Nico Pfitzenmaier is an interesting fellow. This is confirmed when I meet with the lean German rider in the Robert Daniel gazebo after stage 2 of the 2012 ABSA Cape Epic. While most riders are downing protein shakes and refueling with sports nutrition products, Pfitzenmaier is eating a meal resembling raw vegetables and a form of rice, which he later explains is a highly nutritious seed.
“You cannot beat nature,” he states emphatically, upon my querying his choice of dinner. “I take no sports supplements because the body is unable to absorb them properly. I do however take a combination of Spirulina and Chia seeds, which have a high nutrient value. But I don’t touch coffee, cola or alcohol. The whole sports supplementation industry is so misleading and toxic. You cannot beat nature.”
Interesting views from a man who, at the age of forty-one, routinely puts the hurt on elite riders half his age. At the time of our meeting, Nico was leading the masters division of the Epic with partner Robert Sim. After feeling a bit ‘off’ in the opening time trial at Meerendal Wine Estate, Team Robert Daniel\Momsen had extended their lead to eight minutes over Milka-Trek.
“We really made the most of our technical skills today, which saves so much energy. Rob was so solid in the final 10km. After feeling only about 60% on day 1, we are now firing on all cylinders.”
With a sporting pedigree including professional Xterra triathlon and a few mixed Cape Epic titles, one would expect a highly driven and ‘type-A’ individual, utilizing the cutting edge of sports science and modern training techniques. But the opposite rings true.
“I am a total ‘anti-scientist’ and train completely by feel,” he reveals, when pressed for his build-up to the world’s premier mountain bike stage-race. “Most of my training is at an extremely comfortable pace. I pretty much decide what I’m going do when I wake up every morning.”
Intuition, holistic lifestyle and spirituality are terms which best describe Pfitzenmaier’s training methods and general life philosophy. A firm believer in the fat-burning training intensity, most of his rides were social and in the company of his partner, Ann Harrison, building a massive foundation with only sprinkling of intensity.
“No coach knows you. You have to work out a basic structure which works for you. For instance, I cannot handle a large amount of intensity, hence my having no set training plan. I also do not use a heart-rate monitor. The key is to tap into the fat-burning metabolism and ‘rev the engine’ with a few races or surges here and there.”
Those few intense sessions were in the form of the summer road racing league in the Western Cape. Nico and his friends from Team Robert Daniel\Momsen would attack incessantly, not worrying about the end result. Perfect intensity training with the added stimulus of tough competition. Add a few hill repeats on the slopes of Table Mountain into the mix and his Epic build up was complete.
A true all rounder, Nico began the year with a victory in the Totalsports Terra-Firma Challenge; a multi-sports event including a cycling, running and mountain biking. But it was not all plain sailing for the soft-spoken Pfitzenmaier.
“I suffered an Achilles tendon strain; the first injury of my sporting career,” he reveals, adding that a new pair of shoes might have been the cause. This hampered his build up to one his objectives, the South African Xterra Championships in February. But he bounced back with a performance that surprised even himself.
“I felt surprisingly good on the run after recording the fastest bike split. My Achilles flared up again in the final kilometer, so I backed off to save myself for the Cape Epic.”
Listening to one’s body and inner voice is a recurring theme when talking with Nico, who certainly understands the value of rest. Case in point mid-2010, where he decided to take a total break from endurance sport, traveling to Indonesia for a six month surf trip. The results were staggering to him, especially upon is return to South Africa that November.
“After my trip to Indonesia, I resumed training and was back to my previous level within three weeks. This validated my holistic approach to nutrition and training, and was revealing in the sense that I only gained a kilogram in body weight throughout the break.”
An expert on healthy nutrition, Nico even makes his own energy drinks. Not in the conventional form, but by mixing a combination of dates, almonds and coconut oil. Alternatively, Enduren is the one sports drink that he believes in, due to its natural and non-toxic composition. Interestingly, a typical breakfast before a long ride would consist of his own ‘green juice’ concoction. “I put spinach, celery, carrots, beetroot and lemons in a juicer and ride on that for five hours. The results are amazing.”
Living and working in Cape Town as a sports therapist and healer, the well-traveled German has had an interesting path to his present status. After spending a few years in Asia studying Chinese linguistics and international marketing, Nico decided to convert to a minimalist lifestyle and expand his spirituality.
“The Chinese economic culture was at odds with my nature. I could have made a lot of money there, but I decided to make a clean break from the materialistic and industrial apocalypse prevalent in that society.”
While working for Puma in Portugal, a friend introduced him to the sport of triathlon in 2004. He was hooked, qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona in only his second race. “After Hawaii, I heard about Xterra. I thought that that was cool! Mountain biking meant no drafting. Trail running was easier on the joints and for a non-swimmer like me, I could be competitive.” Competitive is an understatement as he soon quit his job to turn professional. It was a dream come to true so to speak, combining his sporting career with his studies in healing and sports massage therapy.
Now firmly established as an elite athlete and sports therapist, Nico shares the wisdom gained through his experience with others. With a list of clients including elite triathletes such as Julie Dibens, Eneko Llanos and Olympic triathlon champion Jan Frodeno, he travels to Kona annually to prepare top Ironman competitors for the rigors of competition on the Big Island.
“People have so much untapped potential. My motivation is to create awareness of this potential through a holistic lifestyle and intuition. I use a combination of hip and spinal alignment, sports massage and holistic energy flow to maximize this. You cannot beat nature.”
Upon completion of this interview, Nico and Robert Sim were solidifying their grip on the masters category at the ABSA Cape Epic. With the title seemingly wrapped up and with only a couple of days remaining, Nico unfortunately suffered a knee injury after an untimely crash, forcing his withdrawal. Keeping in tune with his intuition, he decided it was not worth risking permanent damage or infection and made the sensible decision to retire from the event.
With Ironman South Africa in Port Elizabeth just around the corner, Nico is now focusing on hosting an annual tour group of international triathletes in addition to his sports therapy practice. Not one to dwell on what could have been, his holistic approach will certainly enhance his own healing process.
“While I’m still hobbling around, I am optimistic about my recovery. I have not even thought about riding my bike yet.”
We wish him well and look forward to his return to competition.