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  1. While the Team Spur duo are busy preparing for the Marathon and Cross-country World Champs in Europe, they are also hoping a series of videos they release this week will inspire the next generation of mountain biking superstars back home in South Africa to get out on their bikes more. The Spur Sizzling Skills videos will take riders from the Spur Schools League through a series of basic technical and mechanical skills, such as rolling over bumps, hitting drop-offs, mastering fast starts, tackling steep climbs as well as fixing punctures quickly and the smooth handing out of water bottles. Episode 1 features Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs, taking viewers through a basic pre-race bike check. A Spur Sizzling Skillz video will be released each week in the build-up to the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League Final, which takes place in Magaliesburg, Gauteng on the weekend of 8-9 October, 2016. Spur Schools League ambassadors Ariane and James will be at the National Final in October and will be able to see first-hand how many scholars have mastered the basic building blocks to riding fast and having more fun on a mountain bike.
  2. Mountain biking about dealing with whatever the trail throws at you. Successfully getting you and your bike up and over rocks, steps and bumps is an important skill to master. Watch Ariane Kleinhans from Team Spur show you the simple approach to getting over an obstacle, so you can practice on a pavement at home. Click here to view the article
  3. Freezing overnight showers had abated for the 10am start, but a glance at the dark clouds shrouding the towering snow-capped peaks above her had her second guessing her race apparel layers. A flimsy wind vest might be the difference between victory and defeat in the Alps. Image courtesy of Raid Evolénard, Valais, Switzerland www.raidevolenard.ch Ariane was going all in for her national championship jersey. With true Swiss precision, she had studied the course and broken the race profile down to five feedzones. Using power data from last year's race, where she finished second to seven-time Swiss XCM Champion, Esther Süss, she had meticulously measured her race nutrition to within grams and millimeters – she wouldn't be taking any extra weight on the climber's course. She had practiced her sprinting line into the finishing straight, should the race be reduced to an all-out brawl over the final flat kilometres. She was racing her superlight Specialized S-Works Fate hardtail. She had opted for S-Works Fast Traks, the lightest tyres in Specialized's range. Ariane even decided to race without a spare tube... As the announcer counted 30 seconds to start, Ariane's eyes sharpened. She stripped her wind vest from her body and threw it over to her support crew. If you want it badly, you've got to risk it. All in! The starter's gun pierced the crisp air and all hell broke loose. 120 riders jostled for position in the mass start down Evolène's narrow main street. 62km and over 2600m of vertical ascent lay ahead. When racing for a jersey in Switzerland you better come ready to climb... The route featured a lung-busting jeep track and then singletrack climb from the start, up the western walls of the valley. Within the first 9km, riders ascended 600m. Ariane had the experience of last year's second place playing through her mind in the early racing. "I went way too hard in the beginning and really paid for it last year," Ariane said. "This year I really wanted to make sure I was pacing myself right so I discussed it with my coach Andrew Smith and we figured out good power numbers for me to start out with." "Esther went quite hard in the beginning and I didn’t have a problem staying with her. Nadia Walker also stayed with us. I realised Esther was slowing down a bit and I started pacing. Nadia came to the front and entered the singletrack first and went into the first climb ahead. So I pushed past them to get into the next singletrack." Ariane's early attack paid off – at the first feedzone at 15km she had opened up a two-minute gap on Nadia Walker, with Esther Süss following closely in third. Another precipitous climb awaited, before a high-speed descent brought the riders to the finish village of Les Haudères at the 35km mark. As the race passed through Les Haudères the gap had grown to three minutes. Although Ariane couldn't see her competitors, the race was far from over. The weather was closing in on the eastern mountainside and Ariane had taken so few spares, and such light clothing, she couldn't afford to put a foot (or tyre!) wrong. And now the proper climbing started! "I was surprised [at the time gap], I thought maybe Esther had a mechanical. I was riding in a comfortable zone and pacing myself really well according to the numbers that I got from my coach," she said of the start of the race's major climb at 35km. The 18km ascent would take riders high above the valley floor and into the snowline in two parts. A short, slippery, technical singletrack descent punctuated the 1,100m slogfest. Ariane kept applying the pressure, pacing to perfection and opening up a six-minute gap by the time she hit the final climb in freezing rain and cloud. A nervous descent to the valley floor in Les Haudères followed. Ariane knew the race was hers to loose. "My only concern [at that stage] was the equipment. Not that I don’t trust my equipment, but I didn’t take any spares with me, except for one Co2 bomb. When I heard the gap was at six or seven minutes I looked at every rock I rode over very carefully," Ariane said, laughing. "I didn’t take any risks in that last downhill!" Ariane's equipment and skills kept her upright and she powered home, with an eight-minute win over second-placed Nadia Walker and Esther Süss in third, a further five minutes back. "It was really special to celebrate the win with Nic [Lamond, Team Spur Manager]. It's definitely a very special moment for me – to grab that jersey is huge! I’m just really really happy to be the Swiss Champ," an elated Ariane said. "I want to say thank you to Team Spur for the opportunity; to my sponsors for making this all happen: Spur, Specialized and everyone else involved; and to all the people supporting me out there. The organisers of the race did a really good job. It was a very cool day and we even got a TV team there and got to organise some time with the kids. They are so cute! All the little kids came to the prizegiving and we had an autograph session. It was just heartbreaking how they come there, smile and look up to you. That’s what we there for – to help kids live their passion and motivate them." Full results available here.
  4. A rare moment of indecision darted across Ariane Kleinhans's face at the start line of the Raid Evolènade, Swiss Marathon Championships in Evolène on Sunday, 19 June. She was puzzling at the grey skies all around her. Should she race with a wind vest or not? Click here to view the article
  5. The final local Olympic selection races had our South African XCO Champion, James battling rivals at cruel altitudes and in a variety of harsh conditions throughout April and May. James bounced back quickly after the disappointment of failing to defend his African Continental Champion's jersey in Lesotho in early April, where the altitude (over 3,000m) had got the better of him. Training sensations were very positive and a solid build up to the Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at the end of April in his hometown had him excited at the opportunity to assert himself on fellow Olympic contenders. But fierce weather scuppered that chance in under 20 minutes, as debilitating mud caused a mechanical failure and James recorded a humbling DNF without even completing Lap 1 of the UCI Hors Catégorie race! It was a bitter disappointment for James and the team as well as his many fans. Cycling South Africa had moved mountains to host the race at the old UCI World Cup venue and James barely fired up the engine. Despite leading the Stihl SA XCO Cup Series by a healthy margin and having contributed the bulk of the UCI points that had allowed South Africa to qualify two Olympic mountain bike places, James now found himself locked in a tight battle for one of those coveted two spots in Rio. Meanwhile, after some downtime immediately after her historic third Absa Cape Epic victory, Ariane was scoping out the UCI Marathon World Champs course in Laissac, France, and getting her mind and body ready for the big day in late June. Her first chance to fly the Team Spur banner in Europe came at the Rothaus-Hegau Bike Marathon on 8 May. A decorated field had pitched up in the German town of Singen and Ariane was among the lead pack inside the first 10km when Great Britain's Sally Bigham launched an attack. Bigham was familiar with the course from previous years, and timed the surge to perfection. Ariane and fellow Swiss powerhouse Esther Süss found themselves in a singletrack bottleneck, caught behind slower riders. The Swiss pair teamed up and quickly started working their way through the slower pack together. Unfortunately, Ariane flatted and then encountered a technical issue with her tube's valve. This put her way back in the field. But she was determined to claw her way back to the pointy end, and called on all her racing experience to secure a resilient fifth place. Bigham took the honours, with Süss in second. Back in South Africa James's chance to race in the Olympics in August would now hinge on Round 4 of the Cup Series, held at Settlers Nature Reserve in the heart of Port Elizabeth on 14 May. The country's top riders heaped praise on the technical nature of the world-class course – many saying it was one of the few truly international-level XCO loops in the country. James knew he wouldn't be given an inch by his rivals so decided to dictate the pace from the gun. In the first five minutes James piled on the pressure, with only Alan Hatherly able to respond. The talented U23 rider was tough to shake but James turned the screws when Hatherly faltered through a technical section and the elastic snapped. James steadily built his lead to well over a minute, until a crash into a backmarker on the final lap reduced the gap to Hatherly, who came in second, 55 seconds adrift. "After Alan's technical error I opened the taps as wide as they could go and pushed the gap," James admitted. "Hats off to Alan, it was a pressurised race, everyone knew the stakes and I am super happy to come away with a win" It was a good confidence booster on a number of levels. James's Specialized S-Works Epic was flying, sure-footed through the technical obstacles and climbing like a rocket. James felt physically powerful, able to push a race-winning pace throughout. Technically, James was the only Elite Men's rider on the podium to clear the entire race course, which included a steep and highly technical descent, without dismounting. James's Olympic ambitions were now in the hands of Cycling South Africa selectors, but he received the exciting news that he had been selected to represent the country at the UCI XCO World Champs in the Czech Republic in July, which immediately became the next point of focus. Two days after the PE race James took to the skies, he was jetting off to Europe for his first round of the 2016 UCI XCO World Cup series. He was accompanied by Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs, and the pair were met in Zurich by Ariane. The three headed off to Albstadt to the Squirtlube athlete house to prepare for their first UCI XCO Cup of the 2016 season. Albstadt was a rude welcome to the high-intensity demands of World Cup racing. Ariane lapped consistently to a solid 53rd but found passing on the tight track extremely tough. James had a string of mechanical issues after being rear-ended by another rider that erased his powerful start. He ended up being lapped while in 88th position. Then it was onto the most recent round of the UCI XCO World Cup in the pristine French town of La Bresse on Sunday, 29 May. Both Ariane and James had a point to prove after tough racing in Albstadt. With showers predicted for race weekend, and an incredibly challenging course, the team moved into town early in the week and set about familiarising themselves with the 4.3km test of lung capacity, climbing power and handling skills. JP had his work cut out for him, keeping the bikes rolling smoothly despite the muddy build-up from each practice lap. Although race day dawned with pleasant, if overcast, conditions, overnight rain made for some very sketchy sections. Many of the world's top pro riders came unstuck on the rocky and slippery descents, and knee-deep ruts were quickly carved into the fastest racing lines. This had a capacity French crowd chanting at riders all day. The atmosphere was charged with frenetic energy – from the racers as much as the vociferous fans on the sidelines. Ariane started at 11.20am in 52nd position on the grid. She had opted for her lightweight S-Works Fate hardtail, and was hot out the start gate as a result. She was in a decent position for the first technical climb as the race strung out. Up front it was her countrywoman Jolanda Neff who, despite crashing heavily and flatting on the final lap, put on a masterclass of technical riding to claim first place. Ariane decided to play it considerably safer on the slick course with two critical marathon title races looming on the horizon. “It rained during the night on Saturday. Certain sections were very slick," Ariane said. "I struggled a bit with it and decided to ride cautiously. I had a really good start but just wasn’t good enough in the technical stuff and got pulled back by other riders. It wasn’t my best result. But I’m learning and figuring this thing out and I’ll get better – we just have to try again.” Ariane had high expectations for her two World Cup ventures and was disappointed with the outcome. Yet the learning from the high-intensity bar-to-bar racing will stand her in good stead for her Swiss and World XCM Championships next month. James had a mental mountain to climb after his underwhelming 88th finish in Germany. Although he could take some solace from the fact that it was mechanical bad luck that had pushed him way down the results list, he knew the French race would be brutal as a scrum of highly motivated European athletes were gunning for Olympic selection. A long Olympic qualification period for James in South Africa prior to Europe was starting to take its toll, and he would be asking increasingly tired legs to perform one last time before a scheduled break... Starting in 41st position James dropped the hammer with a seething mass of 133 riders. The pace through the sleepy town of La Bresse was electrifying as the peloton hit the first bottleneck climb. As with Albstadt, James had a strong start and jumped from 41st on the grid to 34th in the first lap despite being held up in the manic traffic. The plan was to control his effort though the intensity of the first lap, keeping it steady rather that burning all his matches early on. James kept to the plan for the most part, passing riders who let the buzz of La Bresse get the better of them. "I just had to start conservatively up the climb so as to not burn my cards early on," James said. "I ended up coming through the start lap in 32nd but was still running a little hot. I lost a few places on the second lap where the cards settled themselves and then just plugged away at it consistently ." It was a consistent performance, and James is happy, if not ecstatic, with his 40th place. Importantly, it was a technical and mechanical trial that James and his S-Works Epic passed with flying colours. No crashes and no flats! The first tests of Team Spur's European tour are over and Ariane and James have acquitted themselves well. Plenty to learn from as the pieces of the high-performance puzzle come together neatly. Ariane now switches to marathon-mode for a fun jaunt with James at the famous Elsabike Trophy on 12 June in Estavayer-le-Lac in Switzerland, followed by the Swiss XCM Champs on 19 June in Evolène and a (short) week thereafter the UCI XCM World Champs in Laissac, France. James has plenty of time to get the legs fresh again with his next big performance the UCI XCO World Champs in Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic on 3 July, followed by Round 4 of the UCI XCO World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. For the lowdown on Team Spur's race season check out www.teamspur.co.za for all our race reports. Upcoming races, including the full Spur Schools MTB League, are listed on our calendar.
  6. Chris Wolhuter and Craig Boyes sealed the overall win after cruising to their third consecutive stage victory in the Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter on Sunday. Click here to view the article
  7. Chris Wolhuter (left) and Craig Boyes of Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology win the final stage and overall title of the 2016 Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter on Saturday. Photo: Full Stop Communications The Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology pair, who had an 18-minute buffer going into the final day, completed the 48km final stage around Kleine Valleij in Wellington in 1:58:45. Hanco Kachelhoffer and Colin Noel of Altech-Autopage followed them home in 2:02:36 with Neil Swartz and Rikus Visser of SDK Legends third in 2:08:39. Wolhuter and Boyes, who hail from Cape Town and Stellenbosch respectively, topped the general classification with an aggregate time of 6:45:19. Kachelhoffer and Noel placed second overall in 7:07:58 with Van Wyk and Rebello grimly holding on to the third step of the podium in 7:26:12 after their day-one crash. “It has really worked well because we get on well on and off the bike,” said Wolhuter, referring to their new partnership. “We are able to joke a bit and that always helps to release the pressure. “We have had a few podium places this season but it is always nice to get to the top step and we are very happy with the result,” said the 27-year-old professional. “We came here with a plan and it all went according to that plan. It’s not often that does happen so that was great.” Chris Wolhuter (right) and Craig Boyes of Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology during the final stage of the 2016 Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter on Saturday. Photo: Ewald Sadie Wolhuter said he felt the telling break came on the first morning when they went hard on one of the early climbs. “It was really on the first climb early on the first day when we decided to punch quite hard and managed to get a breakaway going which set things up for us.” From that moment, the pair were able to protect and even build a lead which was never seriously challenged by their rivals. Wolhuter, who won the inaugural event alongside Jarryd Haley last year, said the overall experience had been tremendous. “To be able to participate in a race like this on my doorstep is fantastic. They have refined a few things and kept the legs fairly short, but they are still a tough challenge. “This helps to create the boutique experience when the guys aren’t shattered at the end of the day, but can finish about midday and enjoy the afternoon.” Stephan Senekal of Team Spur during the final stage of the 2016 Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter on Saturday. Photo: Ewald Sadie After dominating all three stages, the mixed section was won by Cape Epic champion Ariane Kleinhans and Team Spur partner Stephan Senekal in 7:51:17. Senekal said they were thrilled with the outcome and had enjoyed the experience. “I have lived in Stellenbosch for around 12 years and to experience these trails and the good mixture of routes the organisers have put together was great. “We are very happy with the outcome and to work so well with Ariane, who is such a strong rider, was awesome.”
  8. Defending champion Chris Wolhuter and protégé Craig Boyes crushed their rivals on the second day of the Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter to build up a comfortable lead going into Sunday’s grand finale. Click here to view the article
  9. As they had done on the opening day, the Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology professional team set the pace for most of the way to win the 57km stage between Franschhoek and Kleine Valleij outside Wellington in 2:20:00. They got the better of Altech-Autopage’s Colin Noel and Hanco Kachelhoffer, who finished a distant second in 2:28:42. Craig Boyes (left) and Chris Wolhuter of Imbuko-Freewheel Cycology extended their overall lead on the second stage of the 2016 Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter on Saturday. Photo: Ewald Sadie After CP van Wyk’s horrific crash the previous day while fighting for stage honours, he and his Momsen teammate Dylan Rebello put in a superb ride to place third in 2:29:47. Wolhuter, from Cape Town, and Boyes, who lives in Stellenbosch, head the general classification with a combined time of 4:46:34. They are followed by Noel and Kachelhoffer (5:05:22) with Rebello and Van Wyk (5:11:25) in third. Boyes said they had again got off to a flying start as they pushed hard up front alongside Noel and Kachelhoffer with Rebello and Van Wyk in tow. “Unfortunately Hanco punctured and he and Colin lost touch,” said the 25-year-old. “About 5km after exiting the Drakenstein prison grounds, we took a gamble and went really hard as we headed towards the first waterpoint. “Fortunately we know the route and Chris has been unbelievably strong so we were able to just roll on to the finish after that.” Although they would not be taking anything for granted, Boyes said they were looking forward to the final day. “We have managed to build up a comfortable buffer and are really aiming to enjoy the final day and the sights.” Boyes said his maiden Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter was a special experience. “Everyone has made us feel so welcome. The friendly reception and the work the organisers have put in have been huge.” After solid early-season performances at the GR300 and Cape Epic, where they were third overall and fourth African team respectively, Boyes said they were keen to graduate to the top step of the podium. Stephan Senekal (left) and Ariane Kleinhans of Team Spur won the second stage of the 2016 Liberty Winelands MTB Encounter on Saturday. Photo: Ewald Sadie Team Spur’s Stephan Senekal and Ariane Kleinhans completed back to back victories in the mixed section when they placed fifth on the stage in 2:45:14. Their aggregate time of 5:35:49 puts them in a comfortable lead in the overall standings ahead of Everett and Anna Haywood and Ricky and Kerry Tomaselli. The final stage, which starts and finishes at Kleine Valleij, will be over a distance of 48km with 1 100m of climbing.
  10. Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS Mountain-bike racing is very much like life – you have good days and bad days. To be happy, you have to know how to deal with the bad ones. In bike racing, it’s easy to handle a good day, because it’s all smiles, high fives and hugs, the true test however is how you manage the bad days. Now that the dust has settled on one of the most exciting women’s races in Absa Cape Epic history, Team Spur-Specialized’s Ariane Kleinhans reflects on what was a far tougher race for her than most know. In fact, it very nearly ended after Stage 1 in Tulbagh. Broken “Crossing the finish line after Stage 1 I just didn’t know how I was going to manage another six days like that,” Kleinhans says, explaining how on the longest stage of the 2016 race – a 108km loop around the Tulbagh Valley from Saronsberg Wine Estate – she and partner Annika Langvad got away early and were working hard to claim back the women’s orange jersey Team Ascendis Health had won on the Prologue. “Then a little crash happened, I kind of felt that my brakes weren’t working as well as before but I didn’t think about it too much and just tried to get on with it and get to the finish,” she says.Langvad tried to keep the pace up to cross the finish with a good time buffer, but Kleinhans simply couldn’t hold her wheel, something that was hugely frustrating for both. “Annika was just riding away from me and I could feel she was also frustrated because she couldn’t understand how I could be so slow, even on the flat sections,” she says. “It was absolutely horrible, I tried my hardest and then when Jennie [stenerhag] and Robyn [de Groot] caught us with 2km to go it was like a hammer in my head. We were leading the whole way. The entire stage… How could I be so useless?” Photo by JB Badenhorst/Specialized. Prelude to a Breakdown Kleinhans took the defeat as confirmation that her build-up had not been what it should’ve been, that she had not done enough. “It was like: you’re not going to win this race,” she says of the demons in her head.If the physical part was tough for her to deal with, the mental aspect was nearly impossible. It was a symptom of a trying, emotional time for Ariane during the crucial training months leading up to the Epic. Ariane was wrestling with a painful divorce from her pro mountain biker husband Erik Kleinhans. “In December and January I really struggled with motivation,” she says. “Something which is really hard to admit, because it’s a privilege to do what I do. You know, you feel like you should be happy and enjoy it, but I just struggled with myself. I was depressed for a long time there and just a normal day was quite difficult to manage sometimes. Despite the ups and downs, I knew I just had to do the training, so I got it done and never missed an important training session,” Kleinhans says. “I just wanted to train alone and be by myself because I always compare myself to others and feel bad if I can’t keep up and that puts me down,” she says, admitting that she’d often be crying on the bike. In later February – a crucial stage in her build-up to the Epic – there were two big hiccups. “I couldn't do Tankwa because of a fever,” Kleinhans says. “That was quite a knock mentally because part of Tankwa went through the [Cape Epic] route… and all that sand and stuff… it would’ve been good just getting into stage race mode again. So missing out on that was quite difficult,” she says. A week later Kleinhans finished second behind Robyn de Groot at the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series event at Sabie, a race she’d won for the previous three years and had always used as a gauge of her fitness. By her exceptionally high standards, she took the loss as further confirmation that her form was poor. “It was a really hard day for me,” Kleinhans wrote on her Facebook page after the race. “I was suffering horribly trying to chase her down and was only left with disappointment after crossing the line. Coming second is just not good enough for me at this race. It hurt.” There was another factor at play that Ariane didn’t properly examine at the time, as she was locked in her own self-doubt. Both Robyn de Groot and her Acendis Health teammate Jennie Stenerhag had done the hard work to reach Ariane’s level, and even surpass it. In 2016 the South African women’s marathon race scene was transformed into a genuine world-class showdown. Perspective “Something really helped me to not spiral into the dark hole of depression that time,” she says. That something, was adoring fan little Emma Charlotteaux. “With Team Spur we planned a question and answer session for the kids at the race venue on Sunday, the day after the race. As ambassadors for the Spur School Mountain Bike League, our team is trying to inspire kids and young adults to follow their own passion and motivate them to live an active healthy lifestyle,” she says.Emma came up to Ariane at the Q&A and asked how she could be like her. “It’s very humbling that people would find me inspiring. Kids like Emma make you want to be a better person, it took me back to when I was a swimming coach [in Switzerland]. They really copy you if you are a role model for them, they look at what you are doing and then do the same,” she says. “It was challenging for me because I was suffering in my heart a lot. Obviously then you get frustrated and you appear grumpy and it is difficult to be nice and be a good person. But when you think of those kids who look up to you, you get some perspective.” If the serendipitous meeting with Emma had been the mental catalyst she needed to kick into Epic race mode, then the arrival of Ariane’s Team Spur Specialized partner Annika served as the physical bullet. The pair teamed up at the five-day Tour of Good Hope road race in early March. “To really go into the hurt zone and to know that I can still do it, I would have never trained that hard on my own – [former British road champion] Sharon Laws pushed us really hard and that was good,” she says, reflecting on her third place overall. “It was very good racing it with Annika because she is kind of the benchmark. Although I couldn’t keep up with her, I knew I was feeling strong and ready to race the Epic and that did a lot for my confidence.” That self-confidence all but evaporated at the Stage 1 finish line in Saronsberg, until Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs examined her Specialized S-Works Era. Bouncing back “After the stage, we first had interviews and press to do, I didn't know about the brakes until much later.” Ariane’s support team rallied around her when she crawled across the line. Team Spur soigneur Brent Botha and Specialized team manager Kandice Venter wiped away the tears and dirt etched into her face and readied her for the podium presentation. Ariane was broken and it was a tense 15 minutes just getting her ready to receive the bouquet for their second-place finish. Photo by JB Badenhorst/Specialized. JP had picked up the problem in the wash bay, hosing Ariane’s bike down: a high-pressure washer applied directly to the rear wheel wouldn’t turn it. When Ariane had crashed roughly 15km from the end of Stage 1 she had bent her rear disc brake rotor, effectively jamming her brakes for the remainder of the stage. Photo by JB Badenhorst/Specialized. It was an insignificant crash, something that happens countless times over eight days of challenging terrain. In her rush to get moving again Ariane didn't check the rear wheel was spinning freely, and in her end-of-stage fatigue she just assumed her legs had given up. Ariane had been dishing out huge power just to keep her bike upright and edging along on Annika's wheel...“When JP showed me how bad it was, I thought, okay, it’s not your training and preparation, you still have something in the legs,” she says. The feeling of dread was starting to lift. The following day Kleinhans and Langvad won the women’s category of the 100th stage of the Absa Cape Epic. And they did it in fine style. Playing a classic tactical game, the pair bided their time in third place behind Team Sport for Good’s Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina and Sally Bigham and Adel Morath of Team Topeak Ergon for much of the stage as it explored the rugged Witzenberg Valley. They were closely marking erstwhile race leaders, Team Ascendis Health. Then, on the final steep and technical singletrack descent back into the Tulbagh Valley, they let rip. Ariane led a wild charge down the mountainside and caught both Sport for Good and, towards the bottom, Topeak Ergon. They dispatched Bigham and Morath on the flat run into the finish line and turned their 58-second deficit to Ascendis Health into a three-minute, 17-second lead. Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS. The Stage 2 win saw them slip into the women’s orange jersey. “I had a lot of doubt in the build-up,” Ariane admits. “It came in waves – sometimes they were huge and I felt like I couldn’t even do a two-hour training ride. But Tour of Good Hope helped with confidence and I got more positive then. So in the week leading up to the Epic and round about the press conference I started getting that feeling again, you know, we had done it the past two years so maybe we could do it again,” she says. “After the Prologue and Stage 1 that feeling was gone… so to win Stage 2 was really special, it was the turning point.” The win ultimately set up an emotional third straight overall victory when the world’s most prestigious stage race finished at Meerendal Wine Estate some five days later. Yet the racing was far from over and Team Spur-Specialized had to cross swords with the powerful and highly-motivated Ascendis Health as well as Topeak Ergon and the late-charging Sport for Good. The new separate start batch for women had transformed the battle for supremacy and the honour of wearing the orange jersey. The stages were fought at close quarters and the margins were tight. It was undoubtedly the most exciting women’s racing ever at the Cape Epic. Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS Stage 3 saw a monumental battle with the top three women’s teams hitting the final singletrack together and arriving at the finish line in Wellington within just over a minute of each other. Sadly it also saw the sudden withdrawal of form team Ascendis Health’s Jennie Stenerhag, with heart complications on the finish line. “Stage 3 was another long one. We were hanging with Topeak all the way and that’s when I knew it was possible to take the overall, but that it would be a fierce fight toward the end,” she says. “I was very sad to hear of Jennie’s withdrawal. Robyn and Jennie are up there. South African racing is tough. I hope people appreciate that you have to be world-class to race with Yana and Sabine. It would have been very interesting to take on Ascendis all week.” Pushed to the Line Ariane and Annika claimed Stage 3 and 4, before veteran German multiple World Champion Sabine Spitz and Ukrainian U23 World Champ Yana Belomoina took the race by the scruff of the neck and won the final three stages.“I didn’t quite expect Sabine and Yana to come so strong towards the end. I thought our battle would be with Ascendis and then Topeak, but there were a few surprises and we were racing all the way to Meerendal!” Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS According to Kleinhans, her and Langvad kept having to change their mindset and were forced to adjust their race strategy every stage. “That made the racing really interesting,” she says. “By the last two days I thought I could pull through in a relatively okay time. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough for a stage victory anymore but I knew we could hang in there and not lose too much time,” she says. Kleinhans believes it was her and Langvad’s race experience and teamwork which were the deciding factors in the overall win. That, and Langvad’s sheer strength. “Annika was an absolute champ! She was by far the strongest woman in the field,” says Kleinhans. “Through all eight days she was always thinking how she could improve and help me – where she could push me and pull me or just let me slipstream. She kept encouraging me. The entire time she was just trying to figure out how she can make me a little bit faster.” Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS But it wasn’t all down to physical prowess. Ariane received a mental boost on the penultimate stage of the race. A gift from young Emma – a picture of her in a bike helmet wishing her good luck with the Epic. The circle was complete – perspective gained, challenges faced head-on, adversity overcome with the end result a third-straight Absa Cape Epic victory.
  11. Ariane Kleinhans takes an emotional look back at her journey to a third-straight Absa Cape Epic title. Just what did it take to stand atop the women's podium after eight days in the world's toughest mountain bike race? Freelance writer Jazz Kushke finds out. Click here to view the article
  12. Team Spur Specialized's Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad on their way to overall victory in the ladies category during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Boschendal in Stellenbosch to Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, South Africa on the 20th March 2016. Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS As was the case throughout the “eight days of courage”, Swiss Kleinhans and Dane Langvad didn’t have it their own way during Sunday’s Grand Finale, the 86km from Stellenbosch to Meerendal Wine Estate. The Spur-Specialized pair led going into the final two kilometres before the Sport for Good pairing of German Sabine Spitz and Ukranian Yana Belomoina overtook them and ecstatically crossed the finish line first in 3:53.31,4 – their third straight stage victory. Langvad acknowledged that this has been a tough week for the pairing, after initially facing a strong challenge from Ascendis Health’s Robyn de Groot of South Africa and Swede Jennie Stenehag. Then Spitz and Belomoina found their legs in the closing stages but Spur-Specialized’s overall winning margin of 14.56 highlighted their superiority over the eight days. “It was a difficult stage after a tough week of racing, but we are happy with our overall win and super happy with our third Epic title,” said the Dane. “Winning the Epic is a big goal. To celebrate I’m going to drink some of the great South African wine that I didn’t get to drink this week.” Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans of Spur-Specialized win Overall Womens Jersey of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Boschendal in Stellenbosch to Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, South Africa on the 20th March 2016. Photo by Shaun Roy/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS Kleinhans, who came into the Absa Cape Epic unsure about her form once again had to dig deep to keep pace with her partner. As a result, she is looking forward to home comforts after celebrating her fifth Absa Cape Epic title in a row across the Mixed and Women’s categories. “This stage was a bit messy – we had a lot of men overtaking us today, but in general the route over the Epic was really good for the women, because we didn’t get bunched with the men. To celebrate I’m going to sleep, eat and recover. It’s been super tough.” Grand Finale winners Spitz and Belomoina, who have got stronger and stronger through the eight days, cranked up the pace to make the decisive move on Meerendal’s famous Stairway to Heaven. Team Sport for Good's Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina on their way to stage victory during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Boschendal in Stellenbosch to Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, South Africa on the 20th March 2016. Photo by Ewald Sadie/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS “On the final climb Yana was riding like crazy,” said a delighted Spitz. “She overtook a men’s team and I was sitting behind them thinking ‘oh my gosh’, then I saw her overtake the girls and I realised I had to use my last grain of power to get to her. To win three stages in a race is amazing. I’m really pleased I took the decision to come ride the Cape Epic.” Belomoina, who at 23 is Spitz’s junior by 21 years, was happy that her cross-country skills could be the decisive factor on the day. “The finish was very good, it was like a lap of cross-country so I had to go fast. I saw a small chance so I went for it and luckily Sabine could catch up. I’m very happy to win three stages in a row.” Topeak Ergon rounded off the Sasol Women’s category podium – with another third place finish at Meerendal. Two-time winner Sally Bigham of England lamented the fact that her upset stomach affected their challenge once the racing hotted up on Sunday, leaving her teammate, Adel Morath, to sum up their day. Sally Bigham Topeak Ergon leads overall winners Annika Langvad & Ariane Kleinhans of Spur-Specialized and stage winners Sabine Spitz & Yana Belomoina of Sport for Good during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Boschendal in Stellenbosch to Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, South Africa on the 20th March 2016. Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS “Today was a tactical race, which I like,” said Morath, now a first-time Absa Cape Epic finisher. “When the men caught up with us we were in a big group and the pace was super fast but we couldn’t keep up near the end. The new start for the women has really been great for the women’s race but in the end Annika and Ariane were too strong. They have the experience together, they train here and knew the stages which was an advantage for them. I’m happy for them, they did the best.” Meanwhile, the champagne-soaked Spur-Specialized pair couldn’t be drawn on whether they would be back next year to defend their crown. “First we need a break,” said Langvad. The overall womens podium of [L] Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina of Team Sport for Good, [C] Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans of Team Spur Specialized and [R] Sally Bingham and Adel Morath of Team Topeak Ergon during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Boschendal in Stellenbosch to Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, South Africa on the 20th March 2016. Photo by Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS 2016 Stage 7 Women Stage Results1. Sport for Good 54-2 Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) 54-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 3:53.31,4 2. Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 3:54.18,5 +47,1 3. Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 3:55.22,2 +1.50,8 Overall Results 1. Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 33:30.48,0 2. Sport for Good 54-2 Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) 54-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 33:45.44,5 +14.56,5 3. Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 33:51.30,3 +20.42,3 4. Meerendal Wheeler 52-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 52-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 35:02.03,9 +1:31.15,9 5. Galileo Risk 55-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 55-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 36:38.01,9 +3:07.13,9 6. Meerendal Rocky EBE 56-1 Hielke Elferink (Netherlands) 56-2 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) 36:45.02,1 +3:14.14,1 7. Energade Racing 202-1 Dalene van der Leek (South Africa) 202-2 Sharon Laws (England) 36:46.33,2 +3:15.45,2 8. Asrin Cycling 71-1 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 71-2 Sandra Santanyes Murillo (Spain) 37:12.07,6 +3:41.19,6 9. Liv - MTB Pro 59-1 Muriel Bouhet (France) 59-2 Merce Pacios Pujado (Spain) 40:56.05,4 +7:25.17,4 10. Speed Structures 68-1 Marleen Lourens (South Africa) 68-2 Nicky Giliomee (South Africa) 43:07.26,6 +9:36.38,6
  13. After an intriguing week’s racing in the Sasol Women’s category, Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad are now three-time Absa Cape Epic champions; the Swiss-Danish duo joining Karl Platt (who earlier on Sunday won his fifth title) and Stefan Sahm as three-time champion pairings. Click here to view the article
  14. [caption][/caption] Team Spur will pursue a local and international race calendar that includes the Absa Cape Epic as well as the UCI World Cup Series in 2016. Both athletes will compete to earn national selection from their respective federations at the UCI World Championships in June and July, while James will also keep his eyes firmly fixed on racing in South African colours at the Rio Olympic Games in August. The sponsorship deal also sees the world-class duo become ambassadors for Spur's highly successful Schools Mountain Bike League. The League has experienced tremendous growth in just six years – in 2015 over 10 000 scholars from more than 400 schools took part in cross-country races around the country. "The Spur Schools MTB League allows kids to participate as individuals and in teams, vital for the holistic development of children," said Sacha du Plessis, Group Marketing Executive at Spur Corporation. "This year, the creation of Team Spur and sponsorship of James Reid and Ariane Kleinhans is the natural progression in our MTB development journey as well as an affirmation of Spur’s continued investment into the sport. Our objective is to introduce our many young participants to the elite athletes of their sport, who are currently living their dreams. We seek to build greater self-belief in kids across South Africa – with the right attitude and dedication, being a professional mountain biker is not only possible, but great fun too! It makes the task a little easier in that James and Ariane are superb people who also love giving back to kids." Team Spur is proudly supported by Specialized Bicycles. Ariane will continue to ride Specialized's flagship S-Works Era and James the S-works Epic model. The S-Works bikes have been key to the athletes' successes over the past year and form an integral part of their high-performance goals in 2016 and beyond. "I’m extremely grateful to Sacha and Spur for their belief in us and their investment in the great sport of mountain biking," said Kleinhans. "Not only does Team Spur allow me to take my racing career another step forward, it also provides a fantastic platform for us, as professional athletes, to inspire the youth to follow their passion. It truly gives a deeper meaning to my life as an athlete." "2016 will be my biggest year yet as a professional mountain biker. I've finally completed a four-year BCom degree and I'm going all in!" said Reid. "My first attempt at the Absa Cape Epic as well as my qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics is going to take hard work and focus and I'm incredibly honoured to have the backing of a world-class brand like Spur in these pursuits. I look forward to engaging with the Spur Schools League and being a part of the youth development of cycling." Upcoming Races 16 January Fairview Attakwas Oudtshoorn, Western Cape (Ariane & James)30 January SA Cup Series XCO #1 Mankele, Mpumalanga (James) 30 January Ashburton Investments National MTB Series #1 Meerendal, Western Cape (Ariane) 12-14 February Dutoit Tankwa Trek Koue Bokkeveld, Western Cape (Ariane & James)
  15. Swiss Cape Epic legend Ariane Kleinhans and South African Cross-country Mountain Bike Champion James Reid have joined forces with Spur Steak Ranches to create a new mountain bike team for the 2016 season. Click here to view the article
  16. Much of Ariane's bike is factory specification as you would find on the shop floor, aside from the Rotor / Power2Max crankset (a personal sponsor), SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes and, once again, the Specialized S-Works Power saddle makes an appearance among the pro bikes. The Power range of saddles are designed for high performance in terms of blood flow while in an aggressive position that supports the sit bones and is super light at just 159g for the 143mm S-Works version. Specification list: FrameSpecialized S-Works EraForkRockshox RS-1 BrainShockFox/Specialized Brain KashimaRimsRoval Control SLFront HubSRAMRear HubRoval Control SLFront TyreSpecialized Fast Trak 2.0Rainear TyreSpecialized Fast Trak 2.0HandlebarsS-Works CarbonStemSyntace F109 Alloy 75mmHeadsetFSABrakesSRAM Guide UltimateShiftersSRAM XX1DerailleursSRAM XX1CassetteSRAM XX1CranksetRotor RexChainringPower2Max power meter, Rotor 32TChainSRAM XX1PedalsShimano XTRSeatpostS-WorksSaddleS-Works Power Saddle
  17. This year leading lady Ariane Kleinhans is riding on the female specific Specialized Era after riding the men's variant for some time. The key difference compared to the brother bike, the Epic, lies in the frame geometry and contact points. The Era features a lower standover height and shorter reach, said to provide a better fit for many ladies. Click here to view the article
  18. Annika Langvad & Ariane Kleinhans of Spur-Specialized win stage 3 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Wellington, South Africa on the 16th March 2016. Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS While the Swiss-Danish pair arrived at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Wellington campus 32,1 seconds ahead of the Topeak Ergon and added another 1.11,3 to their overall lead on Ascendis Health, they didn’t have it all their own way today. “I didn’t see that coming,” Langvad told Kleinhans as they celebrated their victory. The three contenders in the Sasol Women’s category, as well as Sport for Good, remained within a minute of each other at all three water points on the 104km transition stage from Tulbagh. While it didn’t end in a sprint finish, they all described the racing as fierce and exactly what the women’s category has been calling out for. “It was a very close race and we had no idea how it was going to finish. The racing was super close and very tough because we were all together until the last 20 kilometres or so,” said Langvad. Adel Morath & Sally Bigham of Topeak Ergon during stage 2 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh, South Africa on the 15th March 2016. Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS. The Dane believes that it was their nous that saw them eventually emerge from the pack to win. “We didn’t win because we were stronger today, but only because we chose best when to use our advantage. After the last descent we went through vineyards and the corners were very slippery… that’s where we made our advantage count.” Among the triumphant scenes of Kleinhans and Langvad, were the tears of Adel Morath (Topeak Ergon) and clear signs of the day’s toil when Jennie Stenerhag (Ascendis Health) required medical attention. Sally Bigham revealed that her German partner Morath had ridden the entire stage with her knee in pain after a crash yesterday. With that said, they both enjoyed today’s racing. Sally Bigham consoles Adel Morath after stage 3 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Wellington, South Africa on the 16th March 2016. Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS “Today was the best women’s stage that I’ve been involved in during my Cape Epic history,” said Bigham, riding in her sixth straight Cape Epic. “We had a great time and really enjoyed the close racing. The separate starts worked well today and it will be very good for the sport if we have more racing like today – there was lots of attacking and counter-attacking. It helps when the Masters men don’t get involved in our race because it can have an impact.” Morath echoed Bigham’s sentiments. “It was an amazing stage… we watched each other, we attacked each other, it was very tactical. It was super hard so in the end everyone was suffering and looking forward to seeing the finish line.” Having made up ground on Ascendis Health, Bigham is excited about what their English-German partnership can do during the rest of the week. “I think we are working very well together. We don’t talk that much during the race because there isn’t much chance but we every day we are learning more about riding with each other. We’re looking forward to the remaining stages.” Jennie Stenerhag being carried off the finish line after stage 3 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race held from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Wellington, South Africa on the 16th March 2016. Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS Stenerhag’s was stretchered off to the race hospital after collapsing at the finish and within the hour announced that she would not continue the race. Despite Stenerhag’s withdrawal, De Groot said that they actually enjoyed the race today and she intends to continue riding herself. “Look, there were sections that were very hot. The racing was very exciting. It was a proper ladies race today…” 2016 Stage 3 Women Stage Results1. Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 5:18.47,0 2. Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 5:19.19,1 +32,1 3. Ascendis Health 51-1 Robyn de Groot (South Africa) 51-2 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 5:19.58,3 +1.11,3 Overall Results 1. Spur-Specialized 50-1 Annika Langvad (Denmark) 50-2 Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) 17:05.39,4 2. Ascendis Health 51-1 Robyn de Groot (South Africa) 51-2 Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden) 17:10.07,8 +4.28,4 3. Topeak Ergon 53-1 Sally Bigham (England) 53-2 Adel Morath (Germany) 17:13.06,9 +7.27,5 4. Sport for Good 54-2 Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) 54-1 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 17:26.11,6 +20.32,2 5. Meerendal Wheeler 52-1 Esther Suss (Switzerland) 52-2 Catherine Williamson (England) 18:00.04,8 +54.25,4 6. Meerendal Rocky EBE 56-1 Hielke Elferink (Netherlands) 56-2 Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) 18:56.02,5 +1:50.23,1 7. Galileo Risk 55-1 Theresa Ralph (South Africa) 55-2 Yolandi du Toit (South Africa) 18:56.27,8 +1:50.48,4 8. Asrin Cycling 71-1 Janka Keseg Stevkova (Slovakia) 71-2 Sandra Santanyes Murillo (Spain) 19:13.25,9 +2:07.46,5 9. Energade Racing 202-1 Dalene van der Leek (South Africa) 202-2 Sharon Laws (England) 19:14.23,3 +2:08.43,9 10. Liv - MTB Pro 59-1 Muriel Bouhet (France) 59-2 Merce Pacios Pujado (Spain) 21:30.34,6 +4:24.55,2
  19. Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad of Spur-Specialized moved a step closer to clinching their third straight Absa Cape Epic title by winning Stage 3 in a time of 5:18.47. Click here to view the article
  20. Nic Lamond, founder of Podium Sports athlete management company, was instrumental in putting together the newly formed Team Spur duo Ariane Kleinhans and James Reid. We caught up with Nic to get his views on professional mountain biking, putting together a professional team in South Africa and the ambitions of Team Spur. Click here to view the article
  21. You are no stranger to representing individual high profile athletes but managing a team is a bit different. How do the two differ? Nic Lamond, founder and director of Podium Sports. Photo by Craig Kolesky. Yes, individual athlete management is completely different from team management. And I'm learning just how different on a daily basis with Team Spur.'Managing' an individual athlete is about a deep connection and huge levels of trust. At Podium Sports, we develop a keen understanding of who our athletes are and engage with suitable sponsors on how both athlete and brand can contribute to shared goals. It's completely bespoke. Athletes want very different things out of their careers and have differing timeframes to achieve these goals – be they financial, performance or lifestyle-related. The same applies to brands – some are interested in branding opportunities, others want to support the high-performance journey, or have a pro athlete help with product R&D, a few just want access to an athlete for a coffee once a month. We have turned down big offers because our values and vision for the relationship weren't aligned. Although, managing a team starts in the same way, it is more involved. Hence why we have two full-time staff at Team Spur to support Ariane Kleinhans and James Reid. That said, the Team Spur model is different from other teams. Podium Sports started as agents for both Ariane and James. Through that relationship we spent a long time understanding who they are and then we built a team around them. They cover the full range of the mountain biking experience. Marathon and cross-country. Power and endurance. Man and woman. Spur Steak Ranches are such a passionate and supportive sponsor, with so much to offer, the fit was almost immediate. That we were able to carry Specialized as their equipment sponsor says a lot about the brand's commitment to its athletes, its racing heritage and its desire to be used by the best. I better add that Podium Sports manages triathlon superstar couple James Cunnama and Jodie Swallow. They are just like a team with their shared brand endorsements and global race commitments, so we have learned a great from supporting them across the globe. That said, James and Jodie are self-sufficient, looking after the details of their race calendars themselves. They are also hands-on with all their own mechanical work. I can't understand why triathletes have a reputation as being prima donnas! Maybe it's just the age groupers! James and Jodie are pretty tough and helluva resourceful. Photo by Craig Kolesky. It appears tough to persuade sponsors to back professional cycling in South Africa. Having just been through the process yourself, how difficult is it to get sponsor buy-in? I think 2016 has seen some fantastic new teams emerge, with loads of potential. But I do agree with the sentiment that it is difficult to bring sponsors into the sport of cycling. South Africa has unique challenges. The elephant in the room in any athlete or team sponsorship negotiation is doping. Sad but true. I prefer to be completely upfront and encourage the brands I deal with to take a very hard line on doping. I don't get caught up in circular debates about the new generation being clean or the old generation finally being purged out of the sport. All I know is I trust the athletes I work with, and they trust me. It's a minimum requirement for the work I do. And we move on. There is no joy in hearing of another athlete being pinged for doping. None. It is devastating on so many levels, not just the loss of prize money or media attention for the honest athletes. Doping is fraud and its consequences are far-reaching. The doping scandals that have rocked cycling recently, particularly in South Africa, make brands very hesitant to get behind athletes and teams. I fully understand this. Individuals are risky. Far easier to sponsor an event or two and get your media exposure that way. And many local brands have dived into events. That has been fantastic. We have probably the most sophisticated independent event organisers in the world in South Africa in mountain biking (not so much road, sadly). But it has been at the expense of the pro rider. I'm not crying over spilt milk. It's the way it is. In a similar position as a marketer for a big company, controlling the purse-strings for sponsorship and at the same time looking out for the reputation of my brand, I'd probably also choose the safe option. But the pro athlete journey is about the human condition – the highs and lows, set-backs and triumphs. It's not pure marketing and squeaky clean corporate imagery. It's messy and real. Ariane said the other day in a team meeting that pro sport is about losing. I was horrified. How could one of the world's winningest marathon stage racers admit that?! But she's right. Losing in pro sport is inevitable. There is only one top step on the dais. How we deal with defeat as individuals, teams, sponsors? That's what makes pro sport interesting and exciting. The public will always identify with pros – they become heros and villains in a dynamic narrative played out every weekend. We see something in their character that resonates with us – we watch them have it easy, or overcome great odds, and we're hooked. Events don't connect with pros in the same way. I don't feel the journey with an event is as rewarding as with an individual athlete or team. Team sponsorship is really tough to secure and is fraught with risk – mechanicals, injury, the ever-present doping issue. That's why I feel we should celebrate the brands that, despite it all, dive in and get involved. Team sponsorship is not for every brand, I get that. But it can be a very rewarding journey for brand and consumer. Photo by Craig Kolesky. Team Spur are ambassadors of the Spur School Mountain Bike League. How will the team boost the League and influence the young riders coming through? The Spur Schools Mountain Bike League is a juggernaut. It WILL create the next global mountain bike superstar, if it hasn't already. It's just a matter of time. The growth in numbers of entrants to League events is astonishing: 2015 saw 10,500 kids, sorry, 'young adults' line-up for at least one of 48 events around the country. 400 schools are now involved. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about all that potential, all the school gees directed at cycling. So, the numbers are there. Ariane and James don't need to be involved to increase the quantity or even quality of rider coming through the programme. Meurant Botha and Amarider have been killing it for years. We feel Ariane's and James's value to the Spur Schools League is in being role models – creating a link between lap-racing at your local school track and the Cape Epic, or World Champs or the Olympics. Having riders of their caliber, who kids can access to improve their riding skills and be inspired by, is immense. Ariane and James are both heavily invested in the ambassador side of the Spur sponsorship and will be offering their hard-won insight into bike racing and the importance of education. It helps that both are university graduates who have had to juggle competing interests most of their lives. Team Spur is about encouraging a balanced approach to life for youngsters, yet also showing just where your passion can take you. What characteristics drew you to Ariane and James? I like to surround myself with smart people, and I'm lucky to have that in Team Spur's support staff and riders. I have raced around Ariane for a long time and always took an interest in her career. She has such resilience, willpower and determination. Her professionalism and dedication to her craft is impressive and the team draws on this to better itself constantly. Yet she is very 'normal', and shares the same insecurities as you or I. It's an attractive combination that makes her very real for sponsors, and in this case for the Spur Schools League. It was a privilege to get to know her even better over the past year and my initial impressions of her as an acquaintance were reinforced as we embarked on the sponsorship path. James and I have been friends for a good long time, and ridden the roller-coaster of semi-pro mountain biking together. He has been knocked down countless times, but his ability to get up, dust himself off and climb back into the ring is inspiring. He is constantly trying to understand himself more and brings a highly analytical approach to racing. James is always up for the fight, and knows that getting to the top of cross-country (XCO) racing in South Africa and the world is an all-out brawl. He's also really good fun and that is a priceless quality when the pressure gets too intense and we all start looking way too serious. This is bike riding after all... Ariane and James are both prominent riders in their own categories. Will we ever see Team Spur riding together as a mixed team? Ha ha. I doubt that. Paired mountain bike racing is only a part of what we are targeting with Team Spur. There are a few three-day events such as the Tankwa Trek and Wines 2 Whales where we will create a team set-up to race. And there's the Epic, of course! But each rider has chosen a partner of the same gender and level to compete in these. The UCI doesn't reward mixed teams with points for their individual rankings in marathon (XCM) or XCO. Athletes need points to get decent grid positions at World Cups and qualify for World Champs and Olympics. Photo by Craig Kolesky. As you mentioned, Specialized are the team’s bike sponsor? Which Specialized bikes will each be riding? Do you know whether either of them will reach for a hardtail during the season? Ariane will be racing Specialized's S-Works Era in stage races and will have a S-works Stumpjumper hardtail for select XCO World Cup events later in the year. She has an Amira on the road. James will be racing a Specialized S-Works Epic World Cup this year in all events. He also has the 120mm-travel Specialized Camber for trail fun and skills work in Jonkershoek. His roadie is a trusty Tarmac Disc. Marathon stage races are traditionally team events in South Africa. How hard is it for Ariane and James to find partners for these races? Yes, we do struggle to find partners for the smaller stage races. However, apart from the Absa Cape Epic, stage racing isn't a big focus of the team as mentioned earlier. For Epic, Team Spur has partnered with Specialized Factory Racing to create Team Spur-Specialized and we are bringing out the big guns! Ariane will be hooking up with multiple World Champ Annika Langvad as they shoot for their third straight victory in the Women's category. James will be racing with US National Champ and fellow XCO World Cup journeyman Howard Grotts as a complete newbie team, albeit one with the pedigree to shake established European trade teams. How did the James and Howard Absa Cape Epic partnership come about? The two young guns have been mates for a while, cutting their teeth together on the aggressive and highly competitive U23 UCI World Cup stage. James will be going into his second year in the Pro Elite Men's category, while Howard is entering his first. Specialized's Christoph Sauser is responsible for putting the team together. Spur jumped on the opportunity to have them race together and have been pulling out all the stops. Christoph (Susi) trains with James in Stellenbosch and is a really great mentor. There isn't much in mountain biking Susi hasn't personally experienced. He also knows the Specialized Factory Team setup inside-out. His dominance at the Epic in the last few years has left a big vacuum with his retirement from pro racing. So he and the Specialized global team decided to shake things up by giving James and Howard an opportunity to keep the bookies guessing! James Reid racing the 2016 Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge. Photo credit: Zoon Cronje www.zooncronje.com With James and Howard having one eye on the Olympics, will the pair be competing for the title and stage victories? There is very little pressure on James and Howard, but there is a quiet expectation that they will impress. They are both phenomenal athletes in their chosen discipline of XCO racing but mostly untested over eight days. Howard is already in South Africa preparing with James. Let's just say they are going to give it a good go! What are the goals for each rider nationally and internationally this season? We want our athletes to live out their dreams while being supported by Spur, Specialized and all the brands invested in this journey. For Ariane it starts with the Epic, then UCI World Cup races, XCM World Champs and Swiss National Champs. James has a full calendar qualifying for the Olympics, and that is his first priority. Epic is probably second. Although all of the World Cup, Continental Champs and SA XCO Cups are crucial for him to fly the South African flag on all our behalf in Rio. Which World Cup events can supporters expect to see the Team Spur competing in? It looks like we'll have to skip the UCI World Cup in Cairns, Australia. That is a little disappointing. Unfortunately, there are too many important Olympic qualifying races in South Africa for James to travel half way around the world to Australia, then return and recover in time to perform and rack up the all-important points here. Ariane and James will attend all the European World Cup events. That's Germany, France, Switzerland and Andorra. James may also race Monte-Saint-Anne in Canada, but that depends on Olympics and we'll cross that bridge later. Ariane will race UCI XCM World Champs in France in June, with James competing at the UCI XCO World Champs in the Czech Republic in July. Will we see Ariane shift more focus onto XCO in 2016? Ariane isn't shifting focus to XCO, although she will race much more of the XCO format in 2016. Ariane's goal is to win a XCM World Championship in the next few years. If she is to do that she must target what she considers to be her weaknesses, and turn them into strengths. That means more bar-to-bar racing: making line choices in technical sections in the heat of a packed race! Ariane is looking forward to building her tactical edge and improving her technical prowess through World Cup racing. Photo by Craig Kolesky. Ariane must think she has a shot at winning the marathon event. With other riders possibly focusing on the Olympics, do you think this could be her year? Ariane will always race to win. She doesn't know any other way. The World Champs is a major goal of hers. Sure, the Rio Olympics could deplete the XCM World Championships field. But it will never be easy. There are so many quality women coming through the ranks. You could argue that the fact that only one or two athletes from the top countries will be selected for the Olympics, so those left over will have more interest in tackling a World Championship event. Ariane is not looking to 'steal' a World Champs jersey because no-one else pitched up. She is focused on beating the best in the world on the day – whether it happens this year or any other year in the future. It is great to see local riders competing at a top level of the sport. What are the challenges for Team Spur and other South African based riders looking to compete overseas? The major difficulty for locals plying their trade at the big events overseas is the depth. Sure, we have incredibly gifted athletes, and some future world-beaters coming through. But the sheer depth of talent at the European races is a massive shock to the system and may take a few years for a youngster to fully understand and appreciate. The crowds are also a huge eye-opener. It's like being in a washing machine for 90 minutes. Experience will see you out the other side in one piece. My advice to any young racers: if you are out front at a local race and have first place wrapped up, keep attacking the course, race to the clock, don't stop! If you hope to make it on the international stage – race yourself. When you get overseas you will find 100 other hungry racers at your level and you need to know how to keep pushing! The currency is also a big challenge for us down here at the tip of Africa! Since putting the team together we have been under immense pressure not to cut back on our race calendar and race support offering as the Rand has continued on a slippery slope downwards. But racing internationally can be done from a South African base. We just need to fight smart. Spur are incredibly supportive of the challenges we face here. Photo by Craig Kolesky.
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