TASMANIAN cyclist Nathan Earle has overcome language barriers, European climbs and even bike thieves to step up to the sport's elite level.
Joining fellow Tasmanian Richie Porte based in the south of France and riding for British outfit Team Sky, Earle had the advantage of making his debut as a WorldTour rider in his home country before playing a pivotal role in his first European race.
``I have to say I'm feeling pretty good,'' said the Hobart 25-year-old.
``It's been a bit of a different start to the year than I'd imagined following my call-up to the Tour Down Under. Getting selected at the last minute obviously meant it was a bit rushed but it was certainly exciting, and to be part of that team was pretty special. I just tried to do the best I could for the guys.
``It was a really good experience and I felt quite privileged to be able to do that. I got a lot of positive feedback from everyone and all in all it couldn't have turned out much better.''
Earle said he was privileged to team up with Porte, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard and Bernie Eisel in South Australia and since moving to Nice, has found himself an apartment, set up a bank account and begun training on the local climbs.
``It's been as easy as it could possibly be - amazing really,'' Earle told Sky's website.
``I speak next-to-no French and it could have been a really horrible and stressful experience. Instead I came over here and I've got the coaches living nearby and riders like Richie in the Monaco/Nice area.''
The biggest obstacle facing Earle in the Tour du Haut Var was when Sky had all its bikes stolen on the eve of the two-day race in the Provence region of France.
``I didn't panic too much because the team weren't panicking. Obviously everyone was a bit stressed but they'd figured out a way to get around it. It's just one of those things that happened and there's nothing you can do about it. It could have been a lot worse.
``I did pretty well there so it shows that if you have the right support you can perform.''
Earle was third over the final climb but said letting two riders break away cost him a podium finish.
``I was disappointed afterwards because I was literally metres off the two riders that went to contest the finish,'' he said.
``I was pretty confident I could have been there with the other two and if we'd stayed away I would have had a guaranteed third, at least. But that's racing. I learnt a lot and it was positive that I was third over the climb. I need to try to gauge how tired other riders are or what the situation is.
``But I've got to take a step back and realise that it's my first European pro race and I wasn't really going into it as a main guy to try and win. The experience I gained from it was really valuable and it's a positive sign that my form is good and I can handle those smaller races.''
Earle's next assignments are two one-day races in Italy - the Strade Bianche and Roma Maxima - this weekend.
``They are both long races and you have to back up the next day so hopefully it should suit me,'' he said.
``It will be a different squad there and it's more experience and learning.''
Fresh from his second-place finish in Spain's Ruta del Sol, Porte is gearing up to defend his crown in the eight-stage Paris-Nice, beginning with the 162km opener around Mantes-la-Jolie on Sunday.