Why Catherine Williamson just keeps coming back
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, once again chatting this wonderful sport of mountain biking where we meet so many people from this incredible sport. It brings together people from all walks of life and everyone has a story. Today we’re talking to a young woman who has made South Africa a bit of her second home in a way. Because Catherine Williamson spends quite a lot of time out in South Africa and has done recently.
Catherine welcome, thanks for joining us. You’re here now, you’ve spent quite a lot of time here in 2016 with the various races. How does it work? Do you plan these well in advance, or do they happen on the spur of the moment?
Catherine Williamson: No, coming to South Africa, we’ve got into a nice routine now. So we have our own business. So we kind of shut up shop between January and March, so we came out early January and then a few races came along.
Trans Cape came along and then the Epic was always there in the plan. Then I go home for a month and come back out, joBerg2c and Sani2c are always, if I’m fit, that I think is the favourite month and a half of the whole year. Because it’s two really good races, one month away from home and it’s something that’s always planned.
GDK: You’re from Yorkshire, did you grow up in Yorkshire?
CW: Yes, I grew up and live half an hour away from where I live now.
Getting into mountain biking
GDK: How did you start, I suppose cycling came first, but mountain biking.
CW: Triathlon came first and then moved into road cycling. Did a lot of years in Europe and then was about to stop cycling and got in touch with John Robertson. We started out when I joined him on the road over here. Did that for a few years, realised that it was a little bit boring. Just going and doing the odd road race every weekend. Someone lent me a bike, then started the mountain biking. Probably about seven years ago now, six or seven years ago. Started the mountain biking and then got hooked on the stage races.
GDK: In a way your mountain biking career began here?
CW: Yes, if I didn’t come out here, I wouldn’t have started the mountain biking because I wouldn’t have picked it up in the UK. We only do, there’s only really cross countries or 24 hours in the UK. Obviously when you come into mountain biking this late, your skills aren’t up to scratch for the cross country. Coming here, I discovered something, I was always better at the endurance side of things. Then discovered stage racing and the marathon events and so naturally just moved into that.
GDK: Did you have to have to make that adaption and do skills training?
CW: I more picked up the skills through races. I must admit, every time I do a race I think, I must go and have some skills training. I’m still yet to, I will do at some point go and have. Cause there’s certain things that I’m still lacking.
I can get down the single track, but not fast. Switchbacks I’m pretty useless at. So there’s definitely a lot, especially when you go and mountain bike in Europe, or somewhere where it’s a lot more technical. I’d like to, it would be nice to actually get down stuff without feeling so scared on the technical stuff. South Africa, it’s a lot more forgiving, it’s a lot more flowy and you can follow lines a lot easier.
What is your stage race riding preference?
GDK: You ride mixed quite a lot, what do you prefer, and solo, what’s your preference?
CW: I think I actually enjoy the mixed, I suppose I’m a bit biased because joBerg2c is my favourite race. If you’re riding women’s, it’s good fun, if you’re riding mixed it’s good. But the thing I like about the mixed is the girls, you get a certain bond between the girls that are riding mixed. Because you’re always out of your comfort zone. So you’re all suffering together.
But on the same half, you’re also getting help together as well. The women’s is a bit serious and it’s all cutting each other for the single track. The mixed, it’s a lot more chilled, well I mean it’s more intense almost. But the camaraderie between the mixed girls; you sit around, chat afterwards, have a laugh about how you felt. So I think I actually prefer the mixed.
GDK: You clearly have a very good understanding and relationship with your partner. Johan here, how important is that? We’ve seen some, other partners who explode badly, but you seem to have it really dialled in?
CW: Whoever I ride with, I try to be, you always have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. So if they’re having a bad day, you know; I’ve done enough racing with other people now to know exactly how it feels if you’re having a bad day.
Then you learn how it feels if you’re on the other foot. I think when you do this much stage racing with people, you kind of learn how you ride. I’ve never had anyone drop out on me yet. So I think I must be doing something almost right.
Riding all over the world
GDK: You’re also an overseas traveller and you explore the options to go and race as far and wide as possible. Tell us about some of the exotic places you’ve ridden.
CW: Yes, I’m bad at saying no to things. So opportunities come up and I’ll always say yes. Then start looking into the logistics. Every year I’ve tried to think, okay, I’m going to do some new adventures somewhere. I’ve done Mongolia, Oman, East Timor, which is near Indonesia, I’ve been to Canada, all sorts. But I found it’s the best way to see a country. Because you’re not going where normal tourists go and you’re with like-minded people.
So this year, just last week a girl from a race in Colombia invited me to race. I said, oh, it would be great. But I’ve got to try and get out there. No, no, she said, the organiser will pay for everything. When you’ve got the opportunity like that, you can’t say no. So now July is a planned trip to Colombia. I went to the Himalaya’s as well and they’ve invited me back as well. Hopefully before the end of the year I’ll have ticked off Colombia, and India again.
GDK: Husband Rob is at home isn’t he?
CW: He is, yeah, he’s working, but he knows I do this. He knows this is the thing I love doing. So he’s very supportive. He gets to come out to South Africa three months of the year as well.
What is it that captures you?
GDK: You love doing it and there’s no question you must love doing it. Because you seem to be enjoying all the rides you do. What is it that captures you?
CW: I think it’s a whole mixture of things. I think it’s the challenge that you put on yourself. I’m not a massively competitive person with other people. But I like to be competitive with myself. You do nine days of riding and you learn so much more about yourself. So that’s nice. You go through highs and lows.
But then I think the favourite thing I like about stage racing is afterwards when everyone is sitting around chatting. Night time, they put on a good show and you laugh about the day. It’s when you finish a stage race and go home and it’s quiet. That’s when you realise how much you’ve enjoyed the last week or nine days or however long it is.
GDK: It’s also quite busy here, the start is approaching on the stage at the Sani2c. But just quick, Catherine, you’ve had great achievement. You’ve had ABSA Cape Epic podiums and wins, you’ve had Cape Pioneer, joBerg2c and so on, I mean how important is winning to you?
CW: To be honest, it’s not the most important thing, I don’t think. I think I’ve got to get more of an enjoyment factor out of it. A sense of achievement than actually winning. We didn’t win joBerg2c, but it was probably the best nine days of racing that we’ve had. I didn’t finish disappointed.
Because we knew, we put everything out there on the table, so there’s nothing left. I think the only frustrating time is maybe if you lose and you’ve wasted time at a water point or you’ve had an easy day. So I’m not one that if I don’t win I’m doom and gloom for the next week or so.
Every year now is just a bonus
GDK: Do you have any ambitions, any great hopes for doing something, achieving something in the future in the sport?
CW: To be honest, no, I won the Epic and I’m never going to get to the Olympic Games. I’m passed that age where every year now is a bonus. I sort of think, I’m so lucky to be able to still come out here and race. I think my aim is more to see as much as I can. While I’ve got the opportunity and the fitness to go out there and do these races.
GDK: Catherine, it’s fantastic having you back here every year, you bring a great sense of enjoyment and thrill to the events. We hope we see you coming back here year in and year out still.
CW: I hope so.
GDK: Sorry, you have a liking for the Garden Route as well, haven’t you?
CW: Yeah, we’ve both fallen in love with Knysna area. We’re not making plans, it’s kind of a pipe dream yet. But one day we are hoping to maybe keep something in the UK, but definitely spend a lot more time out in that area, definitely. It’s such a, we both decided we can never do a full winter back in the UK, it’s not going to happen. We’re very lucky we’ve got very good friends that we stay with, to have our own place out here would be very special.
What do you do back home?
GDK: Riding at home, what sort of riding are you doing there?
CW: Very good road riding, we’ve lots of lanes and we have a good group that goes out on a weekend. Now summer is coming actually, the trails are dry. I don’t touch the trails off road through the winter, it just ruins your bike. But coming up to now, when it gets a bit drier, we do a lot of night rides off into the Yorkshire moors.
Later on the heather goes purple and it’s pretty beautiful. It would be nice if there was more races over there, but there isn’t. I generally chill out a bit more in the summer. I explore a lot of trails and sit in lots of cafes, well, I work as well actually.
GDK: Tell us about your work?
CW: We’ve got a family printing business, so my father in law is an artist. We have his water colour images, so Rob frames them up. I put the images onto mugs and coasters and we go and do a lot of agricultural shows now. We’ve moved the business away from trade orders so much and moved more into Christmas markets. So then for the whole idea really, that we can close up shop between January and March and come and ride our bikes.
GDK: Organising your life around your passion isn’t it?
CW: Yeah, there’s a fine balance. We’re never going to be rich. We’re both the same, we don’t worry too much about our future. We might end up homeless, but as long as we enjoy our time now, we’re fine.
GDK: It’s a lovely philosophy. Catherine, thanks for chatting and enjoy and good luck for all the endeavours in the future.
CW: Thank you, hopefully I’ll be back soon.
GDK: Catherine Williamson from Yorkshire and another wonderful international rider who has found a mountain biking spiritual home right here in South Africa, long may it continue. Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, until next time, cheers.