Dion Smith’s selection for the Tour de France has still not quite sunk in, and he’s not expecting that it will until he’s on the start line in Düsseldorf for the first stage of La Grande Boucle. We took the opportunity to catch up with the Kiwi as he gets ready to debut at the biggest annual sporting event in the world; with his eye to getting up there in stages.
The news that he was selected as one of 9 debutants in the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team for the 2017 Tour de France seems to be taken in Dion Smith’s stride at this point. “I was actually out for an easy spin [yesterday] morning and had already been told the announcement was possibly today so when I got back from my ride and saw it had been announced I was pretty stoked to see the confirmation,” Dion told RoadCycling.
When it comes to the enormity of what Dion has achieved this year – selection for the biggest race in cycling – the reality is a little slow in hitting home; but he’s anticipating that come Saturday night New Zealand time it will probably become all the more real. “It still hasn’t fully sunk in yet that I’m doing the tour but I can imagine once I’m in Düsseldorf in the middle of the atmosphere it will start becoming a reality that I’m actually competing in the biggest race within cycling,” he said.
Unlike Patrick Bevin, whose Tour de France selection was not on the cards until his brilliant display in the Tour de Suisse, Dion has had an awareness of his potential to be heading to the three-week race; although nothing was set in stone. “It’s always been in the back of my mind knowing there was a chance I could go since Wanty Groupe Gobert is a wild card entry,” Dion explained. “Obviously I still wanted to focus on the other races in the season as I knew these were the opportunities for me to prove myself to the team, especially since I was the last rider to sign for the year and with Wanty being such a strong team it was always going to be tough to make the cut.”
But make the cut he did. After a string of good performances throughout the year, including in the Criterium du Dauphiné, Smith was selected for Wanty-Groupe Gobert. Jean-Francois Bourlart explained that the team had to choose between Dion Smith, Kenny Dehaes and Andrea Pasqualon, and in the end Pasqualon and Smith got the nod because of their ability to survive the climbs better, and their ability as puncheurs.
With an outfit fully made up of first time Tour de France riders, there is no pressure to secure a top ten on GC; but instead the target for the team is to really illuminate matters. “The team for their first Tour de France will be looking for exposure, from making it into breakaways mainly but also attempting to get up there on stages as much as possible,” Dion said. “Personally I would love to make it to the finish in Paris but I still want to get up there in as many stages as I can and not be afraid to show myself in the odd breakaway.”
Given his season so far, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Dion up the road on a few occasions in the 2017 Tour de France.