Despite the title, #CountryCyclist, my biking skills cover little more than staying upright (mostly) and changing a tyre. Enter the guru: Andrew McLean
He was studying teaching at Wits when he stumbled into competitive cycling. Along with his colleagues, Andrew McLean was required to complete a tri-athlon as part of his phys-ed course. “I realised I had an aptitude for cycling and less so for swimming,” he explains, “but running 42km wasn’t much fun.”
The lean youngster progressed rapidly to a professional career in South Africa that included four titles at the Giro del Capo, the four-day tour that concludes with the Cape Argus, and multiple national championships. He raced the competitive scene in Europe for several seasons, too. After retiring from the elite open category, McLean went on to dominate at age-group level, and added off-road racing to his repertoire. Importantly for me, he won the first ever joBerg2C alongside partner Shan Wilson. Now a well-known pundit on SuperSport, the still-super-fit McLean is heavily involved in running Cycle Lab, the business he founded not long after his riding career passed the finish line.
In the context of #CountryCyclist, think of Andrew as the wise Mr. Miyagi of Karate Kid fame. His role is to guide me (‘Daniel Son’, if you recall the 1980’s hit action film well enough) from zero to hero; from bony legged beginner to the sort of hardened mountain biker who eats trail dirt for breakfast and repairs split side walls in his sleep.
Unlike the Karate Kid, however, this can’t be done with a powerful montage and early methods of trick photography. So we’ll start slowly. Here are Andrew’s thoughts on the big concerns I had during my first month of riding.
#CC: I’ve read the stories and perused the website, but what exactly is in store fore me when I line up on 25 April with my front wheel pointed roughly in the direction of Scottburgh, 850km away?
AM: The best nine days of riding of your life. You are in for an absolute treat. The only bigger event is the Cape Epic, but for genuinely enjoyable riding, there are very few events worldwide that can compete with the joBerg2C.
The first three days are fairly flat. You’re going through the Free State and the local farmers are doing an unbelievable job of cutting single track and dual single track. Once you get to Sterkfontein Dam, the real riding starts. The drop from Solly’s Folly to Winterton is probably the most magnificent day. Then when you’re onto the final few days, you cover the route of the Sani2C, and that is just wonderful single track. I think you’ll get to the end and say it was worth all the blood, sweat and tears. It’s a race at the front, but for most people it’s just the most awesome ride, time to meet like-minded people and even to give back to the communities. The race is centred on the experience of the participant.
#CC: Just as pressing, will I have to shave my legs for this privilege?
AM: Absolutely not. You’ll see lots of mountain bikers, even the really good ones, don’t shave the legs. There are lots of myths about why cyclists shave their legs. It is certainly not about aerodynamics. It does matter if you’re having leg massages. If you don’t shave, this can be quite painful. The other reason is that it’s easier to clean road rash if you have a fall.
#CC. Sjoe. Moving to training, I’ve used CrossFit as a foundation over the last few months. Should this stand me in good stead for the next three months and the race itself?
AM: The best training for cycling, bar none, is cycling. However, CrossFit is great for all-round conditioning. That’s important for mountain biking, which is not just about lower body strength. CrossFit once or twice a week would be excellent. Most guys training for these events would also run now and then, just because you’ll have to run up a mountain carrying your bike at times.
#CC: I know I’m more of a diesel engine than Ferrari: I can’t sprint, but I’ve always been able to chug along in endurance events. As I understand it, this means I’ve got more of the slow-twitch muscle fibres than the fast-twitch sort which would predominate in the mighty, redwood-sized quads of a Usain Bolt. Am I right to take heart from that?
AM: Absolutely. If we were sitting talking about you racing the 1km track event, I’d say I think you’re a bad match and I doubt you’ll be very good at it. However, that diesel engine that can chug along all day is exactly what you need for the joBerg2C.
#CC: We’ll average about 100km per day during the race. How often do I need to hit this sort of distance during training?
AM: Well, your body doesn’t know kilometres. It measures exercise in time. So you’ll say, right, I’m going to be spending five, six, maybe even eight hours riding some days on the route. Then you build up to days that simulate those long days. But much like the Comrades, nobody that ultra distance in training. You want to build up to a few Sunday rides where you get out there for six hours or so.
So, shaved legs not necessary, the right sort of muscle fibres in my pins and “best nine days of riding” of my life. I think I like this guru! Keep an eye out for my next chat with Andrew, when we get onto the cosmically complex topic of modern cycling equipment.