Philip Buys (left) and Matthys Beukes (right).

You will be racing the Pyga Stage this year, which is pretty appropriate: the African MTB team, racing South African bikes. How have you enjoyed getting to know the Pyga Stage and what about the bike will help give you a competitive edge in the quest for those podium spots?

It was refreshing to jump onto the new Pyga platform after being on the same bike for the past four years. I feel that the bike is perfectly designed with South African conditions in mind. Terrain in South Africa is like no other place I have raced in the world, so you need a solid bike that can handle it.

One of the first big plus points of the bike, is that I can fit two big 750ml water bottles in the front triangle of the frame. The frame really feels super solid underneath me and with its “+Five” design the straighter chain-line gives me power transfer that is more direct. The stiffness of the Pyga Stage frame obviously adds to how the bike handles on the tight trails and with the Pyga's longer head tube, it allows me to ride a shorter stem, and I feel much more in control of the bike. The slacker head angle gives me a better feel of stability on high-speed downhills. The suspension design on this bike also gives good traction on bumpy climbs. All of these elements pulled together in the Pyga Stage, gives us a super efficient bike, and I feel that this is where our competitive edge lies for Epic, and any other race for that matter. Phil

Yes, it's really exciting that things have come together the way they have. My first thought after getting on the Pyga Stage was how solid the bike is. I enjoy that solid feeling on the downhills as I can really push hard without worrying about the bike, and I can feel that the power transfer on the climbs is exceptional. My Strava also proves it and we all know: Strava doesn't lie! Matthys

Matthys Beukes competing in the SA National XCO Cup at Rhebokskloof. Photo credit: Hayden Brown.

You have raced together successfully in the past. What characteristics do you each have that help you work well together as a team?

Matthys and I both have a passion for bicycles and thoroughly enjoy racing them. We are good friends and there is not much that will cause us to back off or give up in a race. Matthys really has a strong mind and I can feed on that. I think sometimes we race better together as a team than when we race as individuals. Phil

We get along really well and I think that is probably the most important thing. We are not too serious and at the end of the day just enjoy riding our bikes so that helps with dealing with the pressure. Philip is really quick on the technical stuff so most of the time I’ll just follow his wheel. I’ll do some of the hard pulls on the flats and set most of the pace on the climbs. I think one thing that we are known for is our never give up attitude: we’ll always give it 100% even if things go pear shaped. We’ll never give up and take it easy, it's fun to go fast! Matthys

How has your preparation been going building up towards the Cape Epic? Would you say you are on track? Can you give us an idea of your average training week?

So far for me it has been my best buildup for Epic ever. Usually Epic forms part of my buildup for the rest of the season, but this time it is a main focus point for the first part of our 2017 season. The goal in my training specifically for Epic was to get my body to be more fuel efficient and to lose a bit of weight. This meant a bunch of IMTG rides and a few double sessions with them. I did not do many weeks over 20 hours, maybe one or two. The adaption with IMTG rides made up for the longer rides that I did not do. Phil

After my crash at the end of last year, I was a bit worried when the Doc said I’d only be able to walk at the beginning of January. But everything went so well, I was only passive for 5 weeks then spent a month on the indoor trainer and after that trained super hard to catch up. After getting on the road, I have done a couple 30 hour weeks but mostly around 25 hours with my rest weeks around 15hrs. It's probably the hardest I’ve ever trained but after my injuries, it was so much fun getting out and riding that it didn’t feel hard. Matthys

What remains in terms of your preparation for Cape Epic? Will you be doing any races together as build up?

We won't be doing any races before Epic from now. We'd like to leave our hunger and motivation for racing the Epic. It's just one more hard week of intervals and then the focus is on staying healthy and injury free during the taper phase. Phil

I've just got one more hard week before I’ll start to taper off for Epic. The hard work is done: now it's just about fine tuning and most importantly, staying healthy, and enjoying the build up. Matthys

Philip Buys. Photo credit: Hayden Brown

On paper, you have a good chance of winning the African jersey. Where do you think your advantage lies in the race?

We set pretty high goals for ourselves, and I'm sure at least the African Jersey will follow with the goals we have set out to achieve. With the Epic, paper does not mean much ;) We will take the race day by day. The one advantage we have is that our partnership racing together has been tested over a few years, and we have the experience. Phil

I would say the fact that we don’t think about the African jersey and set our goals higher, towards the overall podium, elevates everything we do. Train harder, eat smarter, and just be more committed to being the best athletes we can be. This gets us in better shape on race day than we would be if we were preparing to just beat the local teams. Matthys

A lot of the top level teams ride with a support team to supply spares in the event of mechanical. Will you be riding with a support team or simply hoping for the best?

Winning Epic is a long term goal for us. We will not have a dedicated support team but we will have a rider in the UCI field with an identical team bike for when things go wrong. We would like the members of a second team to be part of our structure for the whole season and currently our setup cannot support this. Phil

Backup team or not: we're always hoping for the best! Matthys

Beyond Epic, what will be your focus for 2017? Philip particularly: you raced XCO very successfully last year. Will this be a focus for you again, or with the Olympics out of the way will you be more focused on marathon racing? Do you have any other races you will be targeting particularly?

We enjoy cross country racing a lot and feel that it keeps our skills and intensity sharp, so we will still be doing the XC races. After Epic we start racing plenty. Our focus will be on races with good publicity and we would like to rake in the National Champ titles for the team. Phil

Yes, it is important to not get stuck on just one race and goal. After Epic the racing has just started, and I will focus on both XC and Marathon National Champs, and hopefully get to Marathon Worlds to see if I can crack a top 10. Matthys

The African MTB Team name continues with the new sponsors but how much remains the same in the background?

“African MTB Team” is an idea and dream that we started building since 2013. I raced one season as an individual rider and realized that the key to performance lies with the people around you and the support structures they offer. From there on Matthys, Ruan (manager) and I started riding together as a team and over the years partnered with sponsors that share the same vision. Although our title sponsors have changed, most of our other sponsors have been relationships going from strength to strength over the past few years.

We have signed a 3-year partnership with PYGA and Euro Steel and look forward to building a relationship with them to achieve the goals we set out. We would like to create a self-sustainable local platform for any youngster with the dream to be part of a pro mountain bike setup. This is not limited to just being a rider, but also the other facets of a professional team: mechanics, managers, media crew, masseuses, cooks and more. And on the riding side, we would like to win Epic :) Phil

New title sponsors with Pyga and Euro Steel, but we were also very blessed to have a solid support structure from guys that have been with us for a while now. Got to give them a shout out, chasing our dreams wouldn’t be possible without them: Liqui Moly, Cadence Nutrition, Kalas Sportswear, SRAM, Nike Vision, Maxxis, Ritchey, Stages Power Meters, and Trail Wolf Cycles. Other new sponsors are John Burnett Insurance Brokers, Penetron South Africa and Sidi shoes. Matthys

Philip Buys, Matthys Beukes, and Kombo Bere. Photo credit: Hayden Brown.