Malcolm Lange – helping to support South African cycling
30 May 2016
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Gerald de Kock: This is another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, I’m Gerald de Kock, thanks for downloading. It’s good to have you along as we explore this wonderful world of mountain biking, every aspect of it.
Perhaps if you’re a regular downloader you would have learnt about it, we do cover quite an extensive array of people involved in this wonderful sport. We’re at an event, as I so often am and am fortunate to bump into a man who made an incredible name as one of our very best road races, Malcolm Lange. Malcolm is now a team owner, he’s at this stage running Team Telkom.
They have a very strong programme on the road, but they also have some very powerful riders on the mountain bike. In fact, Malcolm is also riding a mountain bike at this very event, the KAP Sani2c. Malcolm, thanks for joining us. The mountain bike wasn’t your first choice as a rider, but how are you enjoying riding this?
Malcolm Lange: Morning Gerald, I think it’s just the way the sports really explode. Mountain biking has obviously become kind of the word on everybody’s lips now. It’s moved from golf to mountain biking. Yes, obviously running Team Telkom, fortunate enough to also have Team Ascendis with the ladies leading. So I’ve kind of learnt a lot about the mountain biking side, although I don’t get to do enough of it. obviously trying to keep the sponsors and everybody happy, it takes a bit of time.
But ja, really nice to be invited here to Sani. I’ve done one before and it’s such an amazing event. It really is incredible. I’ve come along with my brother, so we’re picking up the back markers, which is a bit unusual for me. But I think in general, for sponsors, it’s become important because of the explosion. If you look, there’s basically no weekends available that are free. There’s mountain bike events all over.
Having said that, obviously the road is still close to my heart and I always try and keep it alive as well because it is important. I think obviously the danger aspect is there, but however, you find safe routes to ride, I still enjoy it. Mountain biking, coming down these single tracks, you can’t actually comprehend how awesome it was.
How do you structure riders combined schedules?
GDK: You’ve got two guys, Johann Rabie and HB Kruger who did really well at Old Mutual joBerg2c, they finished second there and they were highly competitive. They’re racing at the sharp end here as well at the KAP Sani2c, but they also have a little bit of programme on the road. How do you sort the calendar out for the riders at the beginning of the year?
ML: Well, at the beginning of the year it’s obviously busy on both sides, even from the road side, Johann and HB used some of the Mpumalanga tours, the road tours, to get form for Epic. They had a bit of bad luck at Epic, HB got a stomach bug, so we had to pull out. But remembering also, they’re both roadies, they’ve ridden for me before.
I gave the opportunity also to Neil and Waylon a couple of years ago, put them on mountain bikes. So a lot of the mountain bikers thought, ag, these roadies can’t handle it. I’ve seen some of these guys, I know what they can do. But it’s just adaption of sleeping in tents and roughing it. Once they get to that, then some of these guys are really good.
I think HB is someone that I’m looking forward to in the next 2-3 years to shine as well. He’s just got to learn the mountain biking side of things. But again, road racing, you never get out there for 4/5 hours, which is so important to cyclists. For me, it’s a great foundation.
The main differences between road cycling and MTB
GDK: I think we saw in Old Mutual joBerg2c, HB did take a few days that were really hard for him. Just try and outline and illustrate the difference. I know the technical side of it, but I suppose the hours out there is also a bit different?
ML: It’s the hours, I think that’s what it is. If you’re coming from just a South African road background, there your races are 2.5 to 3-hours maximum. We don’t have enough tours in South Africa like we used to have. I think that’s probably counting against the road riders to a certain aspect, cause obviously the jump to get from here to Europe is so big.
Fortunately, we have teams, like I’ve managed to keep Team Telkom now, to keep the road scene alive. It’s still a great thing to watch, but I think, to go further, we need longer tours. So I think the riders are also looking at mountain biking because they also want to further their careers.
I think if they can balance the two and then try and step into Europe. We’ve just sent Mornè van Niekerk oversees now, he’s off to Spain to go and race a bit. So I’m trying to help that aspect as well and who knows, maybe they end up in the Di Data’s of the world.
GDK: I suppose there’s an element of risk involved as well, there’s serious injury and the suddenly they’re out of both the road and the mountain bike as well.
ML: That’s always the danger element. So what I’ve done, I’ve got a team of six, two of them are really focused on mountain biking, which is obviously Johann and HB. The other four are mainly Nolan Hoffman, we’re focusing Argus, all the big events. It gets a bit quiet now, the road scene.
Then from July/August it picks up and then we kind of put the team back together towards the end of the year. It’s just really for me to leverage the sponsorship of Telkom, I need to be in all areas. I thought this was the most cost-effective way of doing it and it seems to be working.
Getting leverage for your sponsor
GDK: Let’s talk about that and exposure. It’s not on mainstream TV, but it’s now moving towards live streaming and streaming of events and so on. Is it a constant battle for you as a team owner to ensure that you find the right exposure?
ML: I think that’s what I created a few years back, with Lange Sport. Was to create that buffer between the sponsor and the rider. Because obviously throwing money at just the athletes can be problematic. Because obviously it’s managing that sponsorship and their demands; and obviously the riders have got demands to get the results.
We kind of make sure the riders are looked after really well and if they’ve got complaints, it comes to us. Then obviously we feed back to the sponsors and we give the sponsors what they need. It really is a fulltime job to keep everything going.
GDK: Where do you see an improvement needed in mountain biking, particularly, specifically from the professional side of it?
ML: I think there’s always room for improvement, I won’t, it’s not to say that there isn’t any exposure, there is. I think it’s picked up immensely with the mountain bike side. But I think in any sport, if you look, whatever it is, soccer or rugby, the pros really make up a small portion. Your fans are the ones that really keep the sport alive.
I think the most important thing there and I always try and tell my riders, the interaction between your die-hards out there that take 8/9 hours to get through a stage, just to interact with them and teach them. I think that’s where there needs to be a lot more scope.
Yes, having said that, TV time is always important, for any sponsor. But I think that’s what happened to cycling is the networking that happens behind it has become the so-called ‘new golf’ in that aspect. I think that’s where the sport has really grown and I think that’s where the sponsorships are coming from. It’s really the business to business side of things is where guys are seeing the value in sponsorship, it’s the experience.
A collective effort needed to gain more exposure
GDK: An event like the Cape Epic is an international event, to all intents and purposes and sometimes it appears that South African teams get swallowed up and disappear, even if they’re racing in the top ten or top 15?
ML: Correct, I think that’s one of the things, it’s just such a big event and it’s an incredible event. I just think sometimes we lack a little bit on the exposure side. We’re not at certain levels of obviously world class riders, I’m not saying everybody. I think we’ve got some great riders, but I think if you’re not in the first three or four at Epic, exposure-wise, you’re kind of lost and it’s a big expense to go and do it.
I’ve done a few of these with running teams and it’s costly and you get a rider who gets sick, you get very little out of it. I think organisers need to understand that it is expensive to keep these teams going. We value what they do. I think it’s really sitting around a table and trying to work together, to build a professional side. We need more teams and well run teams, that’s what’s really important.
GDK: There’s an interesting point, you’re absolutely right, not only on the road, but also on the mountain biking. Teams are few and far between, there are a lot of guys going around trying to find a sponsor or a teammate to ride with them in one or the other race. How do we bridge that?
ML: I think that’s the tricky side. Obviously guys just want to get a sponsorship, put a brand on their chest and they think that’s sponsorship and it goes like that. I think that’s why a lot of teams just disintegrate because it’s not about that.
It’s really about the sponsor and keeping their needs up. I think that’s what we need, especially on the road side, is more teams, smaller teams and more riders. I think we’ve really got to look at the youngster level. I grew up in schoolboy cycling, that seems to have disappeared. You’ve got it on the Spur League, on mountain biking, but roads are lacking. It’s something I really would like to get behind and start to get involved in.
Road gives any cyclist a very good foundation
Because that’s really where the talent is coming from. I’ve got a very keen cyclist, my son, he’s driving me nuts and there’s nowhere to take him for races, it’s only really mountain bikes. I still believe road teaches guys how to sit in a bunch, tight, take corners at high speed. If we don’t have it, you’ve never been in that environment. I still think road is your foundation, even track cycling.
GDK: A lot of roadies move across to mountain biking, the other way doesn’t happen a lot, but which way do you think is the tougher?
ML: I’ve obviously done a few mountain mike events. It’s the roughing it, it’s the tough side of mountain biking and it’s the unknown. You can start with the greatest form, but you can have a flat tyre in the first few days and then you’ve got to fix it yourself. There’s no putting your hand up and asking for a wheel.
I know I did my first Sani and the team that I rode with, Landon, he’s in a couple of Epics since then, he actually had a technical. I, just as a joke said, oh, I’ll just put my hand up and look for a back wheel and we were stuck amongst the cows somewhere. We sat there for 50 minutes trying to fix it, but that’s part of mountain biking, which I think everybody loves. It’s the challenge.
The warmth of the MTB scene
GDK: It’s a warm, friendly environment isn’t it?
ML: It’s awesome, I think road has always had that bit of a stiff stigma, not a friendly environment. Whereas mountain biking, everybody is really welcoming and comes on board with everything. I think that’s why it’s been such a good relationship with regards to Ascendis Health with the ladies. They’ve been so great, and having Robyn and Jenni that are such great ambassadors, they’re such down to earth people and that’s really what it’s about. People like to see that.
GDK: They’ve brought you, as a team, an enormous amount of goodwill, haven’t they?
ML: Ja, brilliant. It was a big challenge to tell Ascendis Health, I’m going to look at just the ladies and not focus on the men. But at the time I found the men was a little bit too saturated, there were too many teams. I felt for a sponsor to get really good exposure, I felt this was the way to do it and ladies mountain biking needed it as well. Hopefully it’s set the trend to get more ladies teams involved as well. I think that’s also an area that’s lacking as well, we need more ladies to get onto mountain bikes.
GDK: What about Malcolm getting onto a mountain bike more regularly, will this happen?
ML: I think so, look, I had some strange ideas a year ago, I went and ran Comrades, which was totally out of the ordinary. But ja, I enjoyed it, absolutely loved it. I’m battling with too many injuries, so I’ve decided no, let me rather go back to what I know.
So I’d like to, towards the end of the year, maybe even do some road racing as well. Get amongst the guys and also teach them as well, because there’s a lot to learn on road riding. Ja, I’ve done a few mountain bike events and I think an Epic is on the card sometime along. There must be a good reason behind it, like a charity of some sorts. I’d like to do it.
GDK: Well, Malcolm, thanks very much for the chat and thanks for all you do for the sport of cycling, because without you I think it would be a lot thinner here in South Africa, thanks very much.
ML: Thanks Gerald, yes, sometimes it’s not as rewarding, it’s hard work, but I love it.
GDK: Malcolm Lange, one of the iconic race winners in South African road racing and he’s at a mountain bike event at the moment and of course owner of Team Telkom and Team Ascendis Health and Lange Sports. Thanks for chatting to us and thank you for downloading our latest edition of Old Mutual Live Mountain biking where we talk all matters mountain biking. Do so once more and we’ll bring you more fascinating conversations with the people that make mountain biking happen. Until next time, cheers.