MOVING to mainland Europe in the midst of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic is, in Joe Nally’s own words, not going to be easy.

But, after a difficult 2020 that saw the West Fife cycle star hit by illness and left questioning his future in the sport after his team folded, securing a contract to race in France this year was a choice he couldn’t turn down – and hopes it will help him catch the eye of high-level professional teams.

Former Woodmill High School pupil Joe, 21, is moving to Toucy, a village in North-Central France that is around two hours south of Paris, next month to link up with Team Elite Restauration 89 after accepting an offer to ride for them.

That came as a relief for the Charlestown rider who, after recovering from a bout of glandular fever that left him floored from February last year until early August, was hit by the bombshell news that his Vitus Pro Cycling team had folded at the end of October.

A race against time to find someone else to ride with began and, although it left Joe pondering whether he would be able to continue in the sport, three offers came his way, resulting in him making a French connection.

Speaking to Press Sport, the 2017 British national points champion admitted that the curtailment of cycling due to coronavirus did help him as he battled his way back to fitness, and said crossing the Channel was the “obvious choice” after a tough 12 months.

“I was under the illusion that I’d be staying with the same team I was with last year,” he explained.

“I never actually got to race for this team once but, as far as I knew, it was going to carry on until 2021, and it would all work out how it was supposed to.

“The team I was with this year was called Vitus Pro Cycling, an English team based in Derby. They’re a continental team; the lowest level UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) team, you’d probably call it semi-pro.

“I was supposed to be racing this year, and they did do some races early on in the year, but I was ill and didn’t quite make them. Then, obviously, everything got cancelled.

“I got an email at the end of October saying that we’re pretty sure that the team’s not going to be able to continue next year, so feel free to look for a new team. In the cycling world, the end of October’s unbelievably late to get that news; you’d be looking to be securing a place in the middle of August at the latest.

“It was a bit of a shock.

“There was a bit of panicking but, in the end, I had a few offers to choose from. The main choice I had to make was whether I wanted to stay in Britain, and take a more comfortable approach, but I wasn’t promised as good a race calendar as I was with the French team.

“I think it was the obvious choice but I wouldn’t have said it was easy. What it entails is heading to France for nine months.

“Trying to figure my way through French life during Brexit and a worldwide pandemic is not going to be easy but it was definitely the right choice looking back.”

Being able to have his choice of destination was certainly a huge positive for former Hardie Bikes competitor Joe after his struggle with illness, although he had recovered enough to head to Tenerife for a 12-week block of training at the beginning of September.

“I was hit really badly and it wasn’t until maybe the end of July, early August, that I started to feel back to normal,” he continued.

“I’m healthy now but my fitness is miles off where I’d like it to be. It’s improving slowly.

“Weirdly enough, I think I’ve actually been unbelievably lucky with the timing of it. If I was to ever choose a time to have a year-long illness, now is the perfect time really. I might’ve raced a bit but I would probably have rushed back in and made it a lot worse. Some time to focus on being healthy, without any sort of stress, was really fortunate.

“I haven’t really missed anything. Back in February, even at the start of March when I was basically in bed for the month while people were away racing, it was horrible looking at results and seeing everyone I know having a great time. In a weird and not fairly nice way, it was a bit of a relief when everything came to a stop.

“I was in Tenerife when I got the email. I was on my own and my mindset switched straight to well, that’s it, it’s all over really. In my head, I hadn’t raced for a year, I’d been ill for a year, and I didn’t have anything to sell myself on.

“I probably overreacted a bit but it was a rough time, definitely. It was two weeks of panicking until I did finally track down a team I was happy with.

“I tracked down every bit of contact information that I could find, through friends who know various teams, and just sent out emails to anyone I could think of. In the end, I had three offers to choose from, the French team being the one I went for.

“It was a huge surprise because I was of the opinion that it was a futile task but I was lucky enough to have some people that were clearly happy to believe in me.

“Technically, it’s a slightly lower-level team than where I was this year, but, opportunity-wise and the race calendar and exposure to pro teams, is the main attraction.

“There’s a lot of French teams at the level I’m looking for. Where I’m moving to will be the ideal place to show myself.”