The evolution of South Africa’s Caveman
08 October 2016
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Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, I’m Gerald de Kock. It’s great to have you listening to what it is that we chat about and it obviously has to do with mountain biking because that’s what this podcast is all about. It’s a wonderful sport, an opportunity to get out and explore our wonderful trails in South Africa. There are so many, so many events as well.
Today we’re going to meet a personality from the world of endurance sport and it’s a broad term because this man is arguably one of South Africa’s finest ever multi-sport athletes. He’s an Olympian in the triathlon, he’s a multiple Xterra World Champion, he’s won pretty much everything there is to win in that sport and many others.
His name is Conrad Stoltz, who is no longer competing. He’s now in, if I could say retirement, if there is such a thing for any sportsman, particularly like Conrad. He’s involved in a coffee shop, a café called The Caveman Café, which is your nickname.
Conrad, thanks for joining us, lovely café you’ve got here. You are sitting here on a cool winters day just outside Stellenbosch at the headquarters of the main shop Specialized here in Stellenbosch. A little uncomfortable, I said retired, I did bump into you at Jonkershoek going out for a ride on Saturday. Didn’t end very well I’m afraid, did it?
Conrad Stoltz: Yes, Gerald, I took a bit of a tumble on Sunday. Like you said, I retired in September last year from professional racing, after 23 years of racing professionally. I always knew when you race professionally, you have to limit risks and that’s what I did.
I tried to not take risks in training or in racing you obviously take some risks, but not unnecessarily. When I retired I looked forward to being able to take risks that normally I wouldn’t have taken as an athlete. I was looking forward to mountain biking and getting into serious trail riding, just for fun, active lifestyle, challenge myself technically and so on.
Retirement has afforded me a chance to take risks
That’s what I’ve been doing the last couple of months. I’ve been competing in some enduro races and I just came back from the Alps Epic. Which is a six-day trail race in the French Alps, which was fantastic. Then Sunday I went riding with a friend in Jonkershoek and we did the very challenging plumber. Which is the black line in Jonkershoek.
I took a bike that I haven’t ridden in a month or two, the Specialized Enduro. It’s a very short bike, very short chain stays and I came off quite a big rock drop. Where you ride onto this big rock, then you drop through the air a little bit before landing at the bottom.
I just had too much bodyweight on the back wheel and as I landed, the bike started running from under me, so it basically wheelied from under me. Then I landed with backside on quite a big rock. Fortunately, it was a round rock, not many rocks in Jonkershoek are round. But it’s pretty hard to miss any rocks, especially on that second section of the Plumber, it’s very rocky.
I landed on this rock, I missed the sharp one next to it, which I’m fortunate about. But I was still sliding and I knew that this is not good. In 2007 I crashed in Lake Tahoe. I went over the bars and landed on my head and I compressed three of my vertebrae and broke my wrist at the same time.
So, I’ve got experience with a compression fracture and that’s what happened to my back again. One of the vertebrae compressed. I’m not 100% sure how many percentages it’s been compressed and my coccyx is quite painful. Also I had a hole in my backside that they had to stitch, so I’m pretty uncomfortable sitting over here.
A life of riding a bike in some form or an other
GDK: Right, let’s go to mountain biking and what role, it’s obviously a key role in your career as an athlete, but how much of it and how much did you have to do. Let’s go back to the beginning, did it come first, mountain biking?
CS: Strictly speaking, yes actually. When I was in primary school I literally did every single sport I could. I went judo, tennis, rugby, cricket, track and field, pretty much every sport I could do, including BMX racing, which I loved.
It was back in the 80’s and BMX was booming back then. So I did some BMX racing at Back of the Moon up in Pretoria way back. It’s not mountain biking but yes, I did grow up on bicycles. I loved bicycles from a very early age. When the first mountain bikes came out, I did have one of those old, big mountain bikes with the triple chain rings. But then when I became professional road triathlete and I started taking road triathlon seriously at the age of 16/17,
I sold my motocross bike and I sold my mountain bike and just focused on road triathlon. So, there was a big gap and I think it’s a formative time especially. Because one learns skills better when you’re young. I think if you’re u20, round about 28 or even 18 years of age, there’s signs shows that that’s the best time to learn skills.
During that period there, I was learning swimming, road cycling and running as opposed to mountain biking. When I came across XTERRA at the age of 28 and I took up mountain biking seriously again, in hindsight, I was a fast mountain biker. They all think I’m fearless and I’ve got all these skills and so on, but there was a 10 or 15-year gap where I didn’t mountain bike and I didn’t learn the skills.
If I look at the riders around me now, the young kids who, I mean here in Stellenbosch, Steph Senekal and Matt Lombardi and those kids. You see what they do, with the skills they have on the mountain bikes, it’s tough, they learn early on.
Can you ride without racing?
GDK: Now your competitive/serious career is over, you say you’re getting into endure. Can you get onto a start line and just ride?
CS: Yes, I do. I’m not sure if anyone can do it, but I’ve had a fantastic career and I’m very satisfied with the career I had. I’ve done everything I wanted to do in terms of racing. I don’t feel that I need to prove myself or to achieve anything in terms of results.
Fortunately, I really loved the sport I did and that’s what I’m just bringing forth now. I go to an enduro, I don’t care about the results really. Realistically, even if I tried, I wouldn’t be competitive because those guys, they come from that kind of background. So I barely even look at results afterwards and it’s just a point of interest.
I’m actually quite a cautious rider and I try not to go beyond my skills or beyond my confidence. I do ride just for fun. My training, especially now with the couple of businesses I’m running, my training is really suffering. Some weeks I only ride 30km in a week. I’ve really let go of all my performance aspirations.
GDK: Enduro is a nice area to go to isn’t it now?
CS: I really enjoy enduro, it’s a fantastic format because you don’t need the incredible fitness you need for cross country racing. For a rider, like of decent skill level and if I do a stage race, say I wanted to do Wines2Whales, obviously I excel at the technical parts. I would like to be close to the front where I wouldn’t be held up by slower riders.
But then to get to the technical parts, you need to be really fit and really light. I’m 90kg, I’ve picked up 5kg in retirement. So I’m 90kg now and for me to get to the single track, close to the front or amongst the good riders is going to require many hours of training. I don’t have time for that training.
The enduro’s create, the start, there’s no gun at the start. You just start riding slowly and easily and you can climb as fast or as slow as you want and you can start whenever you want. You get to the top and you can put your knee pads on and you can wipe the sweat and take a drink. When you’re ready, you do the time downhill section. Then there’s usually four or five different time sections, so you climb up again and there’s a lot of banter and the atmosphere is very laid back.
Some of the guys are competitive, but there’s always a lot of banter going on. You spend three or four hours riding maybe just 25km or 30km, but I enjoy it and I think it’s more sustainable cause the downhill, for downhill racing you need a shuttle. The riding is quite extreme where this is, there’s no shuttling and the courses are fantastic. I mean Welvanpas, Helderberg, Contermanskloof, Jonkershoek, you can ride fantastic locations without having to shuttle.
Have my two Epic’s under my belt
GDK: This might not be the right time to ask you this, sitting here rather uncomfortably with your injuries, but do you see maybe in a few years’ time you getting into doing stage races. There’s that race that happens around the Cape every March, the Epic and those sort of things, is that on your Bucket List?
CS: Actually I’ve done two Cape Epics, I did 2005 and 2006 back in the days when we rode from Knysna. People always ask: Have you done the Epic? I say I’ve done two, which is one too many! I did enjoy the Epic, I rode it with Barry Poe, he was a top level age group rider at the time.
So for me I didn’t, physically didn’t have to really over extend myself because that time is the beginning of the European season and the American season. So I didn’t want to race it too hard, so it was a fantastic experience in terms of the enormity of the race and the incredible places you go.
That race takes you places where you would normally never ever go. The camping, I really enjoyed the camping part of the Epic, I’m quite big into camping. I did enjoy that very much but I think after all the years of all the training and all the suffering; I’m not into the long distances and the long hours you need for training.
I’m really passionate about the more technical aspect of the sport and I enjoy going up to three hours. But after three hours I want to sit down and have a beer and relax a little bit. I noticed the Epic is getting more and more technical every year, but I still think it’s something I’d maybe pass on.
GDK: Tell us about The Caveman Café here.
The Caveman Café
CS: So Caveman Café came about as a big surprise, I never thought I would open a coffee shop. But when Specialized built this very unique shop here, I’m not sure what it’s called, it’s not a Concept Store. It’s one of its kind in the world really. I was just retiring and I got the offer to own the coffee shop here. We’re under the same roof and we have the same door and we’re family. I’ve been with Specialized since 2001, so it’s 16 years that we’ve been together. So we literally are family.
So it’s a great opportunity and like I said, I’ve never made a coffee in my life. So I had quite a learning curve, it was quite steep, but I was very fortunate in terms of the staff. Like with, we got Wian-David Slabbert who is a 20-year-old, wants to be a professional road cyclist. We were donated Wian by Deluxe Coffee in Stellenbosch –
GDK: He’s a barista isn’t he?
CS: Yes, sorry, he’s a very good barista. He’s got a number of years of experience and we started with him and we were very lucky to get young cyclists come forward and put up their hand and say we want to work. So we’ve had Adi van der Merwe who is probably South Africa’s one of South Africa’s top five downhill racers, he’s in Europe at the moment.
So we had to find someone new to replace him and somehow it seems like the employees are all, come from a cycling background or a love for cycling. It’s a fantastic way, I feel, to employing athletes is driven and they take responsibility.
GDK: This shop is incredible, and they’ve got an incredible range of bikes, so I’m going to ask you our last question. Pick a bike here, you’ve got one bike to ride for three hours out of this whole shop here, what would you ride out with?
My ultimate Specialized ride
CS: Sitting here, the Specialized Levo, it’s the electric mountain bike with the three inch tyres. I think my retirement came exactly at the right time, it’s just when I got tired of suffering and training, they bring out a bike that puts out 500 watts. It’s, like I said, it’s got big suspension and big tyres.
I haven’t ridden the bike myself, actually I’ve just read a lot of reviews on it, but my name is on the list and hopefully with the next shipment mine comes in. I think the eBike is going to change the industry in a very big way.
It’s going to make cycling more accessible for many people, like my wife. I could go ride together, if she has a Levo and I’m on a normal bike, we’d be able to ride together. You’d be able to cover more terrain, if you only have an hour or two to ride, you’d be able to cover much more terrain.
Some people bash it, but I think there’s a place for eBikes and it’s a very exciting time in cycling. Considering that when I started we wore a leather strip helmet and we had toe clips, our shoes, the cleats were nailed to the soles of the shoes and how things have changed.
GDK: How they have changed because I tell you what, here on the Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast you would have never ever have heard Conrad Stoltz, one of the toughest, hardest men in the world of sports say five years ago that he’d choose an electric bike out of the shop! Life’s good for you now, which is wonderful to see.
CS: Yes, Gerald, I’m very fortunate. We have a 14-month-old baby girl, Zena and it’s probably one of the best things. Well, it’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life, looking back at everything I’ve done, is having a little girl like that. Such a fantastic family here in Stellenbosch, life really couldn’t be better, despite sitting here with a sore back, I’m just really thankful for the way things have gone.
GDK: May Lisa look after you and Zena well and thanks for chatting to us, Conrad Stoltz.
CS: Thank you very much.
GDK: Conrad Stoltz, one of South Africa’s all-time great triathletes, multi-sport athletes and one of the all-round great guys in South African sport. Talking to us here at his own Caveman Café at the Specialized shop in Stellenbosch. Pop in here, enjoy his coffee, if he doesn’t make it, don’t feel too bad because Wian makes a great coffee here as well.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast here on the Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, and if you did, download once more. Until then, ride safely, ride with a smile, it’s always good to see happy smiling faces on the mountain bike. Until then, cheers.