“Steve Hofmeyer!” exclaims Conrad Stoltz with a grin after opening up a copy of Alexander Parker’s book, “50 People Who Stuffed Up South Africa“.
“Zapiro is my favourite satirist” he explains, noting the hilarious illustrations of the complexities of everyday South Africa found in this amusing read, which I had bought just prior to our meeting at a Knysna coffee shop.
The Caveman, as he is known, had just finished taking part in the Waterfront Rush, a waterborne obstacle course-cum-adventure race with his fiancé and SA Netball captain, Liezel Wium, and was eager to get warm after a dip in the icy waters of the Knysna Waterfront.
Conrad had kindly taken the time to meet me in between sponsorship commitments and was in a relaxed mood after decimating the competition at Xterra Knysna the day before. In a stellar field containing such notables as Dan Hugo, Lieuwe Boonstra and pro mountain biker Kevin Evans, Stoltz dominated the race breaking the tape almost four minutes ahead of the next athlete, underlining his dominance of the sport of off-road triathlon.
After winning all of his Xterra races in America so far as well as claiming the title of ITU Cross World Triathlon Champion in Spain, the Caveman has returned to a South African winter for the first time since 1992, something which he is still adjusting to.
“After chasing the ‘Endless Summer’ for two decades, it’s been great to experience a Stellenbosch winter for the first time ever.
Apart from sponsor and training commitments, we’ve also come back to plan our wedding taking place in November.”
Ever the “multi-tasker”, time is something that is precious to the four-time Xterra World Champion who reveals that he has recently employed a full-time agent to take care of his business interests.
“I’ve always prided myself in being a ‘one-man band’, but this year I’ve linked up with Franko Vatterot in the US who is helping me with my sponsorships. Franko is unconventional in the sense that he is more business-orientated looking for longevity in sponsor relations. With his ‘hands-on’ approach, I can focus more on racing and training”.
With the likes of Craig Alexander and Laura Bennett being part of the Vatterot stable, the Caveman’s pedigree in the multisport world is underlined after a humble apprenticeship in the South African and later French triathlon circuits over two decades ago.
“I’ve raced non-stop over the last eighteen months which is unheard of today. Thanks to my coach Ian Rodger, I work to a program emphasizing a balance of tempo and threshold training year-round as opposed to the traditional periodization phases. For me, base training is a thing of the past – after twenty five years of triathlon, I think I have a large enough base, so Ian’s program is seeing me race with the least amount of training possible “.
And race he has.
Since his monumental Xterra World Championship victory last October, Stoltz’s schedule has included the Wine to Whales MTB stage race (“just for fun”), victories at the 94.7 MTB race in Johannesburg in November and South African Xterra events in January, a top five placing in the South African Elite Time Trial Championships in February and victories at all of the US Xterra events he has competed in against stacked fields.
“Yes, I have Olympic aspirations” he reveals while talking about his latest hobby, time trialling. “Ian and myself are trying to come up with a plan to qualify for the individual time trial at the 2012 London Olympics, but the qualifying procedure is not very clear cut. There is not even a clear candidate. With the World Time Trial Championships being held on the same day as the USA Xterra Championships, we are trying to get a spot in the one of European Time Trial events that is not part of a stage race”.
With the news that fellow Specialized sponsored triathlete and reigning Hawaii Ironman Champion Chris McCormack (38) is trying to qualify for Australia at the 2012 Olympic triathlon, Stoltz reveals that one of the key factors to athletic longevity is a true love for the sport coupled with an increasing degree of realism.
“To give you an example, this year has seen me record my lowest running mileage in training ever. In fact, I ran more miles in racing than in training this season. The various trauma injuries I’ve suffered over the past few years have created some muscle imbalances, so I’ve started a rehabilitation program to correct these problems”.
“I would love to run more and log the training miles of a twenty-five year old Conrad, but at this stage it is simply not practical. I am no longer ‘bulletproof’. You have to listen to your body, so if that means training less then so be it”.
With a 6pm photo-shoot scheduled with one of his global sponsors, the Knysna-based Squirt Lube, Stoltz relaxes while watching the live coverage of the Tour de France, which has appeared on the television screens nearby.
“I don’t have a TV,” he explains as Mark Cavendish’s sprinting prowess grabs his attention. “I don’t believe in them. I prefer to live, but if I want to watch something like the Tour, I’ll go somewhere. Otherwise, I prefer to read and enjoy the quiet life”.
Already halfway through yet another busy year, Conrad and Liezel intend on staying in Stellenbosch until September after which his schedule will include Xterra events Japan, Canada and the USA before the ‘big two’ – the World Championships on the island of Maui in November.
And his wedding in South Africa later that month.
“I was supposed to be competing in the Roof of Africa motorbike enduro in November, but that has been shelved as it clashes with our honeymoon! Hopefully I’ll be there next year and have a bit more time to train for it”.
With enough frequent flyer miles to circle the globe multiple times, what does the Caveman advise aspiring young triathletes travelling internationally with bikes and kit in tow?
“Rather be too early than too late. Expect the unexpected. Airlines, especially in America, are becoming more and more like a bus service and even more so if you are carrying a bike as part of your luggage. Never get angry because there is no point. Believe me, I know from experience!”