Crank catches up with Oliver Munnik

We recently caught up with Cape Town GT Mr Price rider, Oliver Munnik, who shared with us tales of his 2009 overseas adventure, advice for Cape Epic “newbies” as well his plans for the rest of 2010.

CRANK: Oliver, could you tell us how the Sani2C went for you?

Oliver Munnik: For me there is no other event that can compete with the Sani2c’s overall atmosphere, which manages to captivate every single rider year in and year out. As for the weather! The wet and muddy conditions proved to be very testing especially in the earlier parts of stage 2 where visibility was at an absolute minimal. But this type of thing is part of what makes mountain – biking such a “rad” sport.

On the competitive side my partner, Erik Kleinhans, and I suffered four punctures during stages 1 and 3, which kind of put us out of contention with regard to the race results. However, the racing we did manage to do, in between fixing flats, will stand us in good stead for the up coming ABSA Cape Epic.

Mountain bike racing in South Africa is fiercely competitive in 2010, meaning that if one has the slightest issue in a race it’s really difficult to claw your way back to the front – but the competitiveness is great for the growth of South Africa’s international racing aspirations.

CRANK: You are now riding for the GT Mr Price team – could you tell us how this came about and a little bit about your teammates?

OM: In 2008 I rode for the Red Mongoose team which was aligned to the Omnico group of brands, of which the GT brand is also a part. After deciding in 2009, to take time off from competitive cycling and travel through Europe with my twin brother Simon, I contacted the GT Mr Price team manager, Erik Kleinhans about a ride for 2010. He agreed to sign me for GT Mr Price for the 2010 season given that I had served the Mongoose team well in 2008. I am very happy to be on the squad and so far everything has gone well, with 4 podiums out of 6 races.

I have four team-mates: Erik Kleinhans, Renay Groustra, Adriaan Louw and Dominique Calitz.

Erik and I usually compete together in the ‘2 man’ multi-day stage races as well as individually in the ultra-marathons. We competed together in the 2008 Epic, 2009 Wines2Whales and this year’s Sani2c.

Renay and Adriaan are more lap racing specialists while Dominique competes in both marathon and lap races. Erik is the reigning South African elite cross country champion, so he is no slouch in the lap racing department either!

Oliver during this years Attakwas marathon

CRANK: You were absent from racing in SA for a large part of last year. Could you tell us about what you were up to in 2009?

OM: Ja, 2009 saw me taking a break from competitive cycling in South Africa.

Having both graduated from UCT in 2008, my twin brother Simon and I decided to throw caution to the wind and head over to Courcheval, a French ski resort, in order to finance an (unplanned) trip that would see us travelling 12 000 miles during the European summer in a car that was given to us free!

When we left RSA we didn’t really know what we were in for. However, after 6 months of serving drinks and making salads in a ski in-ski out pub, Simon and I decided to hit the summer hard, sessioning 15 ski resorts with our car, two-man tent, gas cooker and two Morewood Shova ST’s. We basically traveled around the Alps looking for and finding the best mountain biking areas the region had to offer. We used the ski lift infrastructure, which largely remains open in the summer months, to reach the high tops of the Alps with ease and then find the best walking or riding trail to the bottom of the valley.

Having done the riding part of the trip, we decided to throw in a beach holiday at the last minute, driving down to Croatia, which saw us almost getting into Bosnia but not quite! It was an amazing trip on a shoe string budget which made it all the more fun. I would seriously recommend it – one just has to get out of one’s comfort zone and not look back!

Oliver riding amazing singletrack in the Alps
On top of the world - look at those trails!

CRANK: Are you a full time cyclist?

OM: Now that I’ve got my degree from UCT, ja.

A while back in about 2005 I used to train and ride a lot with the Virgin Active guys – the likes of Chad Gordon, Tim Carter, Trevor Seinen and Mike Jones. Their input and advice was priceless at a time when I was just starting out. The thing they all insisted on was that I should study towards a degree while trying to make it pro. After 4 years of managing both studying and racing I am now in a position to give racing mountain bikes my full attention. It’s largely thanks to those guys that I stuck it through that first year!

CRANK: Are you riding the Giro del Capo this year?

OM: No. After taking the year off in 2009 and fitting a lot of training and races into the last few months for the Cape Epic I can’t compete in all the races I would like to – most definitely next year.

CRANK: With the 2010 Cape Epic just around the corner, what are your goals and expectations for the race?

OM: I expect it to be a very fast and unforgiving race up front as the caliber of entrants and racing seems to just keep on rising every year! Stage wins and leader jerseys are hard earned and there are going be no favours this year! Erik and my goal is to be as consistent as possible without having to lose unnecessary time to mechanical or other problems such as we had in the Sani2c. I also hope its gonna be really hot!

CRANK: Could you tell us a bit about your preparation for this year’s Epic?

OM: Having only returned back from my year off in Europe on the 25th of October 2009 it was important for me not to get carried away with too much training too soon, otherwise I would head into the Epic over trained and not able to reach my full potential. My preparation for the Epic started early November with some long steady base miles, which stretched into December. Come January and there was some tempo riding and longer intervals added that are needed for the climbs and hard flat sections. By the end of January the ultra marathon season had started. Training for and racing the ultra marathons is good preparation for the Epic and this is what I have been focusing on over the past month or so. The Sani2c was my last effort at race pace before the Epic. I will now enter a rest phase, which will allow my body to become fully recovered and ready to race on stage 1.

Off the bike I have endeavoured to be as “stress free” as possible, as well as concentrating on my nutrition. Sleeping at least 8 hours a night is also important in the preparations…

Oliver jamming on singletrack

CRANK: You have completed a few Epic’s now – what advice would you give to an “Epic-virgin”?

OM: Ride yourself into the race, don’t go out guns blazing in the first few stages because it’ll most probably bite in the later stages of the race. After all you have to make it to Lourensford to finish the race!

On a more practical note, have at least 3 pairs of the best cycling shorts you can afford – your bum will love you for it!

CRANK: Who, in your opinion, are the favourites for this year’s Epic?

OM: Given that mountain biking is inherently an unpredictable sport it is hard to say who will come out on top but considering past performances I would have to say that the Songo-Specialized and Bulls teams have proved they’ve got what it takes. But then again you can’t rule anyone out!

CRANK: What are your plans for the rest of the year?

OM: Have fun racing my bike!

My racing schedule will focus on the rest of the MTN ultra-marathon series as well as the MTN cross-country series. I would also like to compete in the Joburg2c, Cape Pioneer Trek and Wines2Whales multi day stage races.

Interview courtesy Jason Bailey