Gert Heyns was understandably honoured to receive a phone call late last year from one of the world’s most famous mountain-bike outfits, SCOTT-SRAM, asking him to ride for them at the Cape Epic.
The team will field multiple cross-country world champion Nino Schurter and Lars Forster, both from Switzerland, as their first team, regarded by many as the overall favourites.
Meanwhile Andri Frischknecht, who was originally going to partner Schurter before contracting an illness, will pair up with Heyns as the back-up team instead.
The South African national marathon champ received recognition for his stellar 2018 results.
“The plan was originally to ride with Arno du Toit for that African jersey,” the DSV rider said.
“But then the SCOTT-SRAM manager contacted me to fill the gap because at the moment they have three male riders and they needed an extra guy.
“I felt quite privileged to be asked by them. Fortunately I can still ride with DSV on my kit while riding on their bikes.”
Schurter won the Epic in 2017 with his then teammate Matthias Stirnemann, so the stakes are high for Heyns and Frischknecht as the supporting team in the eight-day event which starts on Sunday.
“To be a good back-up team you obviously need to be quite well placed, so ideally we will also be chasing a good result.
“But our main goal is to support Nino and Lars as well as we can. Nino’s won it before and Lars is a very strong rider so they’re definitely in contention for the win.”
Heyns and Frischknecht will ride as DSV-SCOTT-SRAM and the Stellenbosch local said he and the three Swiss men had gelled well over the past three weeks since they arrived in the country.
“The four of us have trained together quite a bit. We haven’t raced with one another [yet], but we get along very well.
“There’s no doubt that these guys are very fast, so I will definitely have to try and keep up with them.”
With Frischknecht having specialised in a fair number of cross-country world cups previously, Heyns said they could complement each other well, especially on the technical sections.
“I’m more of a marathon rider, but I’ve also done quite a few cross-country races in the past.
“I think we will enjoy the technical sections and I feel like we have similar riding styles.”
Despite not being able to go for the red African jersey, Heyns said he would still find it interesting to gauge himself against the other SA riders who would also pose stiff competition.
“I’d still like to compare myself to the other SA riders. There’s always a bit of a contest to be the first South African [home], so we’ll see how that turns out.
“All the local guys such as PYGA Euro Steel [Matthys Beukes and Philip Buys] and Matt [Beers] and Alan [Hatherly] should be quite fast.”
He noted that Du Toit and Julian Jessop would ride as Team DSV and that they could also be strong contenders for the African jersey.
Having some decent knowledge of the trails after staying in the area for a while Heyns said he felt confident ahead of the Epic, a stage race that had become his sole focus this year.
“I think I’ve balanced it well and I’m feeling good. I’m quite confident.”