Toyota-Specialized professional mountain biker Tristan Nortje is halfway through his European racing stint, and has updated his his travel and race diary for us.
One of the first races on the European calendar was the UCI XCO MTB World Championships in Les Gets, France, where Nortje finished in the 62nd position. A valiant effort from starting right at the back of the field. He backed up this race with the final XCO in Val di Sole Italy where he finished 72nd. When you look at the finishing position, it may not seem all that impressive, but when you compare the lap times to the front of the field and the race winner, it shows Nortje is indeed capable of racing at a world-class level. Only nine minutes back after an hour-and-a-bit of bar-to-bar racing is impressive. Overtaking more than 20 people in a world cup race is not easy, and his coaches are very pleased with his progression in the races. We sat down with Nortje to hear more about his first weeks in Europe.
Q: What was the purpose of your trip to Europe?
Tristan: My goal for this trip was to learn as much as possible from the racing and training. I aimed to participate in the XCO Mtb world championships and Italy’s final round of the UCI world cup.
Q: What have you learned from the racing?
Tristan: From a racing perspective, it opened my eyes to the level at which people race in Europe and on the world circuit. It is entirely different to racing on home soil. Starting at the back of the field with more than 80 of the world’s best riders ahead of you teaches you to race with a strategy and to pace yourself. Every mistake costs you a position, and you go back faster than you can overtake.
Q: Have you mostly travelled Europe by yourself?
Tristan: I have not travelled alone all that much, but it has been interesting navigating all of the travel during this trip on my own. It was the first step into the unknown, and I was a little nervous initially. I enjoy cooking, so the food part has been fun for me. Learning to move around in unfamiliar places by yourself is tricky at times.
Still, I have enjoyed the challenge of linking the various locations with each other without having a car or transport. It is interesting to meet people along the way and share experiences and my journey. Thule played a big part in making travelling with bikes and so much luggage a pleasure.
Q: How is the terrain different to South Africa?
Tristan: The most significant difference is the gradients. We don’t have the steep climbs and descents in South Africa that expose you to this environment. The technicality of the race courses in Europe is very different to what our local systems offer back home, and to be competitive, and you have to train on the terrain that you race. The long and steep climbs provide excellent training opportunities and assist with race environment simulations. There are very few places back home where you can gain 2 000m of ascent within 20km.
Q: Do you miss home?
Tristan: I wouldn’t say I am missing home, but you have a familiar routine back home which is very comfortable. Moving around from one place to another takes a toll on you and can disrupt training schedules.
Q: What’s next?
Tristan: I went to Spain for a few days for a training camp which that offered some stability while I was training for the Marathon World Championships in September.
I played a support role to Matt [Beers], who had a realistic chance of a podium or even winning the race. Unfortunately, he punctured late in the Champs, while in the front bunch of eight, but that’s racing.
I will be staying close to Girona, an excellent global hub for cyclists. Following the world championships, Matt and I will race at Sea Otter Europe, where we will both compete in the marathon discipline.