Erik Kleinhans enjoying the Topeak Ergon team
04 November 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking programme, it’s great to have you with us. As ever, you know, we talk the great sport of mountain biking of which there is so much going on in this country at any time of day or night and weekend. There are events every single weekend.
Our guest today is a man who I’m sure you might have heard before on the podcast, but his life is moving on in mountain biking. His name is Erik Kleinhans who rides now for the Topeak Ergon team, largely internationally based, but Erik is based here still in Stellenbosch in the Cape. Erik, thanks for chatting to us. How’s your life changed since you’re obviously running a team like RE:CM and now a member of a team like Topeak, how has it changed?
Joining a top international team
Erik Kleinhans: I think for sure the change from not having to run a team is a little bit of a weight off my shoulders. But now in South Africa I pretty much have to run my own show. So I still have to book flights and accommodation and plan a bit of what’s lying ahead. But definitely a little bit easier.
Then with Topeak Ergon, it’s a fantastic opportunity and an honour to ride for a team like that. We’ve got the World Champion and Christian Hynek, I think both of them I would say the top five riders in the world. So it’s another great opportunity after Christoph Sauser has been a mentor with Specialized for a few years.
It’s another great opportunity for me to learn from the top riders and I think in general, in South Africa, a lot of the local guys get more input from these type of guys. That come and train here, that ride here and I think for South African mountain biking, that’s fantastic.
GDK: You’re rode in support of the Specialized team, Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy and František Raboň, in the past. This situation again puts you riding in support of Alban Lakata and Christian Hynek. You rode with Jeremiah Bishop at this year’s ABSA Cape Epic, are you putting your own ambitions aside here?
EK: For sure, I think I’m putting my own ambitions aside, but luckily with this team it’s also very open, it doesn’t mean that Alban and Christian have to be the leaders. So it’s still, the ball is still in my court to see if I can be thrown one of them. Then I will have the same opportunities, so the team is very open and the guys are very friendly.
Highlights of the 2016 Cape Epic
It’s basically on me to try and see if I can get there. But for sure, they’re two fantastic riders and it’s still nice to be part of it and to help them. Sadly, this year they pulled out of the Epic. So it gave Jeremiah and myself a little bit of freedom to go for it. Maybe not in my best shape ever, like I’ve been in the last two years, but we still had a fourth on one stage, which was really good for us.
GDK: Tell us about the second stage, third day, when you were in the Witzenberg Valley and the television images, they’re quite humorous in a way, as you get to the water point. I think Alban leans across and says: What size shoe are you. The look on your face is bemused, what was going on there?
EK: Well, Christian actually crashed just a little bit before that water point in a huge dust cloud, we couldn’t see anything. Then I luckily glimpsed and saw that it’s Christian. So we were a little bit behind, trying to get him back at first, cause I gave him a big push. So
I was behind chasing already and then at the water point, we arrived just a few seconds behind them. You know, without even thinking, we were reaching for our bottles to keep up with the chase. Then Alban came running to me asking for my shoe size. Well, it’s not the normal question that you would ask.
Then he’s like no, no, then he’s like, 44 will work, come with me. So I just walked to Christian and he said no, well he was actually a 45, so I think his foot was hurting a little bit, for the second half of the stage. It was a little bit funny and luckily I could fix the problem of the sitting there.
GDK: I suppose that epitomises what riding in support of a team is all about isn’t it? You sacrifice whatever it is for them to try and not lose too much time.
EK: That’s pretty much what it comes down to and I mean it’s a shoe, it’s maybe pacing them a little bit. But it’s also more, it’s nice to be in a little bit of a community like there’s, it’s nice motivational with four guys talking about the route. I think it becomes a whole big, like get together. For sure, it’s tough to put your own ambitions aside, but it’s also very rewarding to try and help somebody else to achieve those type of goals.
GDK: Obviously very disappointing when Christian had his crash and Alban pulled out, they were hugely emotional at the finish line there. Were you sort of party to any of that, the decision making and the emotion going on there?
EK: No, not really, it was a, they didn’t really have a choice but to make that decision. The day before Christian was still quite hopeful to be able to ride. They went for x-rays, nothing was broken and they thought it will be fine.
But the next morning he had no chance to even hold onto the handlebar, even just sitting on a tar road. I know he stayed off the bike for about a week before he could even ride on the tar. I think yesterday was his first ride on the mountain bike again. There was no chance for him to race something as intense as the Epic.
The importance of keeping the fun alive
GDK: What about your experience of riding with Jeremiah Bishop who, from everyone’s experience of meeting him, isn’t short of having a chat. Is he fun riding with?
EK: For sure, in 2008 when I rode the Epic with Oliver Munnik we spent a lot of time with him, we were actually racing for a top ten spot, with the two teams. We eventually finished 11th and 12th, but anyway, we rode pretty much the whole race together.
So I got to know Jeremiah quite well, as well as last year. He loves talking and the same with me. I know a lot of people in South Africa, so it’s quite fun. We definitely, I think, had a great time wherever we went, so in the camp and everything was great.
GDK: You talk about having fun on the bike, is that something you’re still able to do?
EK: For sure, I wouldn’t, I mean I started riding my bike for only one reason, to have fun. Nothing to do with racing and it kind of developed into that. I’m actually looking forward, well not looking forward, but you know, the day that I retire. I see how other people ride. They go to an event and they have fun, they drink wine afterwards. That’s actually more, for me, what it’s about than the full on racing.
GDK: Topeak Ergon obviously an international team with stage race ambitions and some marathon ambitions. What are your plans for the year for Topeak Ergon.
What does the rest of 2016 hold?
EK: The main focus for the team is to ride support for stage races. The Andalucia bike race, Epic, Trans Alp and then the Swiss Epic at the end of the year. So that’s my biggest job, if I can call it that, in the team. Then otherwise, I can fit in with them wherever they ride, as I please.
Luckily Topeak is a big international brand, you get it in every country. It’s in South Africa as well, so they’re very open to following my own programme. Apart from racing the local races like Clarence National Champs, I’ll be in Europe for a few weeks in the middle of the year. Then most likely at the end again, for Swiss Epic.
GDK: You had to change bike brands as well, stepping into Topeak Ergon, how different and how difficult is that?
EK: Well, it’s actually not that difficult, or that different. I think on the top level, so many bikes are so similar. I would say moving from Specialized, was the brain system was their big trademark. Which got certain benefits, but also certain disadvantages. You always have to feel how it feels.
But I think the Canyon bike that I’m riding now, it’s really fantastic. The geometry is very much the same to all the race bikes, top level race bikes that are out there at the moment. The weight is competitive. So for me, from the first day that I was on the bike, when I got my setup right, it felt very similar to what I rode before the previous years.
GDK: Let’s go back to your first answer about how things have changed in that you don’t obviously have the responsibility of four other riders. But you have the responsibility of going out there, on your own, in a way, to do all the training away from them. Are you in communication with them or do they just leave you up to your own devices and arrive at the races prepared?
The team have a great structure
EK: I think after a few years and I mean everybody in our team is slightly, I mean I’m the youngest in the team by two years, which is quite strange. Because I was the oldest last year. Those guys have been racing and riding for such a long time.
Everybody knows what they’re doing, they’ve each got their own coach and advisors. So we’re not really checking up on each other. But we’ve got a little strava, Team Topeak Ergon Club, so you can see what the other guys are doing.
I’m not really sure if the guys really check on it or whatever. We’ve got a little w/app group as well, so there’s good communication between the riders. I mean Jeremiah, he coaches a few guys in America. So we talk about it and say, okay, listen maybe the speed wasn’t exactly 100% at the Epic. So maybe give a few tips and I’ll implement it if it’s there.
Luckily everybody knows exactly what, for the upcoming races. Trans Alp is a very special race where you’ll climb for an hour twice a day and that’s pretty much it. We know what’s lying ahead and what we’re going to need to be able to do for the up and coming races.
GDK: Do you see yourself with them for a few years or what’s the deal?
EK: I’ve got a two-year contract with them, obviously as a support rider. I know that for especially Alban, the Epic will be, let’s say a major goal and also for Christian. He would love to win it again. I think for, especially next year, I think they will definitely come 100% prepared.
But it doesn’t mean, you never know what the future holds. For me, I really enjoy my racing now and it’s great within the team and I really love it. You never know what will happen with me as well. Maybe after these two years I decide, okay, listen, I’m old enough.
Maybe do something a bit more serious or if there’s another contract on the way and they’re really happy with it and it’s worthwhile for me to still do it. Cause you’re getting a bit older and you have to think about the future and what’s lying ahead. Then if it’s worthwhile, I’ll definitely continue riding like this.
GDK: What would that other thing be? Just off the top of your head, if you weren’t riding a bike. If they said you can’t ride your bike now, you have to do something else. If you could choose it now, what would it be?
EK: I’m not 100% sure it, it’s one of the things that’s on my mind quite a lot lately, but there’s so many opportunities. I’ve always liked a little bit of business. I studied to be an accountant, I don’t really feel like being an accountant, but luckily I’ve got a bit of business sense. There’s a few opportunities and guys that I talk to that are actually also in the outdoor sports environment.
I think maybe working for something like that, even something like bike import companies. There’s things to do and I won’t say I’ll be an office boy from 8:00 to 5:00. So hopefully a cool opportunity will come from that.
GDK: In a few years’ time. Erik, thanks for talking to us, thanks for your time. Erik Kleinhans of team Topeak Ergon, based here in South Africa. Riding the ABSA Cape Epic, of course Swiss Epic and Trans Alp as well this year for that team. This has been another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, thanks for downloading and see you next time.