Candice Neethling – the more I ride the more I learn
10 June 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. All matters mountain biking, people, personalities, trails, places, races, we’re there. We try and bring you a flavour of what the sport is all about and try and get underneath and into the sport. Thank you for downloading.
Today we’re talking to Candice Neethling, a professional rider here in South Africa. Who is making her way in the sport as everyone does through the ups and downs and highs and lows of the sport. Candice, thanks for talking to us. Where are you now in the sport and how are you positioned, I suppose in your mind, are you in a happy place in terms of the mountain biking now?
Candice Neethling: I definitely am. You are so right when you say there are so many ups and downs and a I think a lot of it is mental. I did the Old Mutual joBerg2c where I got into some very dark places there, but definitely gained a lot mentally through that whole thing.
Just realising how you can push the limits and how it’s all so mental. You think that other people are riding or they’re strong or they’re looking comfortable, but they’re actually not. They’re also suffering and if you can get that in your mind and you can keep strong mentally, it’s helped me hugely.
A continued learning curve
GDK: It’s fascinating to hear, you’re a cross country racer, you’ve achieved great results there, as a junior and then as an u23. Yet there’s still so much that is being learnt as you’re going on in the career.
CN: It really is. I think the more you ride, the more you learn kind of thing. As time goes on, there’s always things that you haven’t quite picked up or you haven’t quite gotten on top of. Also for me, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to force myself to be this strong mentally. There’s situations that present themselves and then you’ve got to rise to that occasion and you’ve got to learn. It all happens through racing over time.
GDK: Do you think it’s also part of a growing up and a maturing phase in life? Where we learn to deal with adversity, better and better as we get older?
CN: For sure, I definitely think so. In any aspect of life, really, whatever you’re going to do, there’s going to be challenges that present themselves. You’ve got to learn not to throw your toys out the cot or act in a way that’s not going to hold the situation. As you mature, you do learn how to do that better. How to deal with whatever the pain or suffering might be at the time, better and manage it.
GDK: As you said, you’ve got a Bronze Medal at a World Championships as a junior, did that give you the open expectation that this was going to be your career?
CN: Ja it did. I’ve always loved mountain biking, from when I started when I was 11 years old. So it’s always been something that I knew I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I just didn’t know really if I wanted to make it a career or whatever.
I still will for the rest of my life but I think that was a big turning point for me. When I realised like, as a junior, without that much focus on it, I was still enjoying it and having fun. Then I got a bronze medal at the World Champs, it kind of told me, if I focus on this and really train for it, I can make a career out of it.
Where did you do your skill training?
GDK: Getting a Bronze at a World Champs in cross country, as a junior is quite a special thing. Because it’s technical, it’s hectic, it’s hard. Where did you learn those skills and what were you doing as a youngster to hone those skills?
CN: It was a course, we were in Australia for World Champs, it was my first year in junior. So I’d only just turned 17. I grew up on the south coast here in KZN and my dad is a farmer. We had a lot of tribal areas around the farm where there was lots of rocks and steep gnarly sections of single track and stuff. I remember going out there with my dad every weekend and sometimes during the week. We would just go practice that.
It wasn’t a forced thing, we were having fun and we enjoyed it. We enjoyed the challenge and always went back to see, oh, can we do it without putting our foot down or something. When I went to Australia, the course was very similar to what I’d practiced, all those rocky type steep sections. It was actually perfect for what I had been doing and I was having fun, so it worked really well for me.
GDK: You’ve just said something which is so key to all of this, is having fun. It looks as though when you ride, you have fun.
CN: I really do. I really love my mountain biking. But ja, I think what’s cool about mountain biking. Yes, you might not be having fun at the time. But afterwards, I always look back and I’m like, yes, I’m so glad I did that. It’s always changing, the dynamics and the scenery and the different trails and stuff and so it always keeps you busy and entertained and it’s a new challenge. I just love it, whatever comes my way.
Did early success place big expectations on you?
GDK: Do you feel though that that Bronze set high expectations amongst others for you?
CN: Yes, it’s been a long journey since then, even with cross country racing and ups and downs there. I think it’s always difficult for somebody who really excels as a junior and throughout school. I don’t know, whatever I did, I was kind of just good at it and it came quite easy.
I think that itself sets you up almost, a lot of people are now expecting things. There’s pressure and it can sometimes get to you. Also there’s other people at that time, when I was a junior, who weren’t achieving the results that I was and they were working harder. They were going through the learning processes of mental and physical and all those things, at that time.
So, I kind of am only realising that now because everything came easy to me as a junior. It’s kind of difficult when that happens to you. But also it’s part of the learning process and part of why it makes it so satisfying when you do win.
GDK: South Africa has got this situation where we’ve got a heavy emphasis on marathon and stage racing, the cross country scene is not as active as perhaps we’d like it to be. Is it a difficulty for you to find exactly where you’d like to be and where you want to be?
Hard to focus on one discipline in South Africa
CN: Ja, I’m going through that at the moment. It’s really, I’ve always raced cross country, I’ve done a few marathons and things and now that I’m a bit older. I think the marathons are suiting me a lot more than they have in the past as well.
For me, it’s really sad to see the way that the cross country scene is in South Africa and the whole. There’s just not enough people, women especially racing. There’s not enough support and if you want to be a cross country racer, you’ve got to go to Europe and almost live there.
I will always race cross country in South Africa because I think it makes you tough, it gives you very good skills. But ja, I think the marathon scene at the moment is where it’s all at and especially for sponsors and everything. You can make a career of it in marathon racing in South Africa.
GDK: Tell us how disciplined you are about training and the work you put into your mountain bike career?
CN: Training has always been one of those things, even when I’m going through times when I’m battling or I’m struggling in the races and things, I’m always more. Like most of the time I’ll stick to my training and really give it everything. Because ja, there can be times where you’re training and you’re not getting the results. If you just keep it constant, which I feel I do, it will come eventually, the results.
GDK: What ambitions have you got, you’re young, you’ve got so much time ahead of you, there must be multiple ambitions, but is there one short term that stands out?
What ambitions do you have?
CN: The goal for this year was to try and qualify for the Olympics and cross country, but as a nation, South Africa doesn’t have enough points for the women. So I’ve kind of steered a bit in another direction and I’m really grateful that there was that direction and opportunity and look what’s become of it. I think in the next few years I would like to race the Cape Epic. I know the women’s field is competitive there and there’s a lot of World Champions in that race there. But ja, I’d like to win that someday as well.
GDK: You raced and won the mixed at the Old Mutual joBerg2c, with Darren Lill, was that a big learning curve? You talked earlier about that, but in the whole discipline of the sport in a way as well?
CN: Look, joBerg2c for me was a huge learning curve. I think doing it with Darren as well was, he has so much experience and so much, he’s done this for years and years. To learn from him and see, in a racing situation how he guided me and the decisions he makes. How he does day to day things in a stage race, to me, I learnt so much. Yes, I am going to apply a lot of it to the races I’m going to do coming up.
GDK: There’s a thought that mixed is perhaps the way to go in terms of attracting more women to the sport. As you’ve alluded to, there are not enough really, coming into the sport, at your level.
Getting more woman to the elite level
CN: Ja, it’s such a tricky thing. I was actually talking about it with a lot of the women yesterday. Robyn and Jenny and a few others and we were kind of back and forth as to whether we agree with the mixed category or what the story is. But I came to the conclusion that in a race like the Old Mutual joBerg2c, nine days, women are more likely to team up with a man over such a long distance.
It’s endurance, it’s really difficult to find a lot of women that are willing to team up with another woman, to do a race like that. I do think that the shorter races, like the three day races like the Sani2c and other ones, I think women should stick to racing with women. Just to get the numbers up and to make the field more competitive.
GDK: Off the bike, other part of your life, are you studying or finished studying? Where are you in terms of that phase of your life?
CN: I’m still busy studying. Look, I’m in no rush, clearly, to complete that. I am still busy studying, I’m doing some second year, some third year subjects. I’m doing a BSC in physiology and psychology, which I do enjoy. I’m doing it at my own pace, so it makes it enjoyable.
There are some pressure times where it’s a bit of cram learning for exams and things. But the rest of the time I can kind of do it at my own pace, which I figured out as well over the years and how to manage that. I’m happy to have that side of my life as well, because it keeps my mind active. Just not get too caught up in the cycling world, that’s all.
GDK: I get a sense you’re a happy woman.
CN: Yes I am, thanks Gerald.
GDK: Thank you Candice, thank you very much for the chat. Candice Neethling, all the best in your ambitions in the sport, may we see you riding for many years to come.
CN: Yes, thank you very much.
GDK: Candice Neethling and thank you for downloading here on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking. A fascinating story again from a mountain biker with a great passion for this sport, isn’t it wonderful to hear? A young ambitious woman looking ahead to achieving great goals, thanks for downloading. Next time we’ll be chatting again to more personalities and people from the sport of mountain biking, until then, cheers.