Plenty still to prove for Waylon Woolcock
08 April 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Thanks for downloading and edition of the Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking podcast, I know you’re passionate mountain bikers. We’re going to be talking sport for the next 10 minutes or so. Today we’re talking to a man who has made the sport his business and his life as a professional mountain biker, having spent probably close to 10 years making a living on the road.
He turned to mountain biking five years ago in 2011 and he’s made a great success of that as well. Waylon Woolcock joins me now. Waylon, thanks for chatting. Firstly, I suppose, let’s go back to why you moved from the road to the mountain bike?
Waylon Woolcock: Thanks Gerald, I think it was just the trend that was happening in the sport and in this country. Locally, the road cycling was sort of dying out due to the influx of mountain bike riders and events. I think also safety on the road. I think a lot of families put pressure on their loved ones to try mountain biking out because it took them off the busy roads and more into the bush.
I think it’s also more a family event than road is at the moment. A great outing for the family, on the mountain bike side. Obviously the events picked up on that and it took off. For us, we followed the events, the guys who, basically our bread and butter, we followed that.
The transition from road to MTB
GDK: Making that transition from the road to mountain biking, if you think back now, what for you was the most difficult part of it?
WW: Definitely coming from a road background, the technical side of, the technical riding side of things was always a challenge in the beginning and it still is today. I mean it’s difficult to compete with a guy who has been doing it from 15 years of age, when you’re young and brave and fearless.
That’s where you learn what to do and what not to do, to do it at my age now, there’s always the risk of breaking. You don’t bounce anymore, you just land flat and stay there and possibly break something. We had to get used to racing five hours a day on a stage race. It suited me, definitely it suits my attributes as a rider.
GDK: Do you look back and think, I wish I’d started mountain biking a bit earlier?
WW: Of course I did, but mountain biking wasn’t around when I was fully going in my road career. I probably could have got in at that time, maybe two or three years earlier in my career. I missed 2-3 years and I would have loved to have got in those 2-3 years. It would have made a massive difference now, definitely.
Partnering with Darren Lill
GDK: You Darren Lill from the USN Purefit team, now. You’ve ridden together for quite a few years, what makes your combination tick?
WW: I think what makes us tick is that we’re very similar kinds of people, on and off the bike. Very similar, but very different. I think our goals and aspirations and I think our upbringing is very similar. We’ve known each other since we were 16, raced against each other, did a small stint together on a road team.
We just always kept in touch and we’ve got similar interests, like fishing and such. So we’d go fishing together, and one thing led to another. We’re racing with each other now and we argue a lot, but you know, for the good. We don’t just leave it there and go on.
You think this and I think that, we sort it out there and then, we come to a compromise. I think that’s what the partnership is, is compromise. Give a little, take a little, when it comes to racing we come to an agreement and we stick to it. That’s what makes us gel, I’m sure.
Nice to win the African jersey
GDK: Like any good marriage it sounds like! At the Cape Epic in 2016 you took the Africa jersey and you were quite comfortably ahead of any of the other South African teams, obviously that was a goal for you in 2016?
WW: We did it fairly comfortably. I don’t believe any mountain bike race is comfortable, it’s never over until you cross the line right at the very end. It was a bit unfortunate that a lot of the South African teams had to withdraw due to illness and technical issues and stuff. But that is a part of mountain biking.
You have to go into a race like the Cape Epic fully prepared. Your body has to be on top condition and your equipment choice has to be spot on as well. It would have been nice to have a little bit more competition from the South African teams, which there would have been if there wasn’t those issues with them.
GDK: You’ve had some big wins over the years. The Crane Cruise Pioneer, I know you won joBerg2c, you won a lot of big events. National title, you’ve got SA Champs I think coming up this year as well, what else are your goals?
Would love to win SA Champs
WW: SA Champs is a very big goals. It seems to me SA Champs always falls in a very weird position. All focus goes into the Epic and now we’ve got SA Champs 3-4 weeks after Epic. It’s sometimes difficult to keep focus. You sort of put all your apples into the one event and to keep the motivation up is sometimes difficult. But, we’ll be going there for the win.
That’s one title that’s alluded me the whole year, for road and mountain bike. I’ve landed up on the podium, but never been able to win. When we go to a race like that, we’re definitely going to work for the strongest guy. I’ll be happy for Darren if he wins and he’ll be happy for me. So I feel if we work together, even though it’s supposed to be an individual race; it’ll be definitely a benefit to the sponsorship as well, and to both of us if we work together.
A few weeks after that, our next goal would be Sani2c. I think our next massive goal, it would almost be on the same level as Cape Epic is Trans Alps. We’ve spoken to the sponsors and they’d really like us to go to that event. Not really go to win, they want us to sort of employ a different strategy to our racing. Epic we went in with, you know, win African jersey at all costs. Once you’ve got the jersey, sort of then take it easy and ride conservatively.
There they want us to be a little bit more, sort of take more risks, see how it goes. Learn the European style of racing, to gain experience for next year’s Epic. Obviously we want to try and do better than what we’ve done this year. You’ve always got to look at doing better. I think that’s the next step, is to race those European guys more often.
Why do we seem to get trumped by the Europeans?
GDK: That’s something I wanted to get onto because we have a pretty decent record as marathon and stage racers in this country. Every week there’s a marathon race or a stage race somewhere. But somehow when it comes down to racing against the Europeans at the Epic and elsewhere, we’re always a little bit behind the apple there. What do we need to do?
WW: The level of mountain biking in this country is really high. If you compare it to the European road racing level, there are a couple of guys now that have stepped up to the plate. Definitely showing that they can race with the best in the world. I think on the mountain bike side we’ve always been there, because we’ve got such great events in our country.
You find so many Europeans coming out to race our events, but I think what we lack is numbers. If you look at how many professional mountain bikers there are locally as opposed to in Europe and overseas, there are far more over there. So I think their level, there’s probably 50 guys rocking up on the start line and of those 50, 40 can win.
Here we probably have also 50 guys rocking up at the start line, but it’s always the same, let’s say 10 that win. So I think it’s just the level, the competition level that needs to be raised and we need to go and sort of dip ourselves in the deep end there to experience that and have more of it to do better in Epic in years to come.
GDK: You are a young man of 33.
WW: I like to say that!
GDK: The sport is quite young still, as a professional sport, do you feel that you’re still going to reach maturity as a marathon and stage racer?
WW: Definitely, I’ve seen it with the other European riders that are winning Epic. If you look at Christoph Sauser, Karl Platt, they’re winning Epics at 38 years of age. They’re signing contracts that are continuing for another three years. So, you know, it’s putting them up there in the 40 years of age category.
I think when it comes to events like Epic and the multi-stage long distance events, it’s sometimes more in the head than it is in the body. Obviously the body has to be there. But I think those long distance events, it’s all about how much you can actually handle.
Sometimes it’s more mind over matter than anything else. So, I’ve been in the mountain biking scene for five years and every year has actually been better. My body has been responding better to the training for the mountain bike.
Hopefully, as long as I look after my body, and stay away from injuries and crashes and anything like that, I see myself going further. Also it comes down to sponsorship too. At the end of the day, a lot of guys hang up their bikes just because there’s a lack of sponsorship in the country. Hopefully there’ll be more sponsors to come and that’ll also up our game as South Africans against the world, so to say.
Woolcock’s favourite Stellenbosch trails
GDK: Finally you live now in Stellenbosch, you moved from Gauteng a few years ago, what’s your favourite trail around here?
WW: Everyone likes to say Jonkershoek, but I like to say my backyard. I live probably 800m from what we call the G-Spot. Any mountain biker would have heard the name or would have been on the trail. I’ve got my own little trail route network that I link up together and change it, almost every time that I ride. Coetzenburg and the new cross country track that they’ve built in the Coetzenburg area.
Linking that up with the G-Spot and Eden and Mont Marie and what’s it, Dornier, yes, I did that this morning, just to clear the mind and do some trails. There’s some decent climbing on it as well, so I can do something like that from a recovery ride to actually use it for interval training and stuff like that. I’d like to say my little backyard is my favourite training ground.
How Pros build up to Epic
GDK: Us amateurs need to know how much training you guys put in going into the Epic?
WW: I’m finishing off my last event, let’s say round Wines2Whales time. It’s still pretty late in the season, it’s mid-November. I try and squeeze in a little bit of a break off the bike, but it’s definitely not sitting on the couch. It’s cross training; it’s running, gym, just to strengthen your body in different areas where the mountain bike doesn’t. December is flat-out base training, so we’re looking for time in the saddle.
To give you an example, my one week was 39 hours in six days. So it’s really a big week and that was actually a trip that I did with a good friend of mine, with a 10kg pack on my back as well. You’re looking at four weeks of at least 30 hours a week. But after that, then I start looking at more quality work.
Obviously your hours come down per week and your intensity starts going up. The closer you get to the event, your hours dip off even more and the intensity gets harder. In that last three weeks I try and use racing as much as possible as training, sort of stepping stones. That’s pretty much my prep and the week leading into Epic is definitely a lot of guys, they almost take that week off.
GDK: Waylon, thanks very much and good luck with all your goals this year. Let’s hope you achieve them together with Darren Lill and USN Purefit, your team here in South Africa. That has been another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking, thanks for downloading.