Reliving the Olympic dream with Marc Bassingthwaighte
18 May 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live mountain biking podcast. It is, of course, a journey through this wonderful world of mountain biking. Where we meet all manner of people involved in this sport. From the riders, the bike event owners, trail buildings, shop owners, people who have a passion for this sport.
Today we’re going to meet up with the man who at one stage was at the top of the racing tree and he went to the Olympics in London in 2012. He’s now no longer racing, but deeply involved in the sport of mountain biking. His name is Marc Bassingthwaighte from Namibia, but now living in Stellenbosch. Marc, it’s quite a journey you’ve had over the years. Tell us where you are now in your life?
Marc Bassingthwaighte: Gerald, thanks for welcoming me on the show, it’s quite interesting about this whole podcast thing, I must actually check it out myself! One of the few people who can actually spell my surname so ja, this is where I am at the moment.
Stellenbosch, after the Olympics I just decided, some new challenges in life. Took some time out to work at Mannies place in Namibia, then I actually studied a bit of architectural drafting. Back in the bike shop again, which actually, what I’ve found is actually a big passion of mine.
Being a problem solver
GDK: You’re working at a shop here in Stellenbosch, you tell me exactly what you do here?
MB: Right, I’m at the shop, it’s called BMT in Dorp Street, one of the younger shops, I could say, it’s a project of mine. I’ve seen the shop grow now. I’ve taken over from other people, initially as a shop manager, but we’ve grown exponentially now in size.
We’ve probably doubled from when I started here a bit more than a year back. Now I’m focused on the workshop, managing the workshop, which is actually where my big passion is. I like fixing things and sorting out problems.
GDK: In other words, would you build a bike from scratch as well as maintain and do the repairs?
MB: Yes, we do anything. If there’s a ‘skadonk’ of a bike coming in here and the guy wants us to fix it, we’ll do it. Obviously we’ll try our best. We build up new bikes, we do project bikes for people. My passion obviously is in the wheels, wheels and suspension. That’s where my biggest interest is.
But what I try to do is not throw away parts that actually can be fixed, just because it brings in money that you just replace. If I can see that I can repair something, then I will definitely attempt it. I think a lot of people start noticing that. They rather want something repaired than replaced.
GDK: I want to go back to your early days in Namibia and where this mountain biking, you come from a bit of a Golden Age in Namibia and Mannie was the icon there, had been to the Olympics. Where did this mountain bike thing grow for you?
My mountain bike journey back in Namibia
MB: I used to ride my bike to football practice and I saw that I’m actually getting a bit better at riding my bike to practice, or it was actually more fun than actually playing football on the field. At later stages I was a bit side-lined in my high school years, so I decided, cycling I can do on my own. It gave me freedom, especially in Namibia. You can get out quickly into the bush there and I loved it.
It just grew and I don’t know what it is in the air or in the water of Namibia, but it seems that a lot of Namibians tend to be good. I don’t know, it’s probably the altitude that we can perform. Once we see that we’re actually good at something, in South Africa maybe that just gives us the mental edge over other people. We start pursuing stuff and really putting our heart into that.
GDK: You did so with quite some success because you became part of quite a successful professional team for a while. Tell us what that was like. You guys were racing the national series in South Africa, you were getting overseas now and again. It was probably quite exciting times for a young guy.
MB: For sure, you’re part of this big team. I probably didn’t take it as professionally as I should have. I didn’t realise what I was part of and I was still in awe. Even in my Olympic year, what I’m actually doing here. In hindsight, I would probably change a few things. I would probably realise that I’m actually part of this and grow it a little bit more.
GDK: Is that something you would look at some of the younger guys now and say, guys, take it seriously now because it is serious.
MB: Definitely. I’m actually coaching the Paul Roos kids, trying to obviously start slowly but surely, teach them some of the professional aspects of the whole thing.
GDK: That’s more attitude, an aptitude and skill. You can obviously learn the skills, but is it a mind thing?
MB: Definitely, I’d say the professionalism of this is definitely all mental, 90%, at least. Once you have that edge, you’ll flourish.
The challenge of getting to the Olympics
GDK: Obviously Olympics was a great highlight for you in your career, but getting there, because we’re sitting in an Olympic year now. There are a lot of guys trying to get to the Olympic Games, there’s a lot of tension, pressure and excitement trying to get to qualify.
MB: Yes, there’s a lot of pressure. I remember 2008 when it was me or Mannie. When Mannie was still racing in this country, that was huge pressure. I thought I was stronger than him, I was also focusing, but I badly cocked up my qualification race and that was purely pressure. I totally lost it and obviously he was chosen. But the next time I was stronger mentally, I was more relaxed and I knew it was my time.
I can definitely see it now in South Africa as well with the cross country, the Olympic hopefuls. There’s a lot of pressure. There’s one race that doesn’t go well and suddenly your mental edge isn’t there or you think, am I going to cut it for the team or not? Then there’s the next race, which brings you up again and suddenly there’s more than one person that can go to Olympics.
GDK: Compared to Europe, we’re in a bit of an odd situation in South Africa. Where we have you guys as pros doing cross country, well, perhaps in your time anyway, you would do cross country and the marathon. So it was quite lucrative and there were a lot of races. Do you think we miss a trick there because we don’t focus on one or the other?
The trouble with South Africa
MB: I think it’s a bit tough here in South Africa. It’s very sponsorship driven, mass driven, you know, where does the money come into the sport. At the moment it is marathon racing because the participation is just that much bigger.
Unfortunately, the spectators of the cycling scene aren’t that big. Obviously in the cross country series, which is the Olympic sport, you have the odd South African SA Cup where there is a lot of spectatorship. But I mean that’s a small amount compared to the whole season. In that sense, it’s quite tough to make it in the Olympic cross country scene.
The fact that these Europeans come and ride here, that’s motivational for a lot of riders. Thankfully it’s good to have not just one discipline in the sport. To have various ones, now that the enduro scene is also growing a bit, somehow there’s no local influence to that. That’s just purely looking at international influence, but it’s something new.
Cross country-wise, it’s still tough, it’s always going to be tough, just because you’ve got to be so technically advanced to be riding a cross country race. That’s lacking big time in South Africa, so that’s another point why it’s such a small event.
GDK: You must have done a few World Cup cross country races in your time?
MB: Yes, I did quite a few. Thankfully with Team Garmin and Adidas back in the day, there was a bit of money involved. So we were able to go overseas, which is a tough thing at the moment, I believe. I’ve seen that sponsorship is a very difficult thing at the moment.
Another thing I’m grateful for, back in the day, it was actually easier to get onto a team, because they were testing the waters. What can be done with the sponsorship, what kind of marketing can we get out of this. But people have learnt, companies have learnt. They see that getting marketing out of a big race, which they’re going to sponsor, is much better.
GDK: We cannot hide from the fact that we’ve had a few doping issues that have probably caused a problem there as well. That sets the sport back, doesn’t it?
MB: Definitely, that’s one of the reasons why probably it also stopped. There were a few factors but you know, all the guys that were doping, or the allegations at least, no, I don’t want to be part of that. They’d rather sit on the beach and do nothing.
Do you miss top level racing?
GDK: If I say to you, do you miss the racing now, sitting here in your workshop here and now we’re watching, there’s more and more on the TV, do you miss it?
MB: Occasionally, not too much. I was grafting at the Epic this year and during the Epic there wasn’t one day where I thought, maybe I can ride this thing. Watching the guys cross the finish line on the last day, that’s a bit motivational, I think that’s a big accomplishment that the guys did. Thinking back and crossing that last finish line, it was a big relief.
I always told myself I’m never going to do it again, but ja, sponsorship obviously told me to go back. It wasn’t one of my favourite races, to be really honest. But smaller races like cross country races, when I help out some of the riders now that I support, then I think, hmmm, it’s nice to ride it. But then I go and ride the course three or four laps, then I’ve had enough and think, let them race.
GDK: You clearly still ride a bit at the moment.
MB: Just occasionally, like I said, the Paul Roos kids, I teach them Monday and Thursday. I do the occasional ride on a Saturday or Sunday.
GDK: What’s the most difficult job someone has brought in for you here at the workshop? What’s the toughest job you’ve had to do?
MB: Toughest jobs are probably when we don’t have parts. When we have to source parts, bikes lie around for a few days before we can actually do something about it –
GDK: And I want it now!
MB: Yes, they push me. It’s a little bit out of my hands because the supplier can’t get hold of parts, that sort of thing. When I can’t help a customer immediately, that’s probably the toughest thing for me.
GDK: Marc, thanks for chatting and good luck as you move forward in this sport, I’m sure you’ll carry those Olympic memories with you for a long time. That must have been a special, whatever happened there must have been special.
MB: Yes, that was a life goal, I’ll cherish those moments forever, definitely.
GDK: Where did you finish?
MB: I came 30th out of 50. My goal was top 30 finish and 30th I came!
GDK: Goal achieved! Marc Bassingthwaighte from Namibia who is now based in Stellenbosch, and working as the workshop manager here at BMT in Stellenbosch in Drop Street. Another of our characters and personalities who are all over in this wonderful sport of mountain biking. Thanks for chatting, Marc, good luck and thank you for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, until next time, cheers.