“Mr African” Mannie Heymans is one of the elder statesmen of world mountain biking and is still going strong in his eleventh year as a professional mountain biker.
He also holds the distinction of being the only rider to complete every single Giro del Capo stage race since it’s inception in way back in 1992.
I managed to catch up with a relaxed looking Heymans at the end of 2010 Cape Epic in Lourensford, Cape Town and found out a little bit about the man behind the name. While not having the race that he may have liked, Mannie and partner Marc Bassingthwaighte hung in the whole way and, like the GT Mr Price boys, were one of the few pro teams staying in the tented village with the other riders.
CRANK: Mannie, how was the Epic for you this year?
Mannie Heymans: It was very tough for us this year. Three days ago, we lost Marc (Bassingthwaighte), he picked up a stomach infection which drained him causing us to lose over 45 minutes – he was running from bush to bush at some points! He recovered slightly yesterday enabling us to take back some time but he was suffering the effects again today. So we were definitely lacking “the edge” you need to stay with group over the climbs, which is essential in race of this magnitude.
CRANK: Where are you based?
MH: Ja, well I still live in Windhoek but in the racing season I am more in South Africa or overseas and base myself in Pretoria with family.
I was actually born in Krugersdorp, on the West Rand, and moved to Namibia in 1984 – one of the best moves I ever made (laughs)!
CRANK: How was your build up to this years Epic?
MH: It was solid as always. I do most of my training in Namibia – November, December and January is awesome for training with no traffic, high altitude and good training partners. Marc (Bass) and myself put in a lot of kilometers together, of which 95% is on the road.
I had a broken elbow last year. Which set me back somewhat but I’m feeling better and better – like I’m coming back to life. Hopefully the cylinders will be firing in full in a few months time.
CRANK: Are you still a full time rider?
MH: Yes, I am still a full time pro for Team Garmin although I’ve been helping out with the team management along with Zoon Cronje who incidentally is also riding the Epic this year.
CRANK: How long have you been a professional rider?
MH: I turned pro in the year 2000 for a German team called Team Focus, although I have been sponsored by Adidas since 1998. I was with Team Focus until the end of 2005 after which I returned to ride for an SA team (Team Raleigh) in 2006, MTN-Energade (2007-2009) and now for Garmin since 2009.
CRANK: Why the move to South Africa?
MH: For me it was more for personal reasons. I never thought that I would be racing as a pro for this long and making a living from the sport but I’m still feeling young so maybe I’ll keep going for another year or five.
CRANK: Where do you go from here?
MH: I’ll go back home to Windhoek to make sure that the dogs have food and then it’s down to Pietermaritzburg for the national cross country followed by the MTN series in Clarens two weeks later.
We are planning to take the youngsters to Europe for four weeks to give them some exposure to international racing.
CRANK: Do you yourself filling more of a “mentoring” role in your team?
MH: Ja, that is the whole vision behind Team Garmin and this is the main reason why am still riding at this level. I’ve learned a lot over my years overseas and builtup a lot of connections in Europe, which I hope can help develop our youngsters.
I’ve bumped my head a few times in my career so hopefully my influence can prevent the youngsters from making the same mistakes I made.
CRANK: How did you become known as “Mr African?”
MH: It started after I won a MTB marathon in Germany’s Black Forest around 1999. The race was over 110km. At the next race a couple of weeks later, everybody was talking about this guy from Africa who had won the big marathon race. I was actually standing next to the organiser when he asked where the black guy from Africa was and someone pointed him to me. So first they called be the “Bushman”, which sort of evolved into “Mr African”. This stuck and became my trademark and definitely created an identity for me in Europe.
Interview courtesy Jason Bailey