In the fifth instalment of #5Questions, Oli interviews two renowned South African coaches who have intricate knowledge of how to get the best out of your body and mind. Jeroen shares his top 3 tips for amateurs to improve their performance, while Erica reinforces the importance of sharpening your MTB skills.
1. How did the opportunity to become Team Doctor for the UAE Team Emirates come about? And what is your specific role within the team?
Inigio San Milan who, like me, is an exercise scientist and sports physician based at the University of Colorado in Denver had been contacted by the team with a view to making major changes in the medical as well as the performance departments. Inigo and I knew each other and have a similar philosophy. As a result he asked me to interview with the team for the position of medical director. After a few trips to the UAE to meet the team and its sponsors I was appointed. My role is to ensure that the athletes are healthy and stay injury free as well as ensuring they are treated in an evidence based fashion for any injuries or illnesses that do occur. In addition I have a lot of expertise in cycling biomechanics, performance testing and athlete monitoring. I therefore contribute to these areas even though they fall into the performance domain.
2. Life behind-the-scenes of a World Tour team can be rather hectic ... what have you witnessed that would intrigue fans?
An important observation is that the staff and athletes are human beings and have similar problems, emotional responses and interactions to people at other levels of the sport. The difference is that at this level the stakes are much higher and the pressure is much higher but the room for error is much smaller. Decision making is often needed under time pressure and the pressure that is inherent in any top athlete not being able to compete for any time period. To stay objective and provide an evidence-based decision in this atmosphere is challenging and requires constant reflection.
3. In your opinion, what are the two most significant differences between modern professional riders and those who raced 10 years ago in terms of their training habits?
The level of focus and attention to detail has continued to increase every year. So has the technology. And lastly, the season has become almost year-round. Today’s professional riders are required to be committed for almost 50 weeks of the year and to deliver on all aspects such as training, nutrition, media commitments etc.
4. What are your top 3 tips for recreational mountain bikers to help improve their performance?
A) Make recovery as much of a focus as your training. Almost all recreational riders will overdo the training and not recover adequately.
B) Keep it fun
C) If you’re not sure, get advice from a quality coach.
5. What has been your proudest moment in cycling?
Going riding with my two daughters and seeing how much it enriches their lives.
1. Erica, you have represented South Africa at the Olympic Games in both Road (1996) and Mountain Bike (1996 & 2000) disciplines. Have you always been a mountain biker at heart, or did you have your sights set on becoming a professional roadie at some point?
After training and riding horses in Switzlerland for an Olympic dressage trainer, for 2 years - Olympics became my sole goal (equestrian). When I returned to SA, all my friends had just started riding mtb (Oli, were you born yet?? He he he). My sole goal remained (to get to the Olympics), but on a bicycle. To cut a longish story short, I studied the criteria to qualify for Olympics, twice, and set out on this course, that would bring me to the point I am in life.
When one sets oneself a certain standard, this will filter through in all aspects of one’s life, so the aim would be to become The Best . . . . I could be.
During my relatively brief career as a “pro athlete” (8 years) I was privileged to have raced all 3 disciplines at an international level (road, track and MTB). MTB is certainly my favourite. However each discipline taught me various other aspects of cycling and racing, that not many people out there today, know.
Once again, post 2019 ABSA Cape Epic - and looking at some of the athletes we work with, from Top 25 to just finishing - experience is not something that can be fast-tracked or downloaded onto a human’s hard drive - it takes time, effort, hardship, euphoria and teaches us patience and humility.
Having founded DaisyWay coaching as your professional cycling career was winding down in 1999, did you struggle to adjust back to 'normal life’?
Hell yes! I never want to go through something like that again!
One loses one’s identity - I was "Erica, the Cyclist”. Now I’ll only be “Erica”. Well, that’s how I saw it. However, “we are not judged by how many times we win or lose, but by how we play the game” (Thinking Body, Dancing Mind).
I was fortunate to have been invited to work with some of the greatest sports event legends, for a 3 year period, post racing career: Rick Sutton and Mitch Wippern, on some of the biggest cycling events in the world (Sea Otter Classic, NORBA Series, UCI World Cup events, in North America). And in this way, I am still very much involved in the industry, just in a different role. This certainly eased the transition, and over time, has allowed me to make a living from the sport without sacrificing any of the passion I have for it.
I’m passionate about helping people see their potential within themselves. Coaching is where I have landed up and it is one of the most fulfilling roles one could have wished for.
3. As a coach, where do you think an average recreational mountain biker can make the biggest improvement to their riding?
Money can buy you a fast car, with lots of horse power and flashy speed. It can buy you the greatest, lightest, most sought-after bicycle. What it cannot buy you is handling, pedalling, cycling and technical skill that is required to be able to “arrive on the scene” and hit the downhill trails as fast as “another". As mentioned before, brilliant mtb skills take time to develop, practice and perfect.
There are five basic skills, that, if tackled early on, will filter into all the other higher level skills, ensuring a much quicker rise to higher level of ability. However, the “need for speed” on climbs and out on the road seem to super-cede the laborious task of tackling those forgotten grass field cone sessions ;)
4. Has having your kids start to ride more regularly and enter events changed your attitude towards the sport?
5. What has been your proudest moment in cycling?
About #5Questions: This 10 part series of interviews aims to highlight characters, from industry insiders to professional racers, who have shaped South Africa's cycling landscape.
Written and compiled by Oli Munnik