South African duo target Epic success
02 August 2016
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Gerald De Kock: Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Mountain bike podcast where we get to know the personalities of people, the technicalities and the vibe around this wonderful sport of mountain biking and of course at this time of year, which is at the moment mid-summer, heading towards one of the biggest events on the international calendar, the ABSA Cape Epic in March.
I’m joined by a combination who make up one of the stronger South African teams we’ve had in the race for the last number of years, SCOTT Factory Racing LCB pair, Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns who have tasted success as stage winners and ABSA Africa jersey wearers and leaders. They are now heading into the Epic, perhaps with the same ambition but I’m going to start with Matthys. 2016, the red jersey is there, but are the sights set on an overall podium at some stage?
Matthys Beukes: Yes Gerald, as you said, the last three years we’ve won African jerseys, so we do realise we have to try and go for something a bit bigger. Last year we ended fifth overall, so not too far off the podium and that’s definitely something we are setting our sights on.
How to try get onto the Epic podium
GDK: What do you think you need to do differently to last year to make those couple of steps up?
MB: We’ve sort of always lost it, the time gap towards the podium, we’ve lost in the first two days. Just a bad day, just struggling to get the system going. But we’ve sorted that out now and last year me and Gert, we had a good start at another stage race, on day one and ja, we’ve sorted that out, so now we can start fast as well.
GDK: Let’s drill a little bit down into that. I mean what’s that about? Is that just sort of, how does that manifest itself in terms of going a little bit off the top pace early on?
MB: I don’t know if it’s really to do with your approach to the race, maybe nutrition or just mentally you’re a bit scared or intimidated. But what we’ve been doing lately is ja, just a little bit more riding and more intensity up towards the race. Also we’re more experienced now and we’re not really that much intimidated by the event anymore and we know we can go hard, our bodies will handle it.
GDK: Gert, you’ve experienced what it’s like to ride into the grand finale with huge crowds at the sharp end of the race and know that vibe. Do you think that’s part of getting over the intimidation and the nervousness, experiencing that? So you know what’s coming?
Gert Heyns: It definitely always helps if you know what’s going to happen or can at least know what to expect. Having done it before makes it a lot easier. Both previous times I was actually in the back-up team and once with Matthys, even as the back-up team, we could still win the African jersey. So now it’s easier to step onto the team, kind of team leaders and aim for a higher position.
GDK: Right, let’s move away, I’m going to delve into who and where you’re from. Gert, where did you grow up and what brought you to mountain biking?
How and where the guys grew up
GH: Grew up in George, it’s quite a nice location for mountain biking, the Garden Route. They have some nice single tracks there, enough peak climbs, mountains and Matthys is also not too far away, so always good if you can train together.
GDK: You’re big and strong, why wasn’t it rugby or something else, or was it rugby as well?
GH: I tried rugby, but I’m a bit too, I don’t know, a bit too scared for that maybe. As soon as I started cycling, I immediately enjoyed that, being in the outdoors and ja, it’s still speed and racing and it’s fun.
GDK: Where were you at school?
GH: Outeniqua High in George.
GDK: And were they happy for you to mountain bike?
GH: Yes, at that stage mountain biking wasn’t that big, it’s also quite a big rugby school but I think I was one of the first guys that really made it far with mountain biking. I think now it’s also growing within the school.
GDK: Matthys, your turn? Give us a quick pick of your early years?
MB: I basically grew up with three older brothers, way older than me. One of them also was a professional mountain biker and opened up a bike shop. So I basically grew up in his bike shop and then my parents moved down. Did my school in Oudtshoorn and lately moved over to George and married Michelle, my high school sweetheart and ja, just enjoying life there now.
GDK: Making a living out of mountain biking is a tough old thing, isn’t it?
MB: It is, but ag, with anything I’m sure, you have your better and your worse days, but it’s a passion and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
GDK: I tell you what, I’ve experienced your trails out the other side of Oudtshoorn there and that’s a passion for you as well, building trails?
MB: Yes, I’ve spent a few years working there on the trails on my parents farm and ja, it’s a very nice venue. There’s some nice chalets that people can come and visit and just ride the trails and have a good weekend. As I said, it’s just a passion, so whether it’s riding bikes or building trails, or watching a mountain bike DVD.
GDK: Come on, tell us where and where and what it is so people can go there.
MB: Africa-Inn, www.africa-inn.co.za.
GDK: And it is fantastic, the trails are amazing. In terms of, you’ve got an Epic now, are there other ambitions or is this the biggest thing for you guys this year Gert?
GH: It’s definitely our biggest goals, but there’s always other races as well. I think I’m going to be focusing more on marathons this year, so I’ll try and do as many of the Ashburton Investment Series as possible. Also a few cross country races as well because I really enjoy them.
The cross country problem
GDK: That cross country thing, it is the Olympic discipline and yet we are still a little bit behind where we would like to be in terms of getting riders doing cross country. How do you see that changing in this country, if at all?
GH: It’s very hard because it’s mainly based in Europe, so it costs a lot of money and it’s just getting more and more expensive to get there. But I think if you want to do well in cross country races, you have to be overseas most of the year and it’s not easy.
GDK: Cross country is also something you quite enjoy isn’t it Matthys?
MB: Ja, it’s basically my first love, but as Gert said, to be able to compete on a world cup circuit, you must be based overseas. I think it’s more a thing of confidence and just getting that exposure of racing on the world’s biggest circuit, week in and week out. It’s definitely not possible to do it out of South Africa, you have to go and live there for three years and ja, eventually you’ll get it right.
GDK: The South African psyche for these ultra-distance events and stage races is phenomenal and our appetite for them, people are queuing up to enter, not only Epic, but all the other races, I suppose that doesn’t help either because all the youngsters see that rather than cross country I suppose.
MB: It’s true, it’s actually a bit of a problem, Olympic games you’re going to get a medal at cross country, so ja, it’s maybe a little bit unfortunate. We’d definitely love to see more people attending cross country races. Cross country is actually a really beautiful sport, it’s high intensity, it’s exciting, it’s true racing and it’s technical. We definitely want to see more people joining and spectating.
GDK: Looking at the Epic over the years and the performance of the cross country races here, Christoph Sauser is a cross country world champion and multiple world cup winner, if you look at it that way, there’s not much between them, but is that perhaps not quite right, are those exceptional cases?
MB: I think for me personally, it’s anyone can go along, it’s just not everyone that can go as fast. So I think that’s where the difference lies between some of the top guys and definitely cross country helps for that.
GDK: Gert, tell us about Matthys, riding with him, you guys are obviously good friends but surely somewhere along, eight days and many hours of riding, you know, things get a bit hairy?
How they work as a team
GH: Yes, sometimes Matthys needs to just calm down because if the gun goes, he just wants to race all the time. Sometimes I think I should tell him a bit just to wait a bit because there’s still a long time left to make up the gap. Maybe I’m more of the strategic guy and he’s more the flat out from the gun guy.
GDK: Who rides in front?
GH: Matthys is quite strong on the flat, so he’s usually in front, but I think we’re quite equally matched.
GDK: In terms of the technical stuff, who goes up front there Matthys?
MB: It’s definitely Gert, he’s really good with choosing his lines and he rides a downhill very smartly and I’ve got full confidence in him. It’s actually very nice, we can go down a downhill I’ve never seen before and I can just do exactly what he does. I can sort of sit right on his wheel and we’ll be going faster than most teams, so it’s very nice.
GDK: Anything scare you when you go down there?
GH: No, I think it’s all predicting what’s going to happen and everything and we both recently got Enduro bikes, mountain bikes. I think then you also get used to the speed and it doesn’t scare you that much. You realise that it’s actually, you can actually stop, you’re not going too fast.
GDK: What scares Matthys?
GH: Nothing, I don’t know.
MB: Maybe my wife! No, I’m just kidding, it’s everything like Gert said, it’s not, we’re not going 120km down a downhill, maybe doing 60 or something. But it’s not that dangerous and most of all, we’re having a lot of fun. So in the moment, we might be going fast, it might be a bit hairy, but we’re having fun.
GDK: Good luck at this year’s ABSA Cape Epic, Matthys Beukes.
MB: Thank you very much.
GDK: And Gert Heyns.
GDK: They’re of team SCOTT Factory Racing LCB, going at this year’s ABSA Cape Epic and the rest of the year around South Africa, taking on the best that anyone can put forward. That is another edition of Old Mutual’s mountain bike podcast, join us again for yet more from this wonderful sport of mountain biking.