him.
On Thursday, he leaves from France for the United States where he hopes for some strong rides in the Tour of California that runs from Sunday to May 17, after which he will return to his base in Nice to prepare for the Tour of Belgium from May 27-31.
"It's a busy month with Romandie, California and Belgium," he told Cyclingnews. "There is also a nice time trial in California. It'll be cool to have a crack at that."
The hard road back …
Flakemore found the Tour de Romandie a major learning curve, but he knew it would be beforehand, especially given he began after only 15 days and 1,999.75 kilometres of racing in his legs – an amount that now stands at 2711.45km from 21 days.
Flakemore's year began well. At the Australian road titles in January, he was sixth in the time trial and fourth in the road race. But on January 21, he crashed and broke his collarbone riding back to the team hotel after stage two of the Tour Down Under and could not start stage three.
Flakemore resumed competition on March 6 at the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen in Belgium in which he raced the prologue and stage one, but did not finish stage two.
Also in Belgium, he raced the Nokere Koerse-Danilith Classic (156th), Handzame Classic (163rd), Dwars door Vlaanderen (DNF), stages 1, 2, and 3a of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, Volta Limburg Classic (DNF) and De Brabantse Pijl (DNF).
Asked how his recovery and subsequent return to racing passed, Flakemore said: "It was pretty hard seeing the guys winning the Tour Down Under [with Australian BMC teammate Rohan Dennis placing first] and I was just watching from the hotel room.
"I had a fair bit of time off just to make sure I fully recovered, that I didn't rush back.
"When I got to Europe, I had two weeks training. Then I went straight into racing. I was really under done for racing. I've really been suffering a fair bit when racing."
However, as hard as Flakemore has found the step up of racing at World Tour level, he says the challenge of becoming a professional is not just on the bike, but off it.
He has set up his base in Nice, on the French Riviera – a location he says it ideal for its training routes and proximity other riders who live there or in nearby Monaco.
"In Nice there are climbs everywhere, so I have been doing plenty of climbing," he said. "[The big challenge though] is not just the racing. It's also sorting out my own apartment. Living on your own, looking after yourself, sorting out the apartment, the internet … and doing it in France was a big part. It's just all a big learning curve …"
Listening to Peiper's tune …
Flakemore has drawn on the counsel of BMC's sporting manager, the former Australian professional Allan Peiper, saying: "I have seen Allan a fair bit ... I heard he is quite good with the young guys and from first hand experience I agree absolutely.
"He is from Australia, came over and made Europe his home. He knew what it was like at the start of his career. He understands it is quite difficult at the start. He is always there to offer support and is really understanding with everything."
Flakemore was unaware of what challenges Peiper faced in his first two year stint in Belgium. When he first arrived in 1977 as a 17-year-old to race, Peiper initially lived in a butcher's shop that was so cold at night he had to use a beach towel he had brought with him from Australia as a second blanket. In time, Peiper made mates with another then junior rider, the now retired Eddy Planckaert, whose family took him in to live until early 1979 when a bout of hepatitis forced Peiper to return to Australia.
Told of Peiper's first foray into Europe – the second starting in 1982 and lasting until the end of his professional career in 1992 - Flakemore said: "That's crazy …
"That's the next level of doing it tough. In realty, it is easy for us now, but it is still hard being away from home. But hearing stories like that brings it down to earth …"
Flakemore is in for the long haul and appreciates all the support he gets at BMC.
Continuing to garner experience in his first year is his main goal, but he still hopes to showcase the time trialling prowess that made him the world under 23 champion.
He would love to ride for Australia in the time trial or for BMC in the team time trial at the world road titles in Richmond, USA, but he realises he faces stiff opposition.
"For sure, but I'd have to get some results," Flakemore said when asked. "But [for the time trial] I think the results of guys like Richie [Porte] and Rohan … they'll be the main candidates. But it would be good to do it, and the team time trial, but to get into the BMC team will be super hard. But that would be a goal of mine, to do either."
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)
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