James Reid on Olympic cross country
19 August 2016
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Hello, good to have you with us here on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, I’m Gerald de Kock and we’re talking mountain biking, strangely enough, isn’t it? Because that’s what this is all about, it’s mountain biking that we’re talking about. Great sport, so much going on at the moment and of course it’s an Olympic year, Rio de Janeiro is hosting the Olympics. South Africa have a couple of men in the Olympic cross country mountain bike discipline.
Alan Hatherly, a young u23 with great potential for the future and great opportunity to put his name in lights there, and our South African champion, James Reid who goes to his first Olympic Games as well. Both were named shortly before the South African Championships in Pietermaritzburg a couple of weeks ago. I’m sitting alongside James now. James, you’re going to be carrying the South African colours at the cross country mountain bike race in Rio, when did you hear about your selection?
James Reid: I heard about it a week or two ago. It came out just before the South African National Championships and it placed a greater expectation and emphasis on the event which domestically is probably the biggest race there is for the speedier guys looking for international recognition. You get the national stripes on your kit for a year. I was fortunate enough to win it in 2015 and I really didn’t want to let it go. It was quite a fortuitous race, but timely too, it wasn’t my best but I feel like I have enough time and space to change things around and put on a good show in Rio.
The plan leading up to the event
GDK: Rio is coming up, you’ve had quite a busy racing year, World Champs, World Cups and Swiss Cups overseas. A big domestic programme as well, but what will you be doing in the lead up to the last Sunday of the Olympic Games, which is when the cross country, what’s your planning?
JR: So I’m going to actually get to the village quite late, with only less than a week to go. It is quite hot and humid and I’m sure the level of excitement and activity is super high and that can be draining. Especially if you come in fairly fatigued, looking to freshen up in those last few days before the event.
There’s that kind of trade-off between the Olympic spirit and the absorption of, as well as being mentally in tune with your event. But then there’s also that kind of osmosis of excellence that I guess you get from watching and witnessing and being around the best athletes in the world. I’ve no idea what it will be like, the closest I’ve been is probably World Championships. But that’s all bike riders in a very specific course and environment that I had experienced before, in World Championships and World Cups.
There’s almost a gradual progression that makes every bigger stage not that big, whereas the Olympics is, I guess, the pinnacle of global sports. To be a part of it is, I’m not even sure I’ve contemplated it at all, considered it myself.
What do you know of the course?
GDK: What have you heard, what are you expectations about the course there?
JR: Pretty good in terms of home ground advantage. It’s designed by Nick Flores, the same guy behind Pietermaritzburg and Cascades and someone who has taken his course building incredibly seriously. I’d say probably one of the fore front trail course designers in the world.
He has made a track with pretty limited resource, in terms of what he had to work with, apparently it was just an open hill. He’s made it quite artificial, similar to London. Loose surfaces, which are quite similar to Pietermaritzburg.
In my final three weeks of preparation, I’m spending a lot of time up in Pietermaritzburg, to get used to the same kind of course design. We’re also seeing features that were a part of the 2013/14 World Cup track, in Pietermaritzburg.
With the weather in the Cape the way it is at the moment, it’ll be better to have some focus down there. It’s also exciting to be training alongside a guy like Alan, that’s going to really boost the preparation and for us to both lay aside our personal differences and do some really critical sessions together. It’s going to be fantastic for the morale and just pushing each other over the edge in the sessions. So that when we get to the racing, hopefully we’re not too out of our depth.
GDK: In a way the Olympics, you’ve got maybe a slightly better chance of getting a high position than say in a World Cup, would that be right?
JR: Definitely, I mean capped 50 riders and of that maybe 10 of them don’t even race World Cups and if you look at World Cup results. In the top 30, there’ll be 10 Swiss and that’s the reality, and the top five nations can only send three riders each.
You’ll have a high position-wise, but as in time off the winner, which is always the way I used to mark improvement. At my best World Cup this year I’m finishing 6.5 minutes behind Nino, Julian in an hour and a half. That’s, you’re doing six laps, that’s a minute a lap, so where’s the time going.
What is it to come 15th, but be seven minutes behind. I think it’s very important just to keep improving in every aspect, or at least all of your strengths. Working on them, as well as addressing the weaknesses. I think with the course in Rio, it does definitely suit South African riders who are used to South African conditions.
A lot more than for example a wet World Championships in Europe with wet routes in some high alpine village. We ride those kind of conditions only at World Cups and in some training sessions overseas, so I think those signs look good.
Working on strengths and weaknesses
GDK: You’ve mentioned strengths and weaknesses, give me your strengths, initially?
JR: Strengths, I think tactically, at least domestically I fell like tactics play a much more of a part than at a World Cup. You’re just doing everything you can. I enjoy the mental challenges of cycling and the challenge of training and holding the concentration to produce, create an adaptation that improves you.
I think the fundamental, basic building blocks of training are incredibly exciting and that can lead to exciting races. But it’s an endless variable game where sometimes you get it wrong and you can’t even understand. It can be deeply frustrating as well as deeply satisfying.
GDK: The other side of it, the weaknesses?
JR: It just seems like there’s a little bit missing, a little bit of horsepower missing. Sometimes those World Cups, you sort of feel like well, last year I trained like this and I got this. You know, this year I’ve done three and a half times more and so hopefully I’ll end up with getting more out. But it’s just not linear like that.
Sometimes it’s a knife to a gun fight kind of thing and you think the pace at the front is going to slow down, but the technologies are improving. The science behind diet and training is always changing. People are spending more and more time in the gym, you’ve got adapt or die I guess. That’s the most blunt way of putting it. You do it as best you can, but everyone is getting better, it’s the rate at which you get better.
Who to look out for in Rio
GDK: Can we look at anything other than an Absalon, Schurter, possibly Kulhavy shootout?
JR: The way they’ve been riding this year, if you look at the gaps, if you look at a World Cup results, the top ten are running, the difference between first and tenth is four minutes. The difference between tenth and 40th is four minutes.
So coming 40th at a World Cup, you’re finishing eight minutes behind, but only four minutes behind 10th. Those top ten are running on a different league I would say and within that, the top three are separated often by two minutes. I would say it’s going to be between those three, one of them will probably have a bad day and walk away from it before the race is even over, as you saw in 2012 with Absalon.
But personally, I think a medal is a little bit unrealistic this year, it’s not something I foresee on the horizon. You have to be competitive at World Cups, maybe the Frenchman Marotte who has a couple of really good races this year, but we’ll see. There’s also some exciting u23’s that are going to join in the action.
GDK: If you had your best day, where do you realistically put yourself?
JR: If you look at Todd Wells in London was 10th, a Belgian rider, Kevin van Hoovels was 20th and Mark Bassingthwaighte was 30th. To place yourself between that, I would say on a best day ever, between 10th and 15th. I don’t think Todd Wells rode exceptionally well that day.
He probably had a stand out day, but I don’t think he’s, you know, too out of my league if I get everything right in the next couple of weeks of preparation. But that being said, top twenty would be more realistic and top 15 I’d be super happy with.
GDK: There’s one guy who never rides a World Cup, who is going to be there, he’s most high profile cyclist in the world, Peter Sagan. What do you make of his participation in it?
The draw card of Peter Sagan
JR: It should be interesting. I think he’s, what an incredible summer with the Tour de France and the Green Jersey. I think he’s more seeing it as a chance to do something different and have some fun so he doesn’t get stale racing on the road. You know, bike riders are most dangerous when they’ve got nothing to lose.
It’ll be fascinating racing alongside him. I have had some friends who have raced him at a couple of tune-up races he did in Austria and the races in Graz. They said he wasn’t anything special, he was gone for a lap and a half. But it’s a different kind of intensity and we’re going to be able to see that magnified in the next, in the actual event.
GDK: He’s going to bring attention to it, isn’t he?
JR: For sure, it’s a very exciting version of the sport and I think the Olympic Games is when the non-cycling community outside of South Africa also start to pay attention to the sport. It’s the spectator value and the kind of difficulty of the tracks and the amount of interest at a global level that comes into cross country mountain biking. It’s always good for the sport and to have a superstar like him is going to be fascinating. I have no idea where he’ll finish, let’s see.
GDK: Well James, thanks very much for chatting, good luck in Rio, we hope you do have your best day ever there.
JR: Likewise, I mean there’s an amount you can control and I’ll be doing everything in the next few weeks to control that and be as good as possible.
GDK: James Reid, Olympian in 2016, chatting to us here, before he heads out to Rio de Janeiro and the 2016 Olympic Games. He’ll be taking part in the cross country mountain bike discipline, which is on the last Sunday of the Olympic Games. Alan Hatherly is the other South African who will be racing u23 as well.
Good luck to them and to the entire team racing and riding in whatever they’re doing at the Olympic Games, all the other athletes, I’m sure they’ll do the country proud. We hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, until next time, ride carefully, ride happily, ride with a smile. It’s always lekker to see people having fun on their bikes. Until then, cheers.