de Groot and Stenerhag ready for Cape Epic
05 February 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to this edition of the Old Mutual mountain bike podcast coming to you from the offices of the ABSA Cape Epic, which is just around the corner, in fact just over a month away. Teams are gathering and preparing and getting ready for it. The women’s race again, equal prize money this year and again, a field that is full of potential in terms of racing.
I’m sitting with the team that came second last year, Team Ascendis, Robyn de Groot, the National Marathon Champion and Jennie Stenerhag from Sweden. Jennie, obviously you’re riding in the Swedish jersey, you’re still a Marathon Champion of Sweden, aren’t you?
Jennie: Yes, I am.
GDK: In terms of mountain bike racing in Sweden, what’s the, obviously it doesn’t compare with the skiing, but is it growing in popularity?
JS: I think it is growing, it’s been quite a small sport, but definitely growing. We have a few really big races, we got one particular race that they take 12 000 participants and it’s sold out within a minute when they open the entries, so very, very popular. It’s definitely growing there also.
How and where the girls spend their year
GDK: How do you split your year, do you spend a lot of time there or how does it work?
JS: I spend about 4-4.5 months on that side and 7.5 to 8 months here.
GDK: So you don’t see winter much.
JS: I don’t see winter at all, I don’t like that anymore, even though I was a skier before.
GDK: We’ll come back to that, but I’m going to cross to Robyn, who does see winter here because you spend most of your year riding and racing in South Africa, don’t you?
Robyn: Ja, the majority of the year I’m based here. It had been, you know, on the road, I spend a lot of time and I think I missed about five winters, so that was nice. But yes, I generally spend it in George and it’s not too bad there.
GDK: It isn’t, this mountain biking thing, I know we’ve had this conversation before in various other medias about the difference and what it’s done to your life, but you’re another year into a mountain biking career, you’ve been able to drill down and examine what it is that the magic is about?
A sport you can’t not love
RDG: It’s a sport that I’ve fallen in love with. I kind of found it without really looking to participate on a professional level again. But ja, it’s something I really enjoy and love and every event is different, it just keeps me going.
GDK: Do you feel you’re improving every year, every event, every week, how does that, cause it’s sort of a sport where every race is different, every challenge is something new.
RDG: I think it’s difficult to judge, one would like to think that you’re improving every year and as the years go, but you have ups and downs and the different races offer different terrains. Some of your strengths, some of your weaknesses and ja, I think definitely getting better in terms of training.
GDK: You had a difficult year last year with illness and injury and so on, particularly after the Epic, where are you now going into Epic, a month away, in terms of conditioning and where you’d like to be?
Are they ready for Epic?
RDG: Last year was a struggle. I think having knowing what to look forward to for this year has definitely helped. I think I’m happy with where I’m at and I’ve got four weeks now to do some fine tuning and I think we should be good. Jennie and I should team up nicely.
GDK: You don’t spend a lot of time training together do you?
JS: No we don’t actually, hardly anything.
GDK: How does that work?
JS: It actually works very well. We’ve done so many stage races together, so we get to know each other in the races and we’re good friends and everything, I don’t really feel that we need to train that much together because we do a lot of races together.
GDK: I see you on the bike a lot, I don’t know what that says about me because I’m normally in the car, but what are you doing at the moment, a month before Epic, in terms of training?
JS: At the moment I’m on my last big week, before, but the intensity has also started, obviously, or a few weeks back. So ja, I would say on average, over the whole year it’s about 15 hours a week that I spend on the bike.
GDK: What’s a big week?
GDK: Robyn where are you, this could be revealing a few secrets between the two of you, I’m sure there are none!
RDG: I’ve had some big weeks, I think my big weeks are pretty much done, this is my last big week, so ja, it ranges I would say between 18 to 28 hours. That’s kind of my numbers and I’m looking forward to a little bit less time in the saddle, although intensity training is another story and I guess it adds a little bit of fun, so the training is not so monotonous.
GDK: Robyn, as a road racer, you were a road racer, but before then Jennie, you were a skier, tell us about that and what level you were skiing at, at that stage.
From growing up on skis to mountain biking
JS: I started skiing, my first time skiing was when I was three years old and then I did my first race when I was six and a half. I literally grew up on skis. I guess I was on, like quite high up on a national level, Sweden has very good skiers, so it was very difficult to get into the national team. I was just under the national team and I went to a skiing university where you get time off school for your sport.
Most of the girls in the national team were at the same place. I always trained with them, but then I had an accident and I hurt my knee and I had five operations in the one knee. So when I was 22 I was forced to stop and that was, like just before you would start to get out in Europe and race, so I never got there. I guess it was on quite a high level.
GDK: You’re both relatively late starters in the sport of mountain biking. I know some of us think, oh, I wish I’d discovered this much earlier, but perhaps maybe not because it’s something we can enjoy deep into our lives and you’re doing it at a very high level here. Do you feel that that late start has given you the chance to ride for longer?
The advantage of being a late bloomer
JS: Ja, but at the same time I feel that a lot of the young girls, who started very young, I think they’re starting to get bored when they get up to 25-30. I’m 40 and I’m still loving it, but I only started when I was 28 with cycling.
I can sometimes regret that I didn’t start mountain biking a bit earlier, just because of the technical skills and that, I was like 35/36 when I started mountain biking properly, maybe that was a little bit late. But it’s never too late, anyone can start.
GDK: This Epic thing, you guys do races week in and week out and you deal with the pressure and it’s not an issue, but somehow this does take it to another level. Would that be correct Robyn, in terms of the pressure and so on.
RDG: For sure. I think a lot of people from the outside think that as professionals we come and race the ABSA Cape Epic and it’s like any other race. It’s definitely not. I can obviously only judge it from last year and last year, for me, it was hell. So, it was difficult, it was, I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve endured on a bicycle before and ja, it’s not always that easy for us.
GDK: You hear it from you guys who are riding at the sharp end and I know you’re riding five times as fast as any of us further back. But that’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s there to test the best riders in the world, in effect, isn’t it?
RDG: For sure and I think suffering is relative, it’s relative to what you’re used to and what you’re not used to and riding as slow as I did last year, I think for Jen must have been probably even more painful than it was for me cause no, it’s harder to ride slower than usual. It’s all relative to where you’re at.
Combating the competition
GDK: Right, 2016, what about these two, Arianne and Annika the two A’s, how are you going to deal with them?
JS: I think we’re going to try to challenge them a bit, I think both Robyn and I are coming a little bit closer to Arianne, so ja, we’re definitely going to give it a go.
GDK: There’s so much involved, so much luck and so much bad luck and good luck and whatever, in terms of condition and fitness and whatever it is, is that gap closing to them do you think?
JS: I hope so, I would like to think so, but we’ll see when we stand there.
GDK: You’ve had some good results and good early season form already.
JS: Ja, we both have, so it’s looking good for us as a team, I think.
GDK: Do you look at the route, do you study anything Robyn?
RDG: I’m going to be perfectly honest and I think a lot of people think that I do, other races, yes, Epic, no. I watched the route launch, which was launched in November/December, I think my heart rate went up over a hundred, just watching that video. From then I just decided I’m going to take every day as it comes and you know, as long as you prepare yourself as best as possible, for me, it’s better not to know.
GDK: Let’s bring you back to those who don’t ride and ride just for fun, which you do, I’m sure, but what would you be doing if you weren’t a cyclist now?
RDG: If I wasn’t a professional cyclist right now, I’d probably be a biokineticist, ja, that’s obviously my profession and something that I do enjoy. But to be able to do cycling is my passion and I think we’re really fortunate to be able to do this.
JS: I would probably work with something within cycling, I would hope, but ja, it’s difficult to say actually because life follows a specific path. I guess and everything I do has to do with cycling, and I love it, so ja, if I wasn’t a professional rider, I would do something else within cycling.
GDK: Team Ascendis Health, Robyn de Groot and Jennie Steneharg, thank you for talking to us, this has been another edition of the Old Mutual mountain bike podcast, we’ll have another one very shortly.