Although defending champion Willie Smit may not be on the start line come November 16, he has some good advice for his fellow 94.7 Momentum Cycle Challenge participants. Cyclingnews chatted to him about this and his personal ambitions for the upcoming season.
Q: How old are you, and when and how did you get into cycling?
A: I am 21. I started out mountain biking with my school friends at the age of 16 and my interest in the sport grew from there.
Q: Which team do you currently ride for?
A: I ride on the Vini Fantini-Nippo continental team in Italy.
Q: When not racing abroad, where are you based?
A: I grew up in a small town in Mpumalanga called Lydenburg. When home from Italy, I stay in Nelspruit as it suits my demand for training on all terrains the best.
Q: You’re competing in the U23 category at the Worlds at the end of September. Take us through your personal and team objectives.
A: I’ve done a few 1.1 UCI races in Italy in preparation for Worlds. I’ll do my best to support Louis Meintjes, keep him out of trouble and support him with bottles and food where I can.
Q: Your most satisfying result this season and why?
A: It has really been a tough first season in Europe for me. But winning the points jersey in the Tour of Dubai was my best moment as all ProTour teams where present with riders like Cavendish, Sagan and Kittel.
Q: What did last year’s victory at the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge do for your career and will you be defending?
A: Unfortunately, winning any number of races in South Africa won’t give you any contract in Europe. It all depends on whether I get a proper contract in Europe for next year. If so, I might have to rest in November to build towards the 2015 season.
Q: You powered away in the last few kilometres of the Cycle Challenge last year. Was that your pre-race plan?
A: Races in South Africa don’t really suit my style of riding. I planned to help Herman Fouché and Clint Hendricks, but an opportunity presented itself in a hard final stretch. It suited the team to send me up the road, which resulted in the win.
Q: Will you recce the new route beforehand?
A: If I were to ride the 94.7 this year, I would check out the final three kilometres to see which lines to take and where the best place for an attack would be. This knowledge is also important to avoid any unnecessary crashes.
Q: Which portion of the Cycle Challenge do you find the toughest? Why?
A: Any part where there might be gutters could be very tough.
Q: With around a month to go until race day, what is your number one tip for the average rider?
A: It’s usually quite hot at that time of the year, so hydration throughout the race is of the utmost importance. And, if you don’t have backup, carry your own tubes as you don’t want to spend the whole day out there.
Q: What are the most common mistakes in the final weeks leading up to the event?
A: Training too much because they think they should catch up on training missed. Changing their diet can disturb the body’s balance and doesn’t give it enough time to adapt to the new diet or training.
Q: The Argus has the sub-three hour barrier that social riders aspire to break. Does the Cycle Challenge have an equivalent benchmark?
A: Well it’s hard to say exactly because of the different route but, if the wind doesn’t play too big a role, anything under 2 hours 30 minutes is a decent time.
Q: Should riders going for personal bests or specific goals listen to their body or rather be guided by heart rate monitors and other gadgets? How do you do it?
A: Unfortunately, in races you have to try and go as fast as the group you are in even if it means not listening to your body. The 94.7 is only once a year, so there should be no reason why you should not explore your limits. But it’s always better finding a group that works well together to achieve your best time possible. A solo attempt might feel harder but it’s not always the faster method as wind resistance plays a big role in energy expenditure. Where I race in Europe, you’re always pushing your boundaries; you go as hard as you can and if you crack before the finish you just accept it wasn’t meant to be. But, most importantly, know where your boundaries are.
Q: For non-pros, would you recommend a rest day or an easy ride the day before?
A: Always, always, always ride the day before as it activates the body and muscles. You don’t want to start your race numb and with stiff legs.
Q: What should the ordinary rider be eating and drinking the day before? (What, when and how often?)
A: Always eat in proportion to your body size and what you are used to. Overeating won’t enhance your performance as your body only has the ability to use X amount of the proteins and carbs you’ve eaten. Overeating might also cause an upset stomach, which you don’t want on your big day. I keep it simple with my usual breakfast of FutureLife and eggs, some protein like a chicken salad at mid-day, pasta with not too much sauce at night, followed by something sweet like fruit. This would be my typical pre-race day routine.
Q: And on race day?
A: Anything with carbs and sugar but, most importantly, a coffee before the start. And, as mentioned before, something that your body is familiar with.
Q: What is your top tip for riders who start cramping?
A: I’ve cramped up quite a lot of times in important parts of races and the best thing to do is pedal through it. Once you stop, it’s over. The muscle will contract even more. Also, drinking more water and less sugar on hot days is better to prevent cramping.
Q: How should those who have time goals – like breaking the three or four-hour barrier – pace themselves? Start fast, finish fast, ride a constant pace or just stay with the bunch throughout?
A: Someone once told me that if you think you can’t anymore, it means you can still do double what you’ve already done. I’ve kept this saying quite close to my heart. Give it your all from the start as you don’t want to finish the race feeling you could have done more. This will come back to haunt you for days.
Q: Due to the sheer numbers, races like the Cycle Challenge feature a lot of group riding. What are your top three bunch riding tips?
A: First of all, always pay as much attention as possible to the rider in front of you and be aware of changing situations around you. Secondly, if you’re just riding for a good time, there is no reason to overlap the wheel in front of you. Lastly, riding a bicycle is a lot like driving a car – always stay within your limits. Not everyone is able to go through corners and gaps at the same speed. And never, ever pull too hard on the brakes.
Q: The altitude may affect coastal riders. Any tips for them?
A: Coastal riders should take a more strategic approach and not start too hard, as they could easily burn out quickly.