Nick Koleszar didn’t have to wait long to realize this was going to be different.

“Right from the start — just because of the level of competition — it was clear that it was going to be the hardest race I’ve been in,” said Koleszar, an 18-year-old Wiltonian who graduated from Wilton High School in June. “The psychological element was difficult … there are riders next to you wearing national team colors.”

Koleszar was describing the first day of the Tour de L'Abitibi, a high-level cycling race that took place July 16-22 in Val d'Or, Quebec. The event, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary, is the only annual International Junior Nations Cup seven-day stage race in North America.

Koleszar was part of the Middletown-based CCAP (Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program) team that competed against 26 other teams in the invitation-only field for 17- and 18-year-old men. Opponents included the national teams of the United States, France, Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, and Canada. Some of the riders will go on to join pro teams and eventually compete in the Tour de France.

“It was intimidating; the average speed was about 28 miles per hour,” said Koleszar, who was one of five riders on the CCAP squad. “But you have to say to yourself ‘I belong here.’ I had to remind myself that I could compete with these guys.”

Koleszar was one of 107 riders (from a starting field of nearly 150) who finished all seven stages. Some competitors dropped out and others were eliminated after each stage based on time behind the leader.

Koleszar’s best result was a 32nd-place finish on the 76.4-mile final stage. That effort took him from 103rd to 95th in the general classification (final overall standings).

“At first I was disappointed that I was 95th,” he said. “But when I thought about the level of competition — and all the good riders who didn’t make it all the way through — I started to feel better about how I rode.”

Not that there was much time for reflection.

Four days later, Koleszar was among six CCAP riders who competed in the men’s 17/18-year-old division at the USA Cycling Amateur Road Nationals in Hagerstown, Md. The event included three days of separate events: A time trial, a road race, and a criterium.

Koleszar’s best result came in the road race as he finished 28th overall among a starting field of 99 riders.

In a few weeks, Koleszar will begin his freshman year at the University of Vermont, where he will join the school’s cycling club. “There is no varsity team,” he said.

A Category 3 (out of five) rider, Koleszar has no plans to turn pro, although he will continue to compete in races.

“I like to ride fast and push myself,” he said. “But I also want to keep having fun when I ride.”

Notes: On Saturday, Koleszar rode to victory in the 15-18 age division at the Center Subaru Tokeneke Classic Road Race in East Hartland. Koleszar led a three-rider breakaway at the end of the first 22-mile lap, then took control on the final hill of the second lap to win by nearly two minutes.

Koleszar’s victory earned him the USA Cycling Connecticut State road race championship for his age group.