Langvad & Kleinhans chase Epic repeat
11 March 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to the Old Mutual Mountain bike podcast, thanks for downloading. I hope you’re enjoying the conversations we’re having with some of the personalities, people, riders, superstars and race organisers we manage to catch up with in this great sport of mountain biking.
Today we’re joined by a pair of superstars, in this instance Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans of Team Spur-Specialized. They are defending champions and winners of the ABSA Cape Epic over the years. It’s wonderful to have them with us. I’m going to start with Annika and just go back to how and why you started mountain biking, or cycling, I suppose it must have started with cycling initially.
Champions in the making
Annika Langvad: It’s a very long story, so I’ll try and keep it short. I moved to Copenhagen in 2006 to start my studies and actually already had done a few adventure races, like the multi-sport. When I moved to Copenhagen to do my studies I thought, I still want to be a little bit active, until then I didn’t do anything on any level at all.
I was always doing a little bit of handball, football, just playing around as a kid, but nothing too serious. It was never in my family, so it’s not like I was encouraged to do something or inspired to do something like that. It’s very much a coincidence, in Copenhagen I joined a triathlon club.
In the winter time we also did a little bit of mountain biking and there I thought, this is actually quite cool and quite fun. At the same time my studies were very hard. I studied dentistry, so I had very little time to do three disciplines and train swimming, running and biking.
I swapped to mountain biking and focused only on one discipline and joined a local mountain bike club a few years later. When you have a talent, you start out and you grow so fast in your sport and so did I. I started winning races in Denmark and then already in 2009 I won a race in Germany too. Started doing World Cups and was already on the World Cup podium in 2011 and was surprising everybody. Then in 2013 I got involved with Specialized and the rest is history.
GDK: It is indeed and your dentistry?
AL: I haven’t finished it yet, so I want to try and finish it as late as possible and luckily, I’ve made a plan so that I can finish it, not now, but later I’ll finish it.
GDK: We don’t want to say at the end of your career because that could be anytime.
AL: You never know, no, it’s not going to be at the end of my career, no.
GDK: Ariane, not dissimilar in terms of you were involved in other sport before you came to mountain biking, is that right?
Ariane Kleinhans: Yes, I was swimming for quite a while, my father was a swimming coach and he coached my sister and then me after a while. I spent quite a long time in the pools in and around Berne. Before then I also quit the swimming and just tried a bit of triathlon and that’s how I got into mountain biking as well.
The appeal of riding a mountain bike
GDK: What is it about mountain biking, Annika alluded to the fun involved and that’s what got you hooked, is that fun? You’re racing at the sharp end now, is it still about fun, can you still see that?
AK: Definitely some rides, not all the rides are the same amount of fun. If you really race your heart out in a race and really suffer sometimes, then it’s painful. But I still like go playing down in Stellenbosch, it’s a really amazing trail, it is fun. We just race on the road bikes, last week and then coming back onto the mountain bike and just playing around with the bike a bit, it’s very cool and it is still a lot of fun.
GDK: You still find the fun Annika?
AL: Luckily yeah, I can, but it’s quite hard sometimes. When you start racing and you know all of a sudden you’re like among the best in the world, it’s difficult to still keep it fun. Because all of a sudden you have a contract and you have to perform and you know what it takes to perform, so you stick to what you know works.
GDK: Do you have a coach?
AL: Yes I have a coach.
GDK: Is it that that takes you into another level, the focus training session?
AL: Not really because my coach, he’s not actually following me closely. We only speak on the phone and he uploads training programmes for me. That being said, I’m very lucky to have a boyfriend who is actually working in the company of my coach, so he’s doing the same job. He sees me every single day and he’s the one person that I trust ultimately.
He’s super good and super skilled and he knows how to read me. So we talk a lot about what to do. He also knows how I work and what I need to do to be my best. He’s really supportive, but then again, I have a coach, a separate coach who I am not emotionally involved with, which is good sometimes.
Why do South Africans battle at the top level?
GDK: Ariane, you’re from Switzerland, South Africa is sort of becoming one of the meccas of mountain bike racing, particularly marathon and stage racing. But we still battle to get riders performing at the very highest level at marathons and even at cross country. What do you think, are we too focused on recreational riding or what’s the story?
AK: I don’t think so, I think it’s just a matter of time and racing the competitions. I think Spur, my sponsor, is really doing great work with the Spur Mountain Bike School League. That’s actually what you need, you need competition from a young age. You just need the guys and girls pushing each other to a better and better level. That’s why I’m going to do the World Cup’s as well. I want to race the best ladies in the sport to really push myself to another level.
That’s the only way you’re going to do it and the numbers just need to grow. I’m looking at those kids at the Spur School League or at the cross countries and it’s going to become better and better. We’re already looking at James and his competitors and they’re really fighting it out. It’s going to become very good in this country as well.
GDK: You’re moving more into the cross country, is it still going to be a marathon focus for you, and stage race focus for you in the future?
The allure of cross country racing
AK: Yes, I’ll definitely keep that focus. I don’t really expect myself doing exceptionally well in a cross country. I haven’t explored it yet enough to really say what I can do there. But just seeing what kind of talent is coming along. Just in Switzerland with Jolanda Neff and I mean they’re so young and they’ve got so much potential. I’m almost like, my shelf life is not that long anymore, but it’s still a great challenge and a lot I can learn from that and that’s basically what I want to take out of it.
GDK: Is Olympics Annika, for you a focus?
AL: Olympics is definitely a focus, but it’s not my only focus of the year. It’s one among a lot. I must say, after my World Cup win, I’m pretty keen on stepping it up once again at the World Cups. I know I still have it in me to actually step it up and it’s super motivating, it’s also super hard. I mean it’s so tough to be consistent throughout an entire season. But you know, when it goes well for me, it’s so motivating and that’s what I remember when it’s hard.
GDK: The intensity of a cross country race as opposed to a marathon or stage race, can you give us a comparison Annika?
AL: The intensity of a cross country race is very different. I love the speed, that’s why my heart actually lies with the cross country because it’s exceptional what you can do with your body. Going at that speed, it’s an insane feeling. To ride really fast you also need the base and a lot of riding at the pace of a marathon race so in that way you can actually combine the two disciplines quite well.
Being good partners is about more than training together
GDK: Ariane, what makes your combination tick, what makes it work?
AK: I think that we get along really well, it’s very important, off the bike as well and we really trust each other. Kind of from the beginning in 2013 when we did Cape Pionee together, we communicated a lot, how we feel on the bike together. What we did from there we did more and more stage races. So we’re going into our sixth stage race together and we gathered a lot of experience along the way. I definitely think that’s going to play out as well into our teamwork.
GDK: You hardly train together, you just race together?
AK: Yes, so far we haven’t actually trained a lot together. Last year we did a bit of a training camp and now Annika, this year the first time before the Epic she came a bit earlier. We raced the road stage race, the Tour of Good Hope together. So that was actually the first time ever before the Epic that we spent some time on the bike together.
GDK: Dentistry is something that’s going to wait for you Annika, but off the bike, away from the bike, what’s life about?
Life off the bike
AL: Life is about spending time with my boyfriend, he’s such a great part of my life. Seeing friends and family whenever I can, just maintaining a social life in Denmark. It’s super hard and it can be quite hard, to actually perform well on your bike.
You also have to be mentally in a good place and a lot of factors count into that. It’s very good to try to also maintain other aspects of life. Even though people see us as these super human beings, we are normal human beings with all the normal things in life and struggles.
GDK: You still going South Africa, Switzerland Ariane?
AK: Yes, I’m going to spend about five months in Europe, not all in Switzerland, mostly probably travelling around. My mother is happy to see me five days in a row. Then I’m probably off to some training camp or some other race. It’s very important to me to go back home, to see the mountains again. Just speaking about it almost makes me a bit emotional and I’m really looking forward to seeing it very soon.
GDK: Ariane and Annika, thanks very much for talking to us, good luck with your ambitions this year.
AL & AK: Thank you very much, thanks.
GDK: Thanks Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans from Team Spur-Specialized talking to us here on our Old Mutual Mountain bike podcast, hope you enjoyed it. We’ll have more for you, talking to the characters, the people and personalities involved in this wonderful sport of mountain biking.