Riding, designing & developing – Corrie Muller does it all
04 June 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking where we bring you the people, the personalities, the bikes, the courses, the events, the races. Every angle that we can possibly cover in this beautiful sport of mountain biking we try and bring you. We meet people who have a great passion for this sport, as you know.
One of the people I’ve come across in my time in the sport, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet up with a man called Dr. Corrie Muller. Corrie Muller is a dentist in Stellenbosch, grew up in Stellenbosch, but he’s one very fine dentist on the one hand, but he’s a passionate mountain biker. He’s an advocate for the sport, he races, he designs and builds tracks, he coaches youngsters. I think Corrie, you might describe yourself as an extrovert?
Corrie Muller: I do so, yes! Once I get the time to talk, you might not have an innings again.
GDK: Right, we’ve got 10 minutes here, okay? Corrie, let’s quickly go back to, we’re sitting in your practice here in the surgery in Stellenbosch. But mountain biking is very much a part of your life and as I walked into the surgery, into the rooms, the back wheel of one of the bikes is sticking out of a door here. So it’s so integral to your life isn’t it?
CM: Ja, my patients like to remind me that what is this bike doing in the surgery and I say to them, I have to show you my whole world. It’s not just dentistry, it’s actually something that’s very dear to me.
GDK: How did it become so dear to you?
A passion born in the mountains
CM: I used to be an athlete, I’m a very competitive person. So, to be honest actually, my dad took me in the mountains when I was a small child. He’s an avid mountaineer and that grew me the fondness of smelling the bugu and drink streams high up in the Boland mountains. The love was there and then I realised that I can actually pursue my talents, my competitive nature. But also my joy for nature on mountain biking.
GDK: There is quite a competitive environment in terms of the masters and the vets here in Stellenbosch. There’s a lot of young men, 40+ men who race and there’s a nice vibe going on here. Early on in your mountain bike racing career there was nice rivalry and lekker racing there wasn’t it?
CM: Yes, indeed so and they’re actually people that are a very close knit society. For instance, way back in 2007/08 I had a very ill child. How they actually fight this and they phoned me and they sms’d me every second/third day and asked me how’s my son doing. So this is actually, once we stop racing, we actually care a lot for each other in this community.
Building a National Championship track
GDK: There’s something about mountain biking isn’t there? Now you are involved, you’re still riding and racing a lot, but you’re involved off the bike a lot more. Let’s just go back firstly, I think the high profile thing is last year’s national championships was held on a course here at Coetzenburg in Stellenbosch. You were heavily involved in that, just tell us how you were involved in that?
CM: Yes, I built the track and I co-designed it actually with one of my students that came through the Paul Roos Mountain Biking Academy with me. Who was actually our captain there and he now designed cycling socks specifically for mountain biking. He does a business out of it and we had designed the track together. It’s just amazing to do it with somebody that’s actually a generation younger than me.
GDK: What made that track special and what went into designing that?
CM: What makes it special is you work with mud and soil outside, for starters. But the Stellenbosch background and terrain, it actually just caters everything. Also, I must say that the University of Stellenbosch gave me ample money and a lot of scope to actually apply my mind towards a very competitive and artistic track as well.
GDK: Your involvement in the sport goes beyond that. You mentioned the Paul Roos Mountain Bike Academy and you’ve been involved with the school here in Stellenbosch from a mountain biking perspective as well for quite a while. Tell us a bit about that.
Starting the Paul Roos Mountain Bike Academy
CM: Yes, I was, for 9 years now I started with Helene Rossouw, that was the first teacher there. It’s just amazing how she created a home for mountain biking. I said to her, that is precisely it. We need to get an identity. I am a rugby player, I am a cricket player, I am a mountain biker. So with that, I think we created in such a way that there’s now, I think close to 70 resident riders in Paul Roos.
We’ve got also a system where we bring in primary school kids in such a way that when they are in Grade 8, they’re not alone in a huge big school. They know the matrics that are riding as well and they actually are part of a group that actually look after the younger kids as well and start coaching them. It’s a marvellous environment where they operate in.
GDK: A sort of mentoring system, but how did you, I mean it’s quite difficult, Paul Ross has got quite a great reputation as a great school and a great rugby playing school. So bringing in a sport that earlier on was probably unheard of. Then was on the margins to get it acknowledged and recognised, was that a difficult thing to do?
CM: Actually Paul Roos is a great school, but they are great for their variety that they actually embrace, sports and culture. Ask Grey College, they will be the first school to tell you that. I went to the head teacher, Mr van der Westhuizen and I said to him: listen, I want to start with a mountain biking group here.
He said to me: it’s not going to be easy and I’m not going to give you everything you want in the beginning. But once you show me your interest, I’m actually going to walk all the way with you and that’s what he does. He helps me tremendously where a stage is that I really think that very big mountain bikers came through the school.
Not only mountain bikers, but I’ve got two mountain biking kids that are now young adults that make a living out of mountain biking. The one works for Specialized and the other one, as I said, designed his own mountain bike socks.
Producing and growing talent
GDK: Tell us about some of the riders that have come through your hands here?
CM: There is a little, small criminal called Steph Senekal, he gives me so much joy. I hope he listens to this thing. Matt Lombardie is another one and then we’ve got a Grade 11 child, Rossouw Bekker whose life is mountain biking.
He’s not somebody that is a hard racer, you actually saw his bike when you came into my practice now. It’s not my bike and so we’ve got passionate young kids. That’s why it’s so nice to work with them because I actually see a little bit of me inside of them as well.
GDK: You’re coaching them, how often do they go out and train and is it cross country only?
CM: Not cross country only, we actually try our best to get them off the marathon mindset. South Africans love the marathon scene and I actually want them to do more cross country. But yes, I don’t do too much coaching anymore where I write programmes and things like that.
I more feel like I’m somebody that wants to tell them, listen, this is what mountain biking is. Not just for a nice ‘jol’ but when you’re on the start line, what’s going to run through your head? What is going to run through your head a quarter of the way through the race, halfway through the race? How are you going to become that person that’s just that whole step stronger?
It’s not a training programme. I actually, to be honest, I spoke to a lot of top, young mountain bikers, many of them haven’t even got a training programme. His dad or his uncle or somebody helps him. It’s just the dark, competitive-wise, it is the dark that comes through, it’s the hard worker. If you apply your mind to it, that’s where you’re going to get the results.
I had a lovely, he’s now a first year student, Ian Lategaan, I can call him that. He started out, now he actually moved to road biking. He’s an excellent rider and he’s busy studying a degree as well. He’s an intelligent child and to me that is success. That is success if you really take it by the horns and try your best, not whether you’ve got talent or not.
GDK: There’s plenty of talented riders out there, but I suppose you’re saying it’s that fight, how much you’re prepared to suffer.
CM: Yes, it is. But bear in mind as well, I always say to the parents of the children, especially when you’re a group of 70, you know. I’m not talking here about the top six, eight or ten, what if you are number 40? To me, at the end, I’m a competitive person, but it’s not about the gold medal. It’s about the purpose that you find yourself on the bike there.
I tell these people that are number 40, how do you make yourself happy. To be honest, that is what it’s all about. When you do it, go and try your best and try your hardest and enjoy it. Enjoy beating that child that beats you the whole year, whether you come first or 20th, it doesn’t matter.
Stellenbosch is blessed with great riding
GDK: You know the trails around Stellenbosch very well, and you love them. Do you have a favourite trail or area you just like to go and have a quick whip around?
CM: Always G-spot and I try to, it’s a good thing you ask me that. Because I try to, my fellow trail builders, I try to influence them in such a way that they think in terms of G-spot. It’s 1km and everybody wants to go and ride there.
We so often want to build kilos and kilos and kilos of single track and you go in there and it’s lovely, but you tolerate the track, you don’t fully enjoy it as yet. I feel people must dig less and design more. I think also riders appreciate that more.
GDK: Sound advice Corrie, some wonderful trails in the Cape. For many around the country, Stellenbosch is seen as a bit of the heart and soul of mountain biking here, there’s progress there isn’t there?
CM: Yes, heart and soul, apparently we also designed apartheid, everything started here! It is a lovely terrain, it’s got brilliant soil. You’ve got your overseas, we’re actually busy now creating an environment where people can really go and market Stellenbosch internationally.
I ride this summer with a number of the top mountain bikers in the world, thanks to you, they’ve actually invited me, that got me in touch with Manuel Fumic. It’s amazing how these people rate Stellenbosch as a destination. They think there is very little in the world compared to what Stellenbosch can give to mountain biking.
GDK: You give to Stellenbosch and to mountain biking a great deal as well. Corrie, thanks for chatting.
CM: It was a pleasure and I like to speak about my favourite topic, thank you very much.
GDK: Corrie Muller who is going to head back to his surgery because there’s a client sitting in his chair, mouth wide open. Thanks very much Corrie Muller, talking mountain biking, it’s a passion of Corrie’s, as you can hear. I’m sure it’s a passion of yours, otherwise you wouldn’t have taken the time to download this podcast from our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking. Thanks for doing so and do so again as we meet more of the wonderful people from mountain biking.