James Reid retains his South African XCO title
08 January 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and welcome to our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast once more, thanks for downloading it. I’m Gerald de Kock and as you know, we talk mountain biking in this podcast for the nest 10 minutes or so. To meet the people and find out more about this wonderful sport at various different levels.
Today we’re talking at the highest level you can go, professional mountain biking and to a man who is soon to become an Olympian. James Reid, the South African Champion joins me, or I join him in his house in Stellenbosch. It’s just a couple of weeks away from the Olympic Mountain Bike race and James, you’re going to the Olympics, how does that sound?
James Reid: Yes, I haven’t really believed it myself and I feel like it’s been a long process. I have 4.5 weeks until the actual event, which is still quite a while to change the shape. It’s been a very up and down year, both locally and internationally. There’s been really great days and there’s been shocking days and days where you’ve worked for three weeks and it hasn’t come out. So hoping to put all the pieces together for a special day in August.
GDK: We’ll park that idea because that’s still a way down the road. But let’s go back, I last spoke to you just after the African Championships in Lesotho and at that stage, I think there was one more qualifying race to be taken into consideration in terms of selection. You still were going to Europe, you were doing some World Cups and so on, so take us through the last couple of months. I know you’ve done a lot of travelling and an enormous amount of racing.
Getting the Olympic qualifiers in
JR: Yes, bike racing definitely has been the dominant activity and training. After Continentals we had two remaining selection events, one in Pietermaritzburg and one in Port Elizabeth. They were both the most important in terms of the waiting, they were given in the overall selection.
The first one I actually had a mechanical and in Pietermaritzburg they had very wet conditions. It was a bit of a running mud fest and then two weeks later the final local domestic race before a three month stint in Europe. Managed to win that by 90 seconds over Philip Buys and Alan Hatherly of the Kargo Project. Yes, it’s kind of left the selection up to the selectors because there was a predetermined criteria as well as a more subjective feeling as well, or nomination.
During the middle of the trip in Europe I started to get some kind of feelers back which looked positive. But there was a lot of racing to focus on that side and that included Swiss Cups, World Cups. Broken into a block of racing when I got there and then a mid-trip block of training. Then three very high profile races afterwards, at the end of the trip.
Then coming straight off that, went straight to National Championships this past weekend in Pietermaritzburg. So it has been a lot of racing, but it has ended off well, at least domestically. Internationally I’m still not quite happy and I think the progression from last year has not been what I’ve wanted, but it’s multi-factorial. I had a crash and a broken rib and that wouldn’t heal as fast as I liked. It kind of impeded the racing at the high end, but every day is better than the last. Especially this past weekend and training is going better than ever.
The South African XCO Championships race
GDK: This last weekend was some intense racing. Philip, as quite often does, went out quite hard and you started coming back at him in the last couple of laps. Did you ever doubt that you would catch him?
JR: Yes, there were definitely stages where you’re just content to be an opportunist and if something comes your way, then you exploit the opportunity. I never felt terrible in the race, but I never felt great. I sort of crawled away in second and the gap never grew to more than a minute. I knew he was super motivated to make amends because the Olympic selection came out this time last week.
So, he had gone all in and I know from the Trail Seeker that he raced the previous weekend, he was caught and dropped in the last 10km. So I sort of worked with it and then I could see him on the last lap. Then caught up to him and then yes, a bit of a nightmare day for him and fairy tale for me. Much like last year’s National Championships, just stole it at the end I guess.
GDK: Last year you had a slowish start as well and this year a slowish start. Is that a trait or is that just peculiar to certain events?
JR: Peculiar to certain events. I think over the last four weeks, we’ve gone from Switzerland to Czech Republic, back to Switzerland, to Pietermaritzburg all in the space of four weeks. You don’t really get constructive training. Routine builds shape and fitness and something special and if you’re always on the road and always on the go. It’s very difficult to know where you are.
You kind of roll the dice a little bit, but it was the same for the three main contenders, for Philip and Alan and I. The level domestically has gone up a huge amount. You can see that in the percentage time that the other categories are off their elite riders as compared to previous years, which is used as a selection criteria for World Championships in the women’s category, very controversially. As well as on the u23 categories, we had a very small team at Worlds because the speed of, Philip and Alan are getting faster. So all the other categories have to do faster lap times in order to qualify.
This Saturday was not planned, I felt like a fisherman who went fishing and was about to give up and get out the boat and then there was a bite on the hook. A tug on the line and yes, it was almost luck, fortuitous luck for me. If that race was six laps, I’m sure Philip would have walked away with it.
What went wrong in Europe?
GDK: Let’s go to the World Cups, the World Champs and to the Swiss Cup races, a whole different kettle of fish I think, as you are, and as you’re used to now. You say you’re not entirely happy with where you are in terms of what you were hoping for this year. What is it, what’s missing? I know the injury, but what do you think you need to do?
JR: I got there, to the start of this Europe trip having raced a fairly intensive domestic season already. The first two World Cups as we hit it, were not what I expected. But in many ways, not too far away from what I expected. Then I had a big mid-year training block, almost to re-align and re-assess.
Then coming off that training block, I was at a Swiss Cup on the practice lap and fell on a tree stump and probably fractured a rib. Never ended up getting it checked out, because there’s not much you can actually with ribs. But it did impede me when I tried to race the next day. I got half way through and it wasn’t happening, but more worrying, it wasn’t healing.
That was the weak of leading into Czech Republic, into World Championships. There you kind of put it aside and you think in the heat of the moment you’ll forget about it. I was also, I think, a little bit over-baked, over-eager, a bit too much training load coming into it.
But with that being said, to be 47th or something is not much of an improvement over last year where I really wasn’t in a great space. I feel like for the effort and the level I’ve put in, it just wasn’t coming together. So that was probably the biggest disappointment this year in terms of racing. Just the amount and intensity of preparation that had gone into Czech Republic, just didn’t add up for me.
GDK: Are you learning, you’ve illustrated where the concerns are and the reasons. But are you learning technically every time you go out there at that level?
Are you learning?
JR: Definitely, in that race environment, you do learn to ride wet slippery routes, under pressure, which is incredibly difficult. It’s actually more about relaxing your mind and planning in the race, being relaxed on the bike is everything and that can be so difficult.
Cycling can be so specific and direct and you’re going to go out and do your thing. It’s all actually about relaxing and feeling the flow, letting the bike move underneath you a lot. The downhillers speak a lot about finding the flow correctly and trying to be one with the bike. That sounds a bit voodoo!
Yes, you definitely do learn technically. I don’t feel like the level of the World Cups is technically the issue, it’s just speed. Those top guys are doing 60 seconds a lap faster and that’s in 13 minutes, they’re doing 12 minutes or in 15 minutes they’re doing 14 minutes. You can say 20 of it is technical and 20 of it is physical. Then maybe 10 of it is in the start lap where you lose because of a bit of positioning.
It’s brutal out there, it really is brutal. Every time you think you’re ready for it, it’s another level. You really do have to almost, that’s the reasoning behind racing some Swiss Cups is to kind of pre-empt that, that almost onslaught. But that didn’t quite work out for me this year and I’ve got, I guess, two more shots internationally. At the Olympics and then two weeks after that, the Andorra World Cup.
GDK: It’s quite a lonely world this, in a way. But over that three month block, were you able to have friends or training mates or how were you going about it?
JR: Yes, it was fantastic to have Ariane Kleinhans who is a local in Switzerland there. My teammate from Team Spur, she’s from Switzerland. She knows her way around and makes living in Switzerland, although it’s incredibly expensive, a lot easier.
So car hire, which was quite cheap for the whole time, so you kind of feel enabled. I had made some new friends, on the racing scene, an Australian guy, also an u23 guy, also pushing for Olympic selection and to stay with him. We shared some accommodation at some of the World Cups afterwards. It is about those connections and life beyond just results and watts and training. Because it can become quite a dark spiral if you don’t develop a life outside of just bike racing in Europe.
GDK: James, it’s a brutal sport and you’re giving it a hell of a bash, which is so good to see, it’s wonderful to see and great that you’re going to have the opportunity to perform and show your skills at an Olympic Games. James Reid, the South African Cross Country Champion talking to us here on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. We look forward to hearing from him again in the future. Until then, take care and ride safely.