Southland cyclists Matt Zenovich and Josh Haggerty leave this week for Belgium and the world of professional cycling.
It will be Zenovich's second season based in Belgium, where he and Haggerty will race for Continental team Champion Systems.
The team is registered in New Zealand, but based in Belgium, and features a small 11-man roster which will include first year rider Haggerty.
The average age of the team, which also includes New Zealanders Michael Vink and Ryan Wills, and riders from Europe and Japan, is just 23.
Zenovich spent four months in Belgium last year but will put in an eight-month shift this season which could include as many as 80 race days.
A stage winner in the 2013 Tour of Southland, Zenovich said after racing a lot of kermesse-style events - typically about 120km - in Belgium last year, the team was looking to step up to tour racing and one-day classics.
Zenovich's first race this season will be the historic season-opening Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, a 190km race which includes cobblestone streets and features world-class riders Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish amongst its most recent winners.
"It's very hard and fast racing and when I first went over there I really struggled but by the end of the season I was starting to get more comfortable," Zenovich said.
After taking a month-long break following last year's SBS Bank Tour of Southland, Zenovich opted to sit out the national road championship last month.
He's hoping that by peaking later in the season he will be able to hold his form for longer.
Haggerty, 19, is excited about his opportunity to test himself in a professional road environment after an impressive junior career on the track.
Haggerty won two silver medals at junior world championship level on the track and has also been prominent on the road, but the next few months will present a steep learning curve.
"I'm really looking forward to learning from the riders around me and progressing my role in the team."
Photo and article courtesy The Southland Times