James Reid – fully focused on Rio 2016
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking where we discuss all things mountain biking, we meet the people, the personalities, the races and the people who make this sport just what it is. Something I’m sure you as someone who has downloaded, very kindly downloaded this podcast, very interested in the sport of mountain biking.
The person we’re going to be talking to now is the man who has made this sport his job and his living. He’s doing a pretty good job of that. His name is James Reid, he’s the South African Champion at the moment, cross country and he lives in the Western Cape in Stellenbosch. James joins us now. In fact he doesn’t because I join him, where he stays in what euphemistically is termed Athlete Central in terms of residents here. James, thanks for joining us, tell us about your living quarters here.
James Reid: The house is owned by an ex-professional triathlete, a guy called Dan Hugo. He’s been quite influential in my career in terms of marketing yourself and the effort and dedication that he put in. But the living environment has a massive factor, a contributory factor towards your performance. You need to be very aware that cycling is a lifestyle, it’s not about a specific training session or resting. It’s how you live your entire life, it’s quite all-consuming in that regard.
Being able to be a Pro athlete
Over here we have two full-time triathletes that I live with, Dan’s girlfriend Flora Duffy who is a Bermudan ITU athlete. Bradley Bice, the current SA Xterra champion and the three of us are kind of the fulltime athletes. We get up at 9:00, we’re sweating when everyone else’s on their way to work. Then we have Human de Jager he’s our resident 9:00 to 5:00, he’s an insurance analyst and it keeps us honest.
GDK: It keeps you all realising, I suppose, in a way, how lucky you are to do this for a living.
JR: For sure, we are incredibly privileged. You don’t often get that opportunity, especially given the current economic climate in South Africa and just in general. To be an athlete is a privilege and that being said, there are also negative sides.
There’s often a lot of pressure and if you’re not winning, you’re losing. If you’re second or third, it’s half the media, half the mileage. Winning is everything and that’s what makes sport so tricky. It is, I would say to young people there, it’s a difficult way to make a living. But it’s rich in lessons and life experience and that’s why I’m at it.
Getting great backing from Spur
GDK: 2016 started with a new sponsor, Spur coming on board to sponsor you and Ariane Kleinhans. You do separate things, obviously. Ariane is a marathon specialist and she races very different races to you. So you’re on your own in a sense, is that, having come from RE:CM, is that also a different challenge?
JR: Not specifically, at RE:CM there were five of us and I was the only cross country rider among four marathon riders. So a lot of it is the same in that regard, but we’re incredibly lucky to have the backing of Spur Steak Ranches as a company and through the new creation of Team Spur.
Ariane is looking at racing more cross country this year. She’s looking for something different, spent four years of the marathon circuit, first mixed and now in the women’s category. She’s had an incredible journey this year. Had a bit of a challenging time personally and come through that stronger and what a privilege to see that first hand and learn the lessons throughout someone else’s difficulties.
That being said, I’m looking forward to an extended block in Europe this year. We’re looking at 9/10 weeks through June/July, pre-Olympics. She does have the base in Switzerland, which helps a lot and ja, we’ll be tackling some of the World Cups together with support from Spur in Europe. Which is incredible from a South African sponsor to believe in both my dreams and her dreams, it’s incredible.
A tough first Cape Epic experience
GDK: You had your first taste of the ABSA Cape Epic this year, albeit it fairly brief and somewhat disappointing from quite a few respects. But you must have taken a lot out of that, in terms of experience?
JR: I would say it was brief, but it was also brutal. That race, you know growing up as a kid, it’s sort of like I suppose growing up as a French cyclist in France, looking at the Tour de France and I got my eyes opened. I had some idea of where, the kind of difficulty level and the number of international competitors and the hype and build around the event, but that was something else.
We went well on the prologue, but day one, the big boys brought out the big guns, sort of felt like a knife at a machine gun fight, it was something else. It was above my pay grade and above Gert’s and unfortunately he got sick.
I think if we’d have hung in there it would have been valuable experience and lessons learnt, but I don’t think he was in the shape to be competitive for a top five or where I’d want to be. We had a decent transfer fourth in the prologue, but Gert unfortunately had to call it a day on day one. So I rode day two, took some lessons away and I’d like to give it a full six month lead up and build up, potentially next year.
It is difficult, you really have to know your body, the Epic will take everything from you and more. If you’re not 100% ready or you’re racing above your training grade or where you’re expected to be, you’re going to pay for it later. I felt like saying at the end of stage one, did I miss the ABSA credit cards that everyone handed out at the beginning? Because that was something else, sort of looking for mine.
GDK: The cross country scene is obviously your focus and Olympic Games sits in August as this huge carrot, but there are a lot of rabbits chasing it at the moment. Yourself, Philip Buys and the like. What’s on your mind in terms of what you’ve done, in terms of qualifying and your shape at the moment?
Trying to get to Rio 2016
JR: It’s been a bit of a juggling act this year. I’ve got a fair amount of it right. I won in January in Nelspruit and then in February I had a bit of a dip at the second round at Helderberg. Last weekend in Pretoria was a good round and then Continental Champs was a bit of a shock. We were up at AfriSki at 3 000m and obviously Continental Champs is a little bit more prestige than a Cup Race.
Philip brought the big guns to town and rode out of his skin. I was negatively affected a little bit by the altitude, I think, and it’s to play for with two rounds to go. I’m quite confident I’m leading the selection at the moment, but anything can happen. Staying healthy and staying in shape, keeping all your limbs intact and keeping the motivation to keep training is tight.
At the moment it looks like three guys for two spots and someone is going to be bitterly disappointed and two people are going to be overjoyed. But that is dependent on our Sports Ministry, on SASCOC, on the powers that be that control it. It’s an exciting year, one that is very important to be in shape throughout the year, to show selectors that you can hit certain targets at certain dates.
GDK: The battle, obviously domestically, to get to Rio is one thing, in terms of matching yourself against the Europeans. Against the riders, you saw some of them at the Epic, how much of a mind-set is that to say, that’s a big step, but I can get there.
JR: It is a mental shift and you do have to think long term and kind of with the big game mentality. I don’t think that the Europeans are racing on that much more of a level. I think we have the right tools at our disposal, we have some of the best training facilities there are.
You do need to obviously approach it slightly differently, it’s a bigger field, more energy. But that being said, if you arrive in the right shape, you can definitely do damage. It’s also about having support and being familiar and that I’m looking forward to this year with the backing of our team.
2016 Would Cup Series/Olympic goals?
GDK: Do you have a goal, I mean let’s put the Olympics aside at the end of the year. Do you have a goal finishing in any particular position or place in terms of World Cup Series?
JR: Goals would be, I really want to finish at least a World Cup in the top 20. I didn’t manage to do that last year, first year elite. I was a couple of top 5’s in the under 23 category, and normally there’s a carry-over. But I haven’t had that one race. That being said, I’ve made huge progress in a number of regards.
You always do every year, but it’s about your kind of rate of progression as opposed to just progression. Because everyone is getting faster, it really is just getting faster and faster out there. It’s actually slightly easier at Olympic level to do, if you compare it to a World Cup. Because there’s obviously less competitors, but you do need to bring you’re A game. You represent your country against the biggest audience of sport in the world.
If you look at London 2012, Todd Wells, fastest American rider, was 10th, it’s quite interesting because I don’t think he wasn’t that much of a different league. The fastest Canadian rider, Geoff Kabush was 11th. So you’ve sort of, I’d pitch it around top 15, would be an outstanding day, potentially top 10. But who can say, to be top 10 at the Olympics would be quite something. Obviously medals are a bit off the cards this year, it would be a 2020 dream.
GDK: What happens if you don’t go to Rio, do you factor it into your thinking at all, in terms of how you might deal with it?
JR: You don’t, I certainly haven’t, I’ve kind of put my life on hold until August. Trying to quantify in that regard would be, dealing with the disappointment, it’s sport. It’s kind of a pinnacle moment because in my head there’s two peaks and one of them is the ABSA Cape Epic in terms of personally where I want to perform.
Then the World Cup Series and Rio being the second kind of juggling act. I do think that doing both of them is possible. I just think you need the years of experience, the years at the top level, racing-wise. If you don’t quality, you suck it up and try again or you re-think things. I haven’t really thought that far, but I do know that the next couple of weeks and months are critical. Confronting it even now is a strange feeling, what if it doesn’t happen, I’m not sure.
Your thoughts on doping?
GDK: Can I ask you your thoughts on the recent and somewhat disturbing issues regarding doping in this country in mountain biking, what’s your thoughts. I mean we’ve lost Rourke Croeser who is a serious talent and lost to the sport. The sport seems to be battling with it at the moment in South Africa, what’s the issue and how do we resolve it?
JR: You know, sport represents that messy intersection, at least professional sports has shown. I think this is globally, there’s been a shift away from funding elite level sport because they realise that the corruption and the cheating within sport is rife. You’ve seen it in athletics, we’re starting to see it in tennis and golf and rugby and cricke., I can’t say it definitively, but there’s more awareness that people are taking shortcuts than ever before.
I think cycling has always been nailed because it makes such a difference on a sport like road racing. I think it just shows the messy intersection of human character with money and fame and prestige and people are, where there is a carrot, like Olympic Gold. The money and the livelihood associated, people will take shortcuts and I don’t think that will ever stop.
I just think that people are much more aware and I kind of take solace in the fact that it’s not limited to professional sport. If you read about big business, you read about politics. You realise that there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that is very questionable and devastating, if you believe that everyone is inherently good and out there to help the good of everyone else, it’s not like that.
Losing Rourke was, you know, as a case study it goes to show the importance of education at school level and being able to have a backup plan. You need to realise that sport is dog eat dog and where you’re racing against people that are taking shortcuts. You don’t have any other options, eventually you feel compelled to take shortcuts yourself and it’s tragic.
You also have to look at sport and see how one guy can create such devastation for everyone else, that it becomes incredibly difficult to attract sponsors in this country and to keep them. To keep them invested and fully involved in the sport.
That being said, you do what you can. You keep your nose clean, you race so you can sleep at night and enjoy the sport. One of the best things I’ve got is take it seriously but hold it lightly. Don’t make it your all, take it as seriously as you can, but if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.
GDK: I hope it works out in every sense for you James, thanks for chatting to us here in sunny Stellenbosch at your dining room table. Good luck in it all and we hope to see you on the start line in Rio. James Reid, our South African cross country champion talking to us here on another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking podcast, thanks for downloading. We’ll be having plenty more of similar chats with the people involved with this wonderful sport of mountain biking, cheers.