The Paul Roos Gymnasium MTB team
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast where all matters mountain biking are considered, discussed, debated and learnt about. Because that’s after all what this is about. There’s so much to talk about and so much to find out about this great sport and it takes us outdoors, which is where we’re sitting as you can probably hear now. The birds are tweeting, we’re in the mountains in Stellenbosch and it is a beautiful place to be, most often on your bike.
It’s in this sort of environment that many of the bright young stars of South African mountain biking cut their teeth, through the schools. Not many schools take it as seriously as Paul Roos Gymnasium here in Stellenbosch, who have a very active mountain bike and cycling club. Have produced some of the finest young riders; Stephan Senekal, Matthew Lombardie amongst them. Who have made great strides once they’ve left school and have great potential to reach the highest level. A man who runs the sport at Paul Roos Gymnasium is Ben Puddu, who teaches in the mornings there, what do you teach there Ben?
Ben Puddu: Technology and engineering, graphics and design.
GDK: I take it it’s not a problem, not a hassle for you to go riding with the kids?
BP: Not at all, it’s a pleasure to do that. It’s just such a blessing to be able to ride with them and coach them a bit.
GDK: How many kids have you got now? We’re talking 2016, how many are active in the cycling environment here?
BP: Taking part in the local competitions, we’ve got about 50 kids riding every weekend races. We’ve got about 40 kids attending each coaching session three times a week.
GDK: Paul Roos has got a great reputation producing sportsmen across the board, is mountain biking a standalone sport that a boy can choose?
BP: Yes, I tried about two years ago to get it flat out a sport where they have to choose a winter sport and cycling is part of that. Mountain biking has formed part of that, so they can choose mountain biking as one of the winter sports.
How the department works
GDK: When the kids come there, the cyclists, I would take it that some of them arrive there already pretty handy cyclists. But have you got others who arrive and they’re not quite sure where they pick up a bike and you guide them into it?
BP: Yes, we start off with, I get everybody together at the beginning of the year to get the numbers and the information about each kid. Then basically what we do, we have a trial race and there I, myself and the coaches can categorise the kids. Their skill level and the fitness level. Whether they are Grade 8’s which wants to start and have fun.
Then we put them in that group and whether they are advanced, then they fall into that category. The seniors are obviously more advanced and then some of the juniors that are very well-developed like Kriege van der Vyver or whoever, one of the youngsters. He will fall into the advanced group and he will get pushed by the seniors much more in the training rides.
GDK: So there’s something for everyone and there are obviously categories and races across the Western Cape. Some of you mentioned Kriege, he’s one of those who does go race the national events as well. Does the school then support their efforts to go and ride round nationally?
BP: That is obviously what we try to achieve. At the moment we don’t have the finances to be able to do that, but locally we try and support them as much as possible. The more sponsors we have on board, the more possible the tours could be. In 2016 we, for instance, got a Title sponsor for the mountain biking and Contigo climbed on board. That’s the first big step towards a more professional outfit of a team at the school.
Mountain biking rivalries are developing
GDK: The Western Cape has quite an active school set-up, I know that when you have that annual derby with Grey College. Mountain biking is very much a part of that, isn’t it?
BP: Yes, we usually race against them, a proper cross country race in different age categories. In total 12 kids riding. That’s a proper derby and it’s very good to watch.
GDK: As a parent and cycling is something that parents often give to their kids and they learn from their parents, they think this is a cool sport. Then the parents want to tell them how to do it, of course. But now they’re riding for the school and they’ve got yourself and coaches involved there. Is that part of the balancing act, saying to the parents: Don’t worry, we’ll guide them here?
BP: Basically what we do is, with the coach, the beginner group we teach the boys different skills. Like for instance, bunny hop, the guys in the beginners group don’t know how to go over a little hole. So the coach goes and stops and shows them how to do a bunny hop. Then we go onto berm riding and we do different things and jumps and whatever they want to do. So we fill their skill-set up with development.
The advanced group, it’s a bit more different. Basically the advanced group is guys that have coaches, they’ve got training programmes. We basically just want to bond the team together. It’s basically just a training ride together, having fun together and getting to know each other’s weaknesses and strengths and helping each other.
The challenge for me is to stay with them and try to stimulate the kids individually to keep coming back, otherwise they’re going to fall away. Luckily this year, and last year, we’ve stimulated the boys enough to develop the skill-set.
Earning a reputation as a top MTB school
GDK: Has it come to a stage where Paul Roos has developed the reputation, it has a great reputation as a rugby school of course, so has Grey College and so on. But are they developing a reputation at school, where parents with talented young mountain bikers say, Paul Roos is the place to go?
BP: I believe so and obviously the results speak for themselves. The more results we get, the more the sponsors will come on board and the more the parents will bring their kids to the school. It’s exactly the same principle as hockey, as rugby, as golf, as all the other sports that Paul Roos gives to the kids.
GDK: Cross country is obviously the focus for the kids isn’t it?
BP: Yes, we focus on cross country. Because I’m a firm believer in, if you can ride cross country, you can ride different disciplines, but that’s where it all starts.
GDK: At the moment in your crop of 2016, some talent there?
BP: Massive talent. We’ve got a couple of u19 boys that are showing massive talents. Then we’ve got our u15 group that is very, very talented. You’ll see some of those in the near future.
GDK: Within a gentle stroll from Paul Ross is a national cross country course which is challenging, if you take all the A lines. Is that part of your training area?
BP: That is actually our coaching field, yes, so we basically warm-up on the way there and we do a couple of warm-up laps. Then they basically train on the track, that’s where we practice.
Getting the mentality right
GDK: As I said, it’s challenging, there are a lot of people walking around still with painful collar bones, shoulders and arms from accidents there, pretty handy riders as well. Do those guys, I know they challenge each other competitively in races, but does that bonding element that you were talking about get them to overcome fears and difficulties?
BP: Yes, they obviously go out, not only with the practice rides with the school. They go alone as friends because they’ve become good friends together. They go and practice the things that they find difficult and they learn from each other. That is the best way, basically, to learn these skill-sets.
GDK: It is an individual sport though, in essence, cycling, which in some school environments is contrary to the ethos. They want to have a team and the bonding thing. I know you talk about the bonding thing, but it’s still an individual thing, how do you maintain that?
BP: I agree with you that it’s an individual sport, but I believe also that the kids need to learn how to be in a team, for the development of an adolescent. The Spur League basically has brought that to the party. Where we can practice a team event or a team sport within mountain biking. We don’t force the kids to do lots of races together, we basically brought in the National Mountain Bike Series, the Nissan Trailseeker this year and the Spur Series. Those are the two team events that we do as a team together, the rest is individual.
GDK: It’s an amazing programme that you’re getting going there and I suppose it’s 40-50 strong at the moment. I sense it can only get bigger in this environment because the sport just seems to be going that way?
BP: Let’s hope so, the more the merrier. The more to choose from and the more difficult the job becomes, more challenging. The more difficult to choose the best team because at the end of the day, maximum 15 boys in a team. So it’s a nice challenge to have and a nice headache, but it’s awesome working with the kids.
GDK: The tougher your rides are going to become.
BP: Oh yes, it keeps me on my toes!
Inter-schools competition is coming
GDK: You’ve got the Spur and you’ve got the Trailseeker Series, but inter-schools, when you compete directly with another school or other schools, have you got anything in the pipeline with that?
BP: Yes, Gerald, my big vision and dream, all along is to develop the kids and the local races that we are racing in at the moment doesn’t cover that little gap in-between the local races and the national league of cross country. I’ve always had this little dream of, like rugby, with inter-schools where different schools play against local or our school. I would like that to happen, be realised with mountain biking.
I’ve had this thing in my head to have a proper cross country race within schools where you invite schools, but you need finances to back you with that. Obviously, because you don’t want the schools to pay to come race the race because it’s inter-schools.
Luckily this year we are starting an inter-schools races the 24th of September, it’s called the Bestmed Paul Roos Inter-Schools XEO and Relay Event. It’s on National Braai Day, it’s hosted at Coetzenburg by the cross country national track. We are inviting all the, or most proper schools, cycling schools in the Western Cape and nationally where they will bring 15 of their best riders all over in their school. It is free of charge for them to come race against us. It’s a proper cross country in the schools event.
GDK: That sounds an amazing development and perhaps the forerun of similar things to come around the country perhaps, one of the other schools up country elsewhere will take it up?
BP: Let’s hope so, that is obviously my dream that more and more schools have this. What we are starting and then it doesn’t necessarily have to make money. I want the development in the sport and that’s the only way you’re going to develop the kids, is by repeating the advanced skill-sets.
GDK: That’s amazing, obviously Paul Roos is going to have a little bit of an advantage, training as they do on that course.
BP: Yes, well, there’s amazing kids out there, so let’s hope we have a bit of an advantage. But at the end of the day, it’s for the boys, it’s all about development.
GDK: 24th of September it is.
BP: Yes, it starts early in the morning with a relay event for the parents, to draw the parents in. Teams of four, four laps and then after that we will have the cross country, u14, u15, u16 and u19.
GDK: It sounds amazing, it’s mountain biking as it should be, developing and moving forward at school level. Paul Roos are setting the trend here, certainly in the Western Cape and arguably around the country as well, great to hear. Ben Puddu, thanks for joining us. A man with a passion for the sport, he rides with the kids, he teaches the kids in the morning and guides them on their mountain bikes through the afternoon.
Perhaps a next crop of our fine young mountain bikers will be coming out of Paul Roos. I hope you enjoyed that and if you did, download again. Because there’s plenty more wonderful topics and facets of this great sport of mountain biking to chat about on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. Until next time, cheers.