John Ntuli – honouring his potential
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of Old Mutual’s Mountain bike podcast and this edition is focusing on a young man who has made incredible strides in this sport. Made a huge name for himself towards the end of last year when he won the inaugural Munga race, an enormous race from Bloemfontein all the way to the Western Cape.
I’m going to introduce you to John Ntuli who rides for the RMB Change A Life Zulu’s team down in the Valley of a Thousand Hills under Martin Dreyer’s tutorship. John, you’re going to tell me, firstly, congratulations, how far, how many metres, how long did you ride?
Mastering a long non-supported race
John Ntuli: The race was starting from Bloemfontein and finishing in Cape Town and the winelands, so the whole race was 1 077km, a non-supported race.
GDK: How long did you spend on the road?
JN: I spent 69 hours, 10 minutes and one second.
GDK: All of which brought you to the finish line in first place. That’s extraordinary. I know that you and Martin and all of you guys have planned it out meticulously, hadn’t you, over the months and even the year before?
JN: Actually with help from Martin as he’s an ultra-endurance winner and he’s a very good athlete. Then I’ve got like a lot of advice from him and also my racing techniques from him, especially for the Munga, for the preparation of Munga. Also to be positive in my mind and that makes me to win the Munga.
GDK: It’s all well and good saying to be positive, but you must have gone through some fairly dark moments out on the road there.
JN: Ja, you’re right, cause on the point of 270km mark I nearly pulled out there. I was leading on the time about 70km ahead of the second guy but with my sore bum and my sore hands I couldn’t handle it. The only thing I was telling and asking myself, if I’m pulling out now, what about the other guys? Are they all going to pull out or not and then if not, then why am I pulling out? That made me carry on till the finish line.
GDK: I know Martin is very strong on that sort of thing isn’t he? The only time you pull out is when you get carried off the course, that’s his motto. He drills it into you.
JN: Exactly, cause first of all also, I was thinking of him, he’s not going to be happy if I pull out. Then also I’m not going to be happy for myself if I’m pulling out when like on the following day I’m feeling shame for myself because I went for Munga, but I didn’t finish it.
I can say I’m proud of myself also to not pull out at that time. But also I’m proud of Martin Dreyer as my team manager, to encourage me and give me that strength.
What was your sleep strategy?
GDK: Can you recall how much you slept over those 69 odd hours?
JN: I would like to say, but ja, I will say because I was thinking that’s going to be my sleeping strategy –
GDK: You don’t want to give that away! Okay, we fully understand that, cause I know that’s something that’s absolutely key, is working that strategy out.
JN: Exactly, the sleeping strategy is a big strategy because you can find out like the guys are pointing so and so, we’re going to sit with him and ride with him. Like not ride together because it’s a non-drafting race, but if someone is marking you, looking at you all the way, then it’s very difficult to drop someone on that ultra-endurance race. Then the only thing that can help you out to get away from the other guys, it’s your sleeping strategy.
How did you get into MTB riding?
GDK: John, let’s go back to how and why you end up riding a mountain bike almost for a living here, how did it all start for you, where did you grow up for a start?
JN: I grew up in the small town of Empangeni, that’s close to Richards Bay and I was working for a cycling shop. I came up to the other race somewhere in Pietermaritzburg and then I saw Martin Dreyer with his Change A Life academy. That was around the paddling and the run and I met Martin Dreyer from there. But I was keen to join his Zulu’s paddling team because I was seeing them running faster and pedalling, I was interested. I spoke to Martin, I think that was 2010, Martin accepted me. So I was starting to run for Change A Life at that time.
GDK: It started paddling and running, did you join the paddling crew as well?
JN: No, I came in with the running and cycling also.
GDK: When did it get to a stage where the cycling became, the realised that you could actually do quite well at this.
JN: It started when Martin decided to get me a proper mountain bike, that was 26 inch and carbon frame and tubeless wheels. Then that’s where I started to take my mountain bike races more seriously than before. Also, with his help, like encouraging me; like John, I can see that you’re good at mountain biking, just forget about other things, focus on your mountain biking, on your training. that’s when I started to take mountain biking seriously.
Also, the time RMB came on board and approached my team to start for mountain biking and Martin appointed me as a team captain cause I was more experienced than anyone. So I was supposed to do some interviews for the guys for starting a new mountain bike team.
GDK: Just tell us about the bike you rode the Munga on, what bike were you on?
JN: I rode Pyga 650c, it’s a carbon frame and carbon rims, it’s a light bike, 27.5. I’m loving it, cause I never had any mechanical from Munga, from the start to the finish, I had to take care of myself, so I’m loving it.
How has this opportunity changed your life?
GDK: How has this changed your life? You ride for Change A Life, so it must have changed your life. Not only winning the Munga, but generally taking to cycling and getting stuck into cycling as you have.
JN: Exactly, Change A Life, actually, the name of Change A Life, it’s a strong name. You can, to be honest, it’s not just changing my life, it didn’t change just my life. When I look at the Valley of a Thousand Hills, Change A Life did change a lot of lives at the Valley of a Thousand Hills.
Including paddling, including the running team, including cyclists, it’s changed a lot of guys, including myself as a cyclist. Change A Life is doing a very, very, very good job at the Valley of a Thousand Hills because they are uplifting the guys from there. Disadvantaged guys and they’re trying their best to uplift them to the top levels.
GDK: I get the feeling that we’re just scratching the surface here, there are so many talented athletes, not in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, but all over the country, do you think that?
JN: Actually I can say, mostly you can find talented guys at, like in the rural areas. Like most of the rural areas in South Africa, you can find talented guys. The problem, to go to the rural areas and try to identify some talent there, it’s very difficult.
Also it’s a cost because to go from here to let’s say Maphumulo, that’s a rural area, it’s a very difficult thinking of going there. First of all, you go there, who are you going to find there? You need a very top strategy to find people who can do very well. There is a lot of guys who can have talents in the rural areas comparing to locations like in towns and also, ja.
GDK: Is this something that interests you? It’s given you a change of life, it’s changed your life. Is this something that you think, well; in future, I want to try and contribute and make a difference in other people’s lives in the same sort of way that it’s made a difference to your life?
JN: It’s always my thoughts, I don’t want to just end up like, as a rider and also like someone who gets known. But my willing is to help youngsters when times go on, help youngsters to give back all the information I have, all my racing techniques I have.
To give away to the youngsters and have maybe a couple of youngsters that I’m training and give all my knowledge that I have in cycling. All my experience that I learnt from Martin and from other top riders. I’m willing to give those things away.
What have you got coming up?
GDK: You’ve done Epics, you’ve done a lot of different races, what’s this year’s programme, leading up to Munga?
JN: I will do 36ONE, that’s my first big one coming up. Then from there, I will see what other races are coming up, but only the longest races that I’m keen to do this year. Because the short races, they need speed and on my age, I’m struggling to get speed. That’s why I’m saying, you can’t be good on the short distances and be good on the long endurance races, I’ll focus on the endurance races.
GDK: You’re an inspiration, I’m sure, to all the young men who are riding with you around the valley here. Where are you living now?
JN: I’m living at the Valley of a Thousand Hills, that is the same spot where RMB is based. But I’m going to have my own house now, I’m going to start building my own house end of February. I’m going to still live around the Valley of a Thousand Hills at least 6-7 years still to come.
GDK: Where do you think you’d be if you hadn’t have bumped into Martin Dreyer at that race, if you’d have just gone back to Empangeni and worked in the shop, what do you think you’d be doing now?
JN: I was working, like as a bike mechanic, but also I was working before that, I was working as a welder. I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing, if I couldn’t ask Martin to join his team. I resigned at work because I said I want to do cycling because it’s from my heart. I want to end up helping youngsters in sports and that’s why I resigned at work and started doing sport fulltime.
How much riding do you do
GDK: What’s your average training day?
JN: I’m training six days a week. My average hours, some days, especially on Tuesday, cause Tuesday is my long days; I’m doing plus-minus nine hours with mountain biking.
GDK: All round the valley here, in the Valley of a Thousand Hills?
JN: That’s all around the Valley of a Thousand Hills, that’s why I love this area because it’s got a lot of climbing, it’s got a lot of single tracks and there’s no boundaries. You’re not going to cross there, you’re riding all over you want to go and then it’s nice and safe.
GDK: John, as I said, you’re an inspiration, it’s an amazing achievement and long may it continue. Let’s hope we see you on the top step of many, many podiums.
JN: Thank you, thank you very much for the opportunity I’ve got today. Also I would like to thank you and thanks to the Munga organiser because Alex Harris, he’s the one actually who organised the Munga and that was my dream. My dream was born because since, I think that was 2011 and then I said, I want to focus on ultra-marathon races. I want to test myself how strong I am.
When I heard about the Munga, that was 2014, I was deadly keen to do it. When I heard it was postponed nearly got sick because of that, but 2015, when its come up again, I said for sure, I will go for it, I will race it. I’m not going to ride it, I will race it. I would like to say thanks to Alex Harris for organising the Munga, I hope he will organise it again and I wish him all the best for this race.
GDK: We wish you all the best John Ntuli, thanks for talking to us.
JN: Thank you very much.
GDK: John Ntuli, one of the RMB Change A Life Zulu’s, he’s the captain of the team and he’s the winner of the Munga, he’ll try to defend that title later this year. I’ll be looking out for him at the races, ultra-distance races around the country on the mountain bike. Thanks very much John Ntuli and this has been another edition of our Old Mutual mountain bike podcast.