You have come to South Africa for a quick training trip: Have you been here before?
Yes, I have come four times for the Cape Epic and it’s maybe my fourth time here in Stellenbosch for a training camp.
What is your favourite trail here and how do they compare to back home?
Last time, I was here was three years ago, and it has changed a lot since then. Jonkershoek especially with all the fires.I like Jonkershoek. Every trail is awesome, and G-spot is really great too. I only have my mountain bike here, I didn’t bring my road bike. I don’t feel safe enough on the roads here, and there are such good opportunities with the trails around Stellenbosch. The trails here are very loose and dusty. In Switzerland, the trails are much more grippy, with hard pack terrain. It’s good skills practice here. It is also quite similar to the conditions in Cairns, Australia where the World Championships will be held this year.
You are not doing the Cape Epic this year. Does a big stage race like the Epic affect your season afterwards?
Yes and no. For some people, it has no effect, but in XCO with the extremely high intensity, you’ll find that you are missing that top power. If you do smaller races or marathon races, it’s no problem, but for a cross-country World Cup you feel it. It cuts your peak a little bit, especially if you don’t have enough recovery afterwards. It can work the other way: if you have enough time afterwards, and you make a good recovery, a smart recovery, it can be a really good base for the whole season.
You started Tankwa Trek but were not able to complete it: what happened?
I started the first day feeling a little bit sick, maybe I ate something wrong the day before, and then the second day was just impossible to finish. The whole event is great, the route is amazing, and because it is only three days it is really good training.
The Swiss have so many good mountain bikers: where did they all come from, and how do you guys manage to fight it out for positions in teams and spots at races?
I think the high number of Swiss riders comes from it not being a very big country: everybody can make every race on every weekend, and we don’t have to fly to get there or pack the bike and travel for two days. In every race, we have guys of the highest level competing, so everybody is pushing each other. It’s good to have so many riders, but if you want to go to an event like the World Championships or the Olympics, you have to fight very hard for a spot, and it can be frustrating.
You have also competed successfully in cyclocross successfully in the past. Do you prefer XCO or cyclocross?
It’s more intense than cross country, there are not so many downhills. It’s like a criterium on the road but you need more skills on the bike. I actually come from a cyclocross background, as a kid I did cyclocross. Ten years ago it was really big in Switzerland.
How long have you been racing XCO? How has the sport changed since you started?
Since 1996. The biggest change is that the races have gotten shorter. When I started in U23, races were about 2.5 hours long, now they are 1.5 hours. So the riders are now more sprinters than endurance athletes.In terms of bikes, the wheel size has changed, the suspension has changed a bit. Ninety percent of the time I race with my full suspension, BMC Fourstroke and not the Teamelite hardtail. I have always preferred full suspension, in 2008 I was already doing most races on a full suspension. For about 2 years after the switch to 29ers, everyone was hesitant to race full suspension 29ers because of the extra weight of the bigger wheels. Now tyres and wheels have improved and gotten lighter, and courses have gotten so technical that most riders now race full suspension.
We notice that you have a dropper seat post on your training bike. Do you race with a dropper post?
I do. I have had one on my training bike for a while and this year I will race with one as well. On my training bike, I have 100mm dropper, but for racing, 40mm is probably enough. Six years ago you could not have imagined riding and racing with a dropper, the technology has improved so much. For many riders, 600 grams is still too heavy, but the courses are getting more and more technical, with rock gardens and jumps, and you are much safer with a dropper post.
What races will you be targeting for 2017?
I’ll be looking at the XCO World Cup, and my focus is also on marathon worlds. I did marathon World Champs last year, but I had to start at the back because I did not have enough points. So last year I did one marathon to collect some points so that this time I can start closer to the front. Then, of course, it’s cross country World Champs in Cairns at the end of the year.The longer races suit me. I hate the fast starts in cross country. The first part of cross country is really not for me, but you have to hang on. Previously when races were a little longer the pace would slow down after one or two laps and you could make up places. Right now if you are not in the top 20 after the start it is almost impossible to have a top 5 finish.
Bike check: BMC Fourstroke 01 Tell us about the setup on the training bike you have here: Do you make any major changes to the stock model?
For cross country, I mostly ride with a single ring on the front but for training and marathon, I usually prefer two chainrings. This year I have a shorter stem and wider handlebars than in previous years. It changes the feel of the bike and is something I have had to get used to but definitely improves the handling in technical terrain.Here in South Africa we have to really adjust with the tyres. For the first two days everybody is flatting everywhere, and then we change to more robust tyres. I was riding Vittoria AKA, but they are too light for the conditions here. I have put on Saguaros and have not had a flat for two weeks now, and they are nice and grippy. The AKA are fine for cross country racing, but for something like the Cape Epic you need a stronger tyre and you don’t need to worry so much about the weight.
FrameBMC Fourstroke 01ForkFox 32 SC Factory Series iRD FITRear shockFox Float Factory Series iRDWheelsetShimano XTRCranksetShimano XTR with Stages crankarmChainShimanoCassetteShimano XTRShiftersShimano XTR Di2Front DerailleurShimano XTR Di2Rear DerailleurShimano XTR Di2BrakesetShimano XTRRotorShimano XTR CenterLockHandlebars3T Exsero Team CarbonStem3T ARX II 90mmTyresVittoria Saguaro 29x2.2SaddleFizik Antares 00SeatpostYep UptimizerBottle cageElite Cannibal