By GUY WILLIAMS
A taste of the big-time has left Queenstown cyclist Reuben Thompson hungry for more.
The 20-year-old made his professional debut last month in the Tour of the Alps, in Italy and Austria, with the Equipe Groupama FDJ World Tour team.
Remarkably, the climbing specialist finished fourth in the King of the Mountain (KOM) classification and 19th in the youth classification, while his team placed 16th out of 20.
It was another big step up for the former national under-19 triathlon champion, who last October signed a two-year deal with Groupama’s under-23 development team.
Thompson tells Mountain Scene his ride with the elite team had been planned since January.
With the 10-day U23 Tour of Italy starting on June 3, he was slotted in to ‘‘tune my form and have a super-hard week racing with the world’s best’’.
‘‘In theory I can come back down to U23 level and find it much easier to race for the win in my upcoming races.’’
During the five-day race he was given licence to get into breakaways and go after KOM points.
He managed just that on stage two, taking maximum points on the first categorised climb and getting some ‘‘good TV time’’.
He got in another break away the next day, getting more points, before fading over the last two days as ‘‘my youth caught up with me’’.
‘‘I was really fatigued and used my only bullet each day trying to get in the breakaway in the first hour or so.
“My level wasn’t quite there yet to follow the top guys when there was the opportunity for the break away to win the stage on the third day, but I’m sure that will come with time.’’
He learned so much during an ‘‘amazing week’’, he says.
‘‘It’s left me more motivated and excited than ever to make that next step.
‘‘My big goal is to get on the podium in one of the big U23 tours — it would always be nice to bag a race win somewhere along the way, too.’’
He expects to join the World Tour team again next month for the Paris Camembert one-day race and another stage race in July.
After riding in the Tour of Southland — winning The Remarkables access road third stage — the NZ Cycle Classic and road national champs over the past summer, he flew back to Europe in February for his third consecutive northern summer.
He’s based in Besancon, near the French border with Switzerland.