We chat to Cape Epic legend Stefan Sahm
29 February 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Mountain bike podcast, as ever, we’re talking this great sport of mountain biking of which there’s so much to talk about. So many people and personalities and over the years we’ve found that the international riders have come out to South Africa. Some of them have made South Africa their homes.
They come out here for training camps for two or three months in the summer when it’s not good weather in Europe. One of those who is now almost making his base in this country is Stefan Sahm, winner of the ABSA Cape Epic on four occasions. He’s joining me now on Old Mutual Mountain bike podcast. Stefan, thanks for joining us from Team Bulls, you’re not riding now full time, is that right?
A great career coming to an end
Stefan Sahm: That’s correct, I’ve recently resigned from the pro circuit. I’ve done this for 16 years now and I’m turning 40 this year. I thought maybe it’s the right time to move on, to do something else.
GDK: Sixteen years is a long time, 16 years ago professional mountain biking was perhaps in its infancy, it was still starting out. Did you think when you started out riding fulltime that you’d be here for this long?
SS: No, it’s such a hectic sport and lots of stuff can happen, like injuries. You don’t know, also you must try to earn some money because you have to pay the bills. It was a dream and it still is a dream come true and I’m quite happy how my career went.
GDK: You’ve had some great results and I suppose the ABSA Cape Epic came around at the right time for you, for Team Bulls, for Karl and the rest of the riders didn’t it?
SS: Absolutely, no one expected these things to happen, it was just the right time, the right team, the right partner. Everybody else that was involved with Bulls, with the company, ja, perfect timing. But I mean sometimes you need to have a little bit of luck.
Greatest Cape Epic moment
GDK: You did and you have had over the years haven’t you, in the ABSA Cape Epic. If you look back over those years, and you look at the race wins you had. So you look at one and say that was the most enjoyable or the best moment?
SS: All of the victories are special, all of the races actually. If you don’t win, they’re special. But the one that stands out is 2007, Karl and me, it was the first year with Bulls. It was the first year Karl and me was riding together and nobody really counted on us. We were like the underdogs and we managed to win the ABSA Cape Epic. It was very cool.
GDK: Just the dynamics of a team and we’ve chatted with various riders over the years about how the dynamics of working as a two-man team is so important, are you different personalities?
SS: I think the key to our success was first of all the friendship and then we are completely different people, actually quite opposite people. I’m more quiet and Karl is more outgoing. I think the one weakness is the other one’s strength and I think this made the combination of us so successful.
GDK: You’re now based pretty much in the Western Cape, is that right?
SS: That was right, I must say, I’m still crying a little bit. But I had to move back to Germany because I started a new job in the R&D department of Bulls. That means I have to be close by and at least in Europe. I enjoyed it so much and it was really one of the best years I ever had with the family, spending there in the Cape.
GDK: Sad, we won’t be seeing you riding around the trails there. But you started off, am I right, as a cross country racer?
SS: Ja, I think that’s the way every mountain biker should start. That’s long ago, that’s like 20 years ago I started cross country racing. Did the World Cup’s and all this and springs and short races. Cause that’s where you learn your technical skills and you develop your physical strength.
Racing in South Africa vs Europe
GDK: That brings us to the point about South Africa. We’ve got this overriding love of marathon stage races and long events. Perhaps not as technical and we think we’re really strong at that. We’ve got some great riders and yet when the Europeans come out here, they kick our backsides. Is it going back to that area where you grow up learning the skills? Are the formative years so important?
SS: I think the key thing to that is the competition and there’s far more competition in Europe. As a young South African rider, what you must do, you must go overseas. You must spend a summer season in Europe, which is the winter season in South Africa. Cause everything is so far away, ja, you tend to stay here. I mean it’s also expensive, but it’s worth the money and the experience you get through it.
GDK: Do you think some of the riders, I mean there are a lot of races here and a lot of quite lucrative stage races and the like. It’s almost quite easy to say, hang on, maybe I can earn a relatively decent living here, win some races and I’ll be happy and end up missing out on a chance to maybe make it at the top?
SS: Ja, I think for the older guys it’s maybe like that. There are so many cool races, fun races that are really enjoyable, especially in the Western Cape. It’s hard to think, why must I go. But for a young rider, you must try to find your limits, you must try to push your limits. For that you have to go and race with the best of the best and that’s the World Cup’s and stuff in Europe.
I mean the development of the youth is always the focus, the guys grow old and then what’s coming next? We kind of had the same problem in Germany as well a couple of years ago. But now they’ve put a lot of effort into developing the younger riders, junior riders and now it’s coming back.
Looking forward to the next stage
GDK: Let’s get to your current position now, I don’t suppose you have to wear a jacket and a tie, but a whole different world for you now. You’ve been sort of freelance in terms of the way you live your life. Now there’s perhaps a little bit more structure to it, but still within the cycling industry. It must make it just what you were looking for.
SS: Ja, I’m very happy with the decision of the retirement and with the job offer that I got from Bulls. It’s very cool and actually for now, it’s not a real difference. I travel with the team, I get to test and ride all the cool new stuff and do fun projects like the Epic on the eBike with 360 degree camera and all this stuff, it’s really cool.
GDK: Tell us about the eBike that Bulls have brought out.
SS: It’s actually since, three years now and some development made, some evolution on the way to how to store the battery and stuff. I also had like the first experience with the eBike like eight weeks ago and it’s just unbelievable the fun that you can have on the trails.
The thing is, it’s a pedal assist, so you have to pedal to get something out, but the power of the motor multiplies what you put in. Depending on the level of assistance that you can choose, you get, I don’t know how much out, up to 600 watts and all the flats, even going uphill, feels like going downhill.
I was racing up the Marino Monster trying to make up a gap of 12 minutes to the guys and I just missed Karl and Urs like by 500m. I was going maybe double or triple the speed, but my heart rate was also 160—170, so it’s really still a workout, but you travel at much higher speeds.
GDK: You’re not racing fulltime, but does this mean that you are still riding the bike? I mean the eBike in the Epic is one thing, but it must be in your blood and you’ll keep riding?
SS: Yes, mountain biking is my passion and I’ll never stop riding. The one thing I don’t do at the moment is training, so I just enjoy riding.
GDK: Quick few questions about this year’s cross country, I mean Absalon or Schurter, who for you is the better rider?
SS: That you can’t tell, that is really, everybody has his strength. Absalon might be the better climber, I think Nino is the most complete rider at the moment, that’s what makes him so strong. But never forget the other guys, all these guys, they are waiting, they’re hungry.
GDK: In the stage racing, marathon stage racing, who is the best team around at the moment?
SS: The best team around at the moment? This is hard to say. Of course Urs and Karl. I would say at the moment there are three teams that are really on the same level. It’s Urs and Karl, it’s Alban and Christian, and it’s Markus Kaufmann with Jochen Kaess, if they ride together.
GDK: Stefan, thanks very much for chatting to us, we will miss you back here in South Africa, but I think South Africa has got a bit of your heart there hasn’t it?
SS: Yes, it’s my second home, I keep coming back.
GDK: Stefan Sahm from Team Bulls, a four time ABSA Cape Epic winner with Karl Platt, he’ll be there at the ABSA Cape Epic this year riding an eBike with a 360 camera on his head. You’ll be able to see the images all over the world at some stage, so it’s fantastic. Thanks for joining us and this has been another edition of our Old Mutual mountain bike podcast.