Many have warned me of the dangers of racing overseas, I have heard the war stories let me tell you. Living in Campervans. Driving ridiculous amounts of kilometres every week to races on different ends of Europe. Being pulled off the route on your 4th lap. And of course the big one… Exchange rates. But this is the life you as an individual have chosen. People can push you as much as they like but in the end it is your decision whether this is career you want to pursue. So on the 26th March of this year 3 young juniors and a fantastic man set off to discover the unknown for themselves.
It was the land better known for their pizza, pasta, and smooth Italian men. But little did we know how crazy these people are about cycling. Thousands and thousands of cyclists took the roads daily and at very arbitrary hours of the day: 9am -11am as if no one has jobs over there… We arrived at the little town of Montichiari where the second Italian cup was being held. The race was held around the town through the streets and up the hill to a castle where we road through the castle, down stairs and awesome technical sections. It was literally indescribable. Friday night was a time trail night race, completely unheard of! The track was lit up by street lamps and head torches. It is a definite must try in South Africa one of these days.
Sunday was the cross country race where +- 5000 spectators lined the route screaming and shouting the town was buzzing with excited fans. I couldn’t believe the amount of people and how little South African XCO is in comparison to this. Not even of African champs receives this amount of support and this was just an Italian cup race. There were Swiss , German, Belgian even Russian racers that had trekked across countries to race. Everyone was so hungry to race… Awesome! We all had a fantastic race Nicol was placed 10th in junior men. Frankie a solid 6th and myself a lucky 3rd in junior woman.
I thought to myself: How has South Africa got it so wrong? Our cross country races are held mostly in the sticks where the human population is close to none… Leshoto or the Addo Elephant park for example… Our only spectators are our parents that have to drive us because we are incapable of driving ourselves or very very committed loved ones… other than that the average Joe doesn’t even hear about it. It isn’t about racing on the best routes, it’s about being spectator friendly, and do-able for the average weekend warrior. We are lucky if we get 10 women on the start line. Overseas an easy 150 hungry women are ready to race.
Our next stop was Nals situated on the boarder of Germany. This race was now one of the Junior world series. Hundreds of juniors were expected here from all over Europe. The best in the world. We arrived early that week just for a change of scenery. And just some words of advice when booking accommodation… look on google maps before you just book. We thought we were very cleaver to book 5kms out of town as this gave us some freedom from all the hype but… that’s 5km as the crow fly’s up a vertical accent. Easy on a bike but in a car, that’s another story an easy 20km’s round the mountain. We stayed so far up there was snow in our back yard… But it was quite nice;)
The town was completely dead the entire week until Friday. Suddenly the trucks and campervans rolled in the town came alive. Banners, route marking, tents were set up making the town a gigantic race village. Once again there were bound to be thousands of spectators making their way from afar. The race was tough. The climbing was hectic! Little chicks can climb faster than mountain goats I swear! I felt like an ox dragging a 200kg cart on my back. But we’ll get there. Nicol was unfortunately not well on the day and pulled off early. Frankie had another awesome race ending 8th and myself 6th in the junior woman. I think we can only go up from here as now we know exactly what needs to be worked on.
Overall the trip was really worthwhile. Thanks Johann, Nicol and franks for such a good trip. Your company is always so enjoyable. And just a bit of insight for those of you who are considering this career… remember: It is not a glamour’s job. It is hard and painful but you need to decide how you want your life to be lived. There are many ups and downs. Times when you will perform incredibly well and other times not so much. It is a selfish sport but at the same time very rewarding. You are able to see the world by doing something you love. Meet people you would have never met. Whatever you choose you must enjoy it and remember it is never too late to make a plan. Commitment and determination are the key factors. Your mind is incredibly strong; if your mind is in it you WILL succeed in your own way. And for those of you who are not looking at this as a career I urge you to support the sport, it is incredible beyond belief you will feel a part of it. Mountain biking is the fastest growing sport in South Africa so should Cross country be! We have super talented athletes that can be the best buy without support from our fellow South Africans our flag won’t fly very high.
Keep those pedals turning. Till next time
sneaky preview of our new kit 😉