With the first UCI Cross Country World Cup race of the 2018 season kicking-off in Stellenbosch, the BMC MTB Racing Team arrived in Cape Town, amped to grind out a successful start to their 2018 campaign. For the team’s four young riders (Reto Indergand, Lars Foster, Titouan Carod and Filippo Colombo), it was their first visit to Stellenbosch, and they weren’t quite sure what to expect of the course and the conditions.
Preparation – After settling into the usually leafy town of Stellenbosch, which is now more dusty than usual because of a severe drought in the Western Cape, the team had only a few days to prepare for the race. The important tasks at hand were to get enough practice on the new course, to learn the best lines, and still have enough recovery time between these practice sessions for the race. Nutrition was also key in making sure they had enough energy in the tank. In between events like photo shoots, interviews and meeting other BMC riders at Deluxe Coffeeworks were also part of their schedule.
Their BMC Fourstroke 01 race machines were all fine-tuned according to each rider’s preferences by the BMC mechanics, Benoite and Simeon. The rest of the support crew – physiotherapist, Jean-Pierre, and the team manager, Sylvain are often overlooked but they play an integral role in the functioning and performance of the team, and I was privileged to have witnessed this first-hand.
Apart from their normal duties of keeping the riders and their bikes in top condition, the entire support crew contributed immensely to the team culture and morale throughout the week. This is crucial to the riders’ psychological state going into the race.
One rider told me that the good environment and team spirit created by the BMC support crew creates a comfortable and relaxed space for them. It gives them an advantage to focus purely on performing at their top level during the race, which eventually translates into seconds gained on the course. Knowing that the crew is there to support and cheer you on, empowers these young men, especially when they are racing in a different country, under new conditions every few weeks.
Photo credits – Irmo Keizer
The Race – Excitement and anticipation was visibly felt throughout Stellenbosch as the top cross country riders in the world was seen in the streets, getting ready to compete in the first race of the season. All that was left was to race full gas – a’bloc 😉 – leaving everything on the course.
After a frenetic start to the men’s elite race, the riders settled into a fast- paced rhythm and tried to improve their positions with each passing lap on the dry Stellenbosch course. Giving it his all while also staying safe and smooth on the course resulted in a 5th place finish for Titouan and a well-deserved place on the podium. Reto finished12th and Lars 24th. Filippo earned 8th place in the hard-fought Under 23 race.
South African Experience – After the intense race, our team, and most of the other pros, spent a night on the town, unwinding and soaking up the local culture.
The guys were back on their bikes the next morning for a casual 3 hour ride to the Dornier Wine Estate where they had lunch at the Bodega restaurant. This was the last opportunity for the team to sample some of the local food and wine and it’s safe to say that they loved it. They also enjoyed riding in amongst such beautiful scenery. This is surely one of the perks of being a pro bike rider. How nice it must be to ride in different countries around the world, experience those cultures and call it “work”.
Photo credits – Irmo Keizer
The race was attended by thousands of cycling enthusiasts and spectators, and considered by many experienced commentators and fans to be one of the most exciting in recent times. It was 20 years since Stellenbosch had last hosted a World Cup event, and the local fans were hungry to witness these top athletes up close on a local cross-country course.
I hope this event will grow from strength to strength over the next few years and, one day, attract the kind of crowds that the European events draw. This race should further strengthen the reputation of South Africa as not just an ideal off-season training destination for international mountain biking pro athletes, but as a “not to miss” racing stop in the annual cycling mountain biking calendar.
Race machines – The BMC Fourstroke 01’s performed with their usual Swiss precision and reliability. The mechanics used the practice sessions to fine-tune the bikes’ suspensions according to local temperature and course conditions. The ideal lubricant for the dry and dusty conditions also had to be tested. The Fox electronic lockout system was constantly used during the undulating course to ensure maximum traction and pedalling efficiency at all times.
I look forward to the next UCI World Cup XCO event to be hosted in Albstadt (Germany) in May to see how our BMC Racing Team can kick-on from their positive start to the season.
In the meantime, keep the rubber-side down and go full gas.