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Healthy Augustyn returns to the peloton with MTN-Qhubeka

MILAN (VN) — John-Lee Augustyn returns to the professional peloton with team MTN-Qhubeka next year after a “heartbreaking” journey. The South African rode for Barloworld and Sky and has raced all three grand tours, but hip problems forced him to give up.

“I saw Chris Froome going at the top at the Tour de France. It wasn’t easy,” Augustyn told VeloNews. “Mentally it was hard, I was struggling because I could not ride at the same level as before. I had to stop to avoid hating cycling.”

A crash in the 10th stage of the 2007 Volta a Portugal started it all. Augustyn fractured the left side of his hip. It healed and he returned. He raced at the 2008 Tour de France and placed 45th. Many fans probably remember him crashing and sliding down the side of the Col de la Bonette and clawing his way back up to the road.

However, something was not right with his hip. At Sky, doctors discovered the 2007 injury caused part of the bone to deteriorate. Augustyn underwent hip surgery in 2011 and switched to second division team Utensilnord-Named for 2012, but he still suffered. He had to quit and take a break. He said that it was “heartbreaking” but that he needed it both mentally and physically.

The now 27-year-old from Port Elizabeth was off the bike for most of the year. He and his brother opened and operated Augustyn Brothers bike shop. However, he said that his body healed and became balanced with strength training. He began mountain biking, regained his strength, and rediscovered his passion.

“I started talking to [MTN General Manager] Doug Ryder and began getting excited about returning,” Augustyn said. “I was going better and better on my mountain bike and tests in Switzerland showed that I was strong enough to return.”

Augustyn sold his bike shop to refocus entirely on his return to the professional peloton. Ryder will ease him into it. He begins with Gabon’s Tropicale Amissa Bongo in January and will race in Malaysia’s Tour of Langkawi in February before returning to cycling’s heartland in Europe.

“I’ve done very little road races, I did a few local ones in Port Elizabeth. I’ve done mountain bike races, which are harder than most bike races,” he said. “MTN is supporting me well, though. The team is giving me proper training and proper racing. I’ll be looked after on the bike.”

He would rather talk about racing and Africa’s first professional team than crashing. If he does fall again, he risks shattering part of his hip. He said that’s the case for many professional cyclists riding around with metal pins or plates in their bodies.

“MTN, a real African team, inspires me. Team Barloworld had a South African sponsor [and] South African cyclists, but this is a true African team with riders from [all] over Africa. It motivates me,” Augustyn said. “I want to return to proper racing. Regain my confidence and get back in a grand tour.”