• Venue: Verbier - Grimentz (SUI)
  • Date: 19 August 2017
  • Distance: 125km
  • Climbing: 5025m
  • Position: 16th
  • Time: 6h43

This was already the 28th edition of the Grand Raid! It must be one of the oldest marathon races in Europe, and also one of the most spectacular, hardest and special events.

Starting in the famous ski village of Verbier, the route follows along the mountains in the Valais region of Swiss to finish in Grimentz, after what I would call a pretty solid suffer session!

Apart from the kilometres, climbing, lovely area and expensive Verbier cappuccino's, what also makes this event special is that you can do shorter versions of the race, each starting closer to the finish, and the riders starting in Verbier gets so much respect, a warning call of "Verbier!" will always see the riders jump out the way and cheer you on with "Bon Courage!". And then there is the walk over the Pas de Lona... the top of the last climb force you off the bike for a 1km push gaining 300m altitude. I tell you, it is 20-minutes of agony, but so great with hundreds of people cheering you on to reach the top at 2800m altitude.

A big thank you to friend Michael Creedon for offering me and my 2 supporters the opportunity to stay in his apartment in Verbier. It gave us the chance to go a few days earlier and with that a day of playtime in the Verbier Bikepark. Pete, our team mechanic, was my trail-guide and showed me the best lines and I had to limit myself not playing the whole day long and murder my shoulders and arms making them useless for the race on Saturday ;)

I did not have my best race ever, also not my worst, and after sucking along the main group af 15 or so racers over the first climb, I had to let go and ride my own pace for this brutal race when we starting hitting some rolling terrain after an hour and a bit. From there I just kept my tempo climb after climb to finish in 6h43. I must admit a did go through a bad patch after a super silly crash going down a wet asphalt pass and a few days after the race while writing this, still struggling with a uncomfortably swollen leg.

This was my last race after 3 months in Europe, for sure one of my favourites, and made even more special this year with some great support from my Topeak Ergon Team, Pete and Torsten at the race. Even though I am not one of the team race winning bullets, it is heartwarming to get such fantastic support from the team!

Now for some mountain hiking training for next year!

 

 

  • Venue: Melchsee-Frutt (SUI)
  • Date: 23 Jul - 3 Aug 2017
  • Distance: 586km
  • Climbing: 15713m
  • Position: Training
  • Time: 27h40

I was very fortunate to visit this tranquil spot very close to the middle point of Swiss for a second time this year, this time however I was joined by my teammate, Kristian Hynek, to add a little bit of spice to my days up the mountain. Like with everyone in our team, Kris and I built up a lasting friendship, and it is so easy to live with either of our staff or team members, well... maybe JB is a little bit unorthodox, but he makes up for it in abundance with his charm and entertainment ;)

Apart from the apartment resting just below 2000 altitude meters, it is the opportunity to focus on all aspects that makes these camps so worth while for me, and off course the climbing, a  shortfall in my racing arsenal but I get to do so much of that here and it showed in my climbing improvement this year.

So great to have the opportunity to stay here! Thank you Barti for the super kindness!

 

 

 

 

  • Venue: Ischgl (AUT)
  • Date: 5 August 2017
  • Distance: 79km
  • Climbing: 3800m
  • Position: 15th
  • Time: 4h27

Luckily this race do not come as a surprise for me anymore having participated in 2012 and 2013, but for any newcomers, the two big climbs on the second loop is a real eye opener! Well... maybe not for the boys who live amongst these mountains, but for sure for sure for an African Savana Lion ;)

The Ironbike starts and finishes in Ischgl, very well known for some wild parties and skiing during the winter months, but no party for us this week! The 79km is split into two loops, the first with a mere 800m of climbing and two 'small' climbs. Small is relative as both these climbs are almost like doing two Franschhoekpasses to put it into terms for my Saffa colleagues. The second loop is were the fun and business really starts with two crazy big and steep climbs. Both rising above 2800m with a total of 1500m altitude gain for the first and 1100m for the second.

After two great weeks up in Melchsee-Frutt with Kristian full of focus and bike riding, somehow it never really felt like I was getting into racing mode in the days leading up to this race. It also clearly showed in the start of the race feeling somewhat lethargic, but halfway up the first monster climb I slowly started to get into my stride and caught quite a few riders moving into 8th, but on the first part of the trail I spotted Alban with a mechanical, too bad as he was riding strong in the small second group chasing Kris, we quickly swopped wheels and he set off to catch back to 6th, while I took a slightly calmer approach to the finish after loosing time fixing the puncture.

Kris had an absolute stormer! It looks like the altitude training and climbing did the trick as he seized the lead up the first big climb and never looked back, winning the race with just over four minutes to Porro in 2nd and Kaufmann in 3rd. Another great weekend with the team and staff! Thank you Ischgl and the event organizers for looking after us so well, it is always such a pleasure when invited and events makes the top riders feel welcomed and creating role models!

Video  | Event Summary

Pictures  |  TVB Paznaun - Ischgl

 

  • Venue: Mayrhofen (AUT) - Riva del Garda (ITA)
  • Date: 15-22 July 2017
  • Distance: 545km
  • Climbing: 18'000m
  • Position: 6th
  • Time: 23h27

Soon after arriving in Mayrhofen, I joined the boys for a coffee in the beautiful town, when the news was broken to us, Alban is still suffering the effects of some damaged ribs and the team will be shuffled around with Kris and JB racing together, and Alban teaming up with me in a supportive roll.

Sad to say, but the Transalps is not one of my favourite races… Firstly because there is often a lot of asphalt roads, almost always a minimum of half the stages. Secondly the long climbs just gets boring, climbing for and hour or more is just not that entertaining, so thank goodness for hairpins! Thirdly I do not think it is safe since often we also descent on these asphalt or small roads and cars or tractors going up is career-ending crash waiting to happen. And lastly I feel the organisation is not up to scratch for a top level bike race with lacklustre route markings, no clear rules and no photo finish offered.

So why do we do this race? It is the oldest stage race in Europe and even though the media is not incredibly big, it gets lots of attention for our sponsors. It is absolute incredible in the Alps! Some might be used to it, but for an African, a Dutchie or a hobby-rider it must still be one of the best experiences with the amazing views. And my personal biggest reason to do this race, well, actually any stage race, is to join our fantastic team for a journey, laughs and a fun time!

I worked hard for this one, especially after suffering last year for various reasons, so wanted to get the weight down and work on the climbing. It was good choose to skip other invitations this year and go up the mountain for my climbing-camp. It seemed to have worked as I was really close to the leaders and got stronger and more confident in my abilities throughout the week, so super happy to end off the week in 6th overall position!

It worked really well racing with Alban! We had a nice strategy of not over-exerting ourselves and ride a smart race from start to finish. I only have compliments for the three-time-World-Champ. It was nice of him to step down after not feeling 100% and give JB a chance. It was nice that he wanted to race with me. With no 2-minute rule at the Transalps, he also made sure he was with Kris and JB for some assistance when the pace got just too hot for me. It was a special and motivational experience!

Kris and JB had a very good race and especially for JB who took the opportunity that was offered to him and suffered to hang on too some of the best climbers in mountain biking, was great to see, even inspirational, and a solid consistent race saw them 3rd overall and on the podium in Riva!

Also on the podium was our friend and partner from Canyon, Julien Biefang, who placed 2nd in the mixed category with Stefanie Dohrn!

As always, thank you so much to our supporters and staff! In a week-long stage race like this, everyone is working super hard, and great to always have smiles and good spirits around us. How lucky are we with great staff!

Images | Markus Greber | Miha Matavs | Sportograf

Video | Transalps Report

 

  • Venue: Singen, Germany
  • Date: 25 June 2017
  • Distance: 97km
  • Climbing: 2300m
  • Position: 86th
  • Time: 3h41

It's always a honour and good feeling to start the World Championships! This year it formed part of the Hegau Mountain Bike Marathon in Singen, far in the south of Germany.

Compared to my previous participations in the World Champs, most of our team only arrived on the Friday before the event with Alban and Kris already well acquainted with the event, doing two laps of 49km and the untechnical nature of the event, it was not that necessary to do a detailed pre-ride of the course. I did however manage one lap of the route for my pre-race warmup.

The route was fast! It would be a race of attrition, who will be able to hang on to the pace will have a chance of victory. The route did not really have much flat sections, but constantly changed between going up and down. Some of the short climbs were steep and must have tested the durability of Alban's chain to the max! The biggest climb came halfway through the loop climbing about 150 vertical meters in 1,1km.

As I crossed the line our team staff stormed at me and I instantly knew something big happened and goosebumps formed all over my skin! Alban was World Champion!! Winning the race in a three way sprint, it was his fourth victory in this race, he knows how to win it, and can you believe it, he did it! It was a big victory for him and the XCM racers, Alban wasn't high on the bookie list after a rather mediocre start to his year, with the XCO and CX racers the biggest talking point, but so impressed our captain showed what he is made off, even better two more XCM racers Ferreira and Geismayr joining him on the podium.

For me it was a very disappointing day of racing. A race like this comes once a year and every last starter would like to get the most and his best performance out of it, and I know it was simply not my best for my current form. I direct comparison can be made with good legs last weekend racing on something similar, but my legs were so blocked and burning for this race, to keep the power over all the climbs was just not possible. I hanged in the front group of maybe 50 or 60 till a congested section after 12km got us walking and just broke everything in pieces, from there I was more than two minutes back and the legs just going slower and slower.

Kristian sadly also had a struggling day, a block hip probably the biggest reason for not being able to keep the tempo, but I know he will be back and get that jersey one day!

A big thank you must be for Canyon for the super special bikes especially for this day of racing! And thank you to all the staff for making our lives so easy. 

Videos  | Alban Marathon Man  | Race Finish  | Event highlights

Pictures  |  Stephan Biwald

  • Venue: Rhens, Germany
  • Date: 18 June 2017
  • Distance: 80km
  • Climbing: 2200m
  • Position: 2nd
  • Time: 3h03

During my three week stay in Koblenz, it just so happened that I was lucky enough with a Canyon sponsored MTB race in Rhens. The Canyon Rhens Hunsruck MTB was not to far away and only a 15km cycle away next to the Rhein River. It offered me a super opportunity to stretch the legs and support one of our team sponsors before heading to World XCM Champs in Singen during the week.

It’s always great if one of your team sponsors is also a partner of an event so the only admin was an email and everything was organised, thanks Julian!

I must admit, I somehow did not feel that motivated for the race with lots of busy days in the body with so much to see and such great weather here in Rheinland-Germany making you just want to ride your bike and be outside the whole day long, but once on the start-line you give in to the nervous feeling and just focus on giving it your best!

The race started through a narrow street out of town central and I got a bit sucked into the bunch as everyone sprinted to get through first, and once hitting the first climb, I had to overtake a few riders and missed the Soren Nissen (Den) and Roel Verhoeven break (NED), and even though I passed them both at least once later in the race, never got any slipstream out of this 3h03 race! 

After the gap went out to 50seconds, it just stayed steady, even managed to pull it slightly closer on my self-made-time-checks, then with 15km to go I overtook Nissen who had to stop to inflate a tire, I hoped I could maybe grab the win, but he had a good pump-action, caught me on the next climb and smashed it up the last steep vertical meters to beat me into 2nd by more than a minute. Verhoeven finished 3rd with the Robert Mennen and Sebastian Breuer combo from another Canyon team, Embrace The World, in 4th and 5th.

What a lovely race with 1000 participants racing through the Hunsruck Mountains with fast trails, vineyards, Rhein views and filling the quaint Marktplatz afterwards for pasta, snacks and plenty of beer as expected from a German bike race!

At the end I was happy with my performance and how the body felt going to World Champs next weekend where I will at least try and improve on my 29th position from last year on a very fast and non-technical course that makes me a bit scared of the possible bunch racing chaos with wide handlebars! But mostly holding thumbs for teammates Alban and Kris for a cracker!

With winter approaching in the Cape, I decided to book my flights a little early for a visit to our team home base, Koblenz. RTI is the company behind Team Topeak Ergon that writes the cheques and signs the contracts and also the importers of Topeak into Germany and the designers of top class Ergon products. While Canyon needs no introduction as the team equipment supplier.

Since arriving in Koblenz I was treated with so much care and love it just reminded me again why I love this incredible team so much! Boss-man, Dirk Juckwer, had me all settled in and soon after arriving I got a tour of the RTI building. Most of their products works on an import and distribution basis, like I got to know while working for Omnico in SA, but I have to admit, on a much smoother and German precision scale with no room for error or any miss-counts. 

What stood out for me was the Ergon products, from the sport-scientists to the industrial designers that all have an influence to get the best ergonomic product out to the consumer. Also the machinery to “cut/build” products for testing before finalising designs to manufacture moulds for production. It used to take weeks to get test products from the East, but now all those can be made in house and reduce big time making testing and getting the optimum product ready much sooner. They are excited to launch a new women-range of saddles and grips.

Canyon on the other hand grew so fast over the last years with more than 800 full-time employees at the moment in the head office and factories together. I needed two days to experience it all starting with a tour through the head office and spectacular showroom.

Canyon is much more than just an online shop! You can get real special treatment if you take the trip to their showroom where you can test ride any of their bikes. They have every size from every single model built and ready to ride, I saw them all standing there! Once decided on a bike they give you a full setup and before one of the many mechanics will get it ready for you while you have a complimentary coffee in the bistro.

You can also send your bike to Canyon for a service or warrantee or what ever, they have a warehouse full of top mechanics that work on customer bikes from all over Europe. This massive workshop was incredible to see with 20, if not more mechanics, in a super kitted out and clean warehouse.

Needless to say, the R&D department was super interesting, but nothing I can share here with you! Even more so the testing area where all forks and stems get X-rayed to make sure there are not even the slightest fractures after production to risk your safety. So do not think you will get away with sending your fork back claiming a fault… they have an x-ray on file from every last one to confirm your claim ;) Also the fatigue tests on all their products gave me so much comfort to see, with the assurance that it will be save going down a pass at 100km/h and even hitting a bump.

Then there is the sales building with stacks of people on the phone and mail helping customers, media department with some photographers and videographer I knew from the Epic, marketing and social media, all the different product managers, and at the end the online boys, everything stop with them, pictures of final products, finely displayed so you can drool over them and just ‘add-to-basket’ as many times as you like!

Another day was needed to test ride an all new racing machine that will be launched around the beginning of next year. Man, that bike was so fast and smooth, I had a big smile on my face for the full 2h30 ride, cannot wait! And to visit their new factory in the afternoon. That was so impressive to see! This incredible big, black building that gave me goosebumps. Inside the storage was incredible, stacked so high and just narrow enough that the forklifts get steered manually down the alleys to get product as high as 20meters. 

The organisation of all the products arriving from all over the world to use for building the bikes is still something I cannot understand how they get it right. From sorting it to getting the right parts to  the right station where the bikes get built, 20 at a time, moving from station to station where at each one a person is responsible for only one task. Starting with the frame and cockpit till it ends up at a complete bike with final testers riding the bikes up and down this magnificent warehouse, setting everything perfect before it goes into a box ready for a customer order.

Thank you Julian and Johannes for this amazing experience at Canyon! Thank you Andy, DIrk and all at RTI for making me feel right at home! And Andy, Julian, Johannes, Sebastian and everyone that was so kind taking me out for a ride or greeting me along the roads that works for one of these two amazing companies!

 

 

 

  • Venue: Malmesbury
  • Date: 20 May 2017
  • Distance: 163km
  • Climbing: 2400m
  • Position: 1st
  • Time: 5h33

I really enjoy these 100-Mile events in SA and the AMA Rider presented by BikeHub in its 9th year is probably the oldest around. I won the first edition in the most brutal weather I've ever raced in, and since then I always try to line up for especially this one!

For this year the weather was near perfect and the Swartland offered us the most amazing views of open roads, open lands and beautiful mountains in the distance as a contrast. The route is almost all on gravel roads, just a handful of kilometres on smaller farm roads, which makes for some interesting racing. The road condition plays a big time on time, and even though the weather was great, I think the route was a bit more sandy than last year.

With a strong field of Madmacs/Hazz team riders on the start line, I wasn't sure if they could use their numbers against me, but once again realised on a race like this, the winner is usually the one with some more in the tank. Etnart Louw, Max Sullivan and William Simpson joined me in a four rider pursuit for the finish, but I found myself isolated after the toughest climb of the day after 50-kilometers and I decided to push on and get some hurt in the legs for a solo 110-kilometers!

I put a target on for myself trying to get the average speed above 30 to break 5h30, it looked good for a moment, but the final 25-kilometers is where the boys gets separated from the men, and I just did not have it ;) If we skip the tea-party earlier in the race it is for sure a possibility!

I raced my Canyon Exceed Gravel Grinder, even though it is basically a hardtail with drop bars, it was the perfect choice for this race! It gives you so many hand positions for a long race like this and especially helps with getting you comfortably in an earo position since it is need all the time.

Thank you Dirtopia and AMA Rider for another lovely and well organised event!

Side Note - Regarding SA Marathon Champs: This is the first time since I took marathon racing serious that I have opted to miss our National XCM Champs. It was a hard decision, but I am still happy that I have chosen the AMA 100-miler that I knew would be well organised and have good media with BikeHub as a media partner and it is something that I really doing. I was pretty disappointed in the Federation and organisers of our National Champs with really bad communication and organising. So little information about the race and my first decision to skip it came when a press release that the race will only be the bare minimum for a XCM race of 60km, which doesn't suit me anymore. When I returned from another week-long event, I heard the made the race 80-kilometre by bumping into someone in the street five days before the Champs. I did my research and found out it is true but the 80km race had 3000m of climbing. Still feeling the race do not suit me, I opted on the AMA 100-miler instead just to find out the race ended up being only 1700m of climbing on a course that now figured out would have suited me. I am really happy for former teammate Nico Bell to win after many close calls! But thought the organisation and planning of such a special and most important XCM event in SA was an absolute joke. Better luck next time CSA, maybe I can help you organise it.

News | Bike Hub

Pictures | Chris Hitchcock

  • Venue: Breedekloof / Goudini Spa
  • Date: 5-7 May 2017
  • Distance: 186km
  • Climbing: 3300m
  • Position: 1st (2 stage wins)
  • Time: 7h57

Two weekends in a row, two hidden gems! Thank you Iqela Events for the invite and another well organised event. Most striking I could not believe the amazing trails all over the Breedekloof! Even though we had to start and often finish the stages with some sandy roads through the vineyards, it was nothing compared to some great fun on the bikes!

Like the end of last year, I teamed up again with Red-E racer, Matt Beers for the third edition of the Gravel and Grape. We stayed in the Goudini Spa Chalets which made logistics so easy with all the stages starting and finishing at the venue, except for the start of the first day which was hardly a 40-minute commute away on the bike (or you could take a shuttle).

Matt and I had our fair share of problems with thorns causing having with our tires on stage one costing us some time to inflate and having to chase back. A crash and a broken sale on day two had us chasing again after searching for missing parts. But we managed to get the win on both those stages! The last day was full of amazing trails and we rode it a little more easy with second place finishers, Robert and CP from Breedenet, and gifted them the stage win at the end.

A lovely weekend of racing! Nice to take the overall victory! Now off to the Tour de Braai!

Pictures | Chris Hitchcock

 

  • Venue: George - Swellendam
  • Date: 8-12 May 2017
  • Distance: 400km
  • Climbing: 6000m
  • Position: Social
  • Time: 20h00

What an incredible week! Some experiences just make me feel alive, and this is as good as it gets! The Tour de Braai had it all, the food was great with some of the best braiders and chefs making our tastebuds work overtime. The Karoo in all its splendour and open spaces. Getting my Canyon semi-gravel-bike ready for the adventure was part of the journey, as well as the strict dress code made you feel like you are part of the early Tour de France legends. The riding was no work in the park, with Jan Braai making sure Leonardo and I chase every Strava segment that comes our way.

Thank you Jan Braai and Dave Moseley for making sure I take part in one hell of an adventure! All the other riders for making me enjoy every pedal stroke of the way. The crew for a relaxed and smooth event, and oh-my-incredible-greatness, everyone for the laughs!

Pictures | Craig Koleski

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