Simon Stiebjahn – not just another German
14 March 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual podcast on mountain biking, thanks for downloading it. Because today we’ve got someone from far afield who has come out to South Africa to race mountain bikes. He’s been here before, Simon Stiebjahn of Team Bulls.
Simon, welcome nice to have you with us here. South Africa, you’ve been here quite a lot, you’ve obviously raced here to Cape Epic in the past. You will be doing so again this year but in terms of what it offers as a mountain biking destination, does it tick the boxes?
Simon Stiebjahn: Yes, for me over the last years it’s the mountain bike destination. For us in the winter it’s more or less not possible to train at home on the bike because it’s cold and we have snow. Here in South Africa we have perfect conditions. We have the perfect weather, you have awesome single trails. The food is nice, the hotels are fine and everything. The people are happy to see us and we like to see them. So it’s the destination for me.
Are Team Bulls more popular here or in Germany?
GDK: In terms of, the Bulls are a well-known brand in this country, mountain biking, courtesy of the achievements of Kral and Stefan and yourself at events like the Epic. Are you as well-known in your home country, is there a big following?
SS: That’s also a bit different to South Africa. In Germany mountain bike sporting is unfortunately not as popular as it is here. So that’s also nice to come here, as a sport guy, if the people respect you as a sport guy or respect you more than at home, it makes it really nice. To have the TV coverage and everything, it makes it really nice.
GDK: How long would you spend here in your off-season, roughly?
SS: In the off-season?
GDK: Or any time.
SS: Last year, was more or less 4-5 months, so it was a lot of time. This year a little less, but still three months, it’s a lot of time and I enjoy it a lot.
What is your focus?
GDK: You’re the young man on the Team Bulls squad, you have a cross country pedigree and some great results in cross country. Is that still a focus for you or are you tending towards stage races in marathons?
SS: Like you said, Bulls is a marathon team. For the next year I want to improve there and hopefully get even better in the marathon category. But this year, it’s Olympic year and I still have the chance to get qualified for the Olympics. I want to try to get the last spot for Germany in cross country to be in Rio de Janeiro in August, to race there.
GDK: What do you have to do to get that spot? What’s left for you to do?
SS: First of all we have to fight against the Italian guys to get the third spot in the national ranking, which is really close. Then I have to finish in Top 20 in the World Cup. Last year I was 25th at World’s, so really close to that spot. Hopefully this year also with the Epic before, hopefully I can improve my shape and reach better levels and then going to go for it.
Where did it all start for you?
GDK: How did you get into mountain biking or cycling, where did it start for you?
SS: It started early, when I was 11, through my father. He just, like on the weekend we were riding for fun and stuff. Then everybody in Germany plays soccer, I did too. Then I had a lot of fun on the bike and so it developed over the years.
First I was on the road and then when I was 15 I tried my first mountain bike race. Then it got better and better and I got more excited. I wasn’t that good in the beginning, which was good I guess. Because I was really motivated to improve and that made it, coming out well for me.
GDK: That’s interesting, with a lot of youngsters getting into the sport in this country and the parents, their mother or father are quite motivated for them to do well. But how much of your growth into the sport was self-motivation and how much was it your parents or your father involved?
SS: I guess it was more or less 90% by myself because my parents never said I have to go to the training or do the race and stuff. It was like a feeling, like middle of the week I said, I would like to do a race on the weekend, so it was always fun. I wanted to do that and I guess it was a big fact of doing the sport so long now.
Life away from cycling
GDK: Outside of cycling, what keeps you busy in Germany or wherever it is?
SS: Friends and I’m studying also, it’s home studying, which is nice to change sometimes the thoughts. If the race isn’t good, I mean if you have good results, it’s always easy. But if you have bad results, it’s hard for a sport guy to think of other stuff and I have the studying.
GDK: What are you studying?
SS: International management and it’s a nice course, especially for sport guys, which makes it easy for me. I still like to play soccer. So in my off-season I play soccer sometimes and also cross country skiing and a lot of other stuff.
GDK: What position do you play on the soccer field?
SS: It’s midfield, where you have to run. During the season I can’t go that much in the training, it’s kind of too risky, but I like it. Also the people there, it’s a nice community. Mountain biking is more like an individual sport and then you have the team sport which is also nice to change and I really like it.
Learning from the best
GDK: Karl Platt, Urs, Stefan, the Bulls have got a great history already and some really experienced riders. What are you gaining from being involved with them in terms of your strength as a mountain biker?
SS: First of all I had to suffer a lot the first years. Because I was young and it was nice to get the chance to come in the team, which I’m really thankful for. Now over the years I gained a lot, like how to stay calm in the race. Read the race, training rides and all the stuff. I mean it’s not that many or big things, but the small things make a difference, which you can see from them and in the end, if you put them together, you have a big advantage from it.
GDK: Tell us about your combination with Tim, you guys have ridden a few stage races together, also here in South Africa and had some success. What makes it work?
SS: I guess first of all on the bike we are more or less the same kind of, we have the same kind of style, like riding. Good technically, also climbing and then also besides the bike, we match good to each other. We are also funny.
During the race we have a lot of fun, which makes it easier for us. During the race, maybe we fight with each other; not fighting, but kind of shouting sometimes. But then an hour after the race we make jokes about it, which is really nice.
Your mental game is really important
GDK: I suppose that’s part of the dynamic of a team, but how much of this is mental and how much is physical? At this level of the sport, you’re all physically not too far apart, what do you see it as?
SS: I guess like you said, physically, everybody is more or less around 98-100%. So it’s just that 1-2% and I guess the mental part is a really big part. I would say the mental part is even bigger than the physical part, so 30-70%.
GDK: Finally, ambition for you as a mountain biker, in 20 years’ time when your children are Googling Simon Stiebjahn and they see your Wikipedia page, what do you want them to see there as a mountain biker?
SS: Everybody would expect now that I won everything, but I want to be like an idol, not just in sporting things. But also how my behaviour and that they say, I want to be like Simon, not just in a sporting way.
GDK: Simon, thanks very much for talking to us, good luck with your ambitions for the Olympics in 2016 and beyond.
SS: Thank you very much.
GDK: Simon Stiebjahn, part of Team Bulls from Germany and a regular visitor to South Africa as a mountain biker. Hope you’ve enjoyed the chat with Simon and hope you’ll join us again with our Old Mutual Mountain bike podcast, thanks for downloading, until next time.