With the Swiss Epic kicking off in less than a week, we sat down the BMT Fairtree Academy pair, Luyanda Thobigunya and Zola Ngxakeni, who were grinning from ear to ear as they chatted about their scheduled trip to the Swiss Epic in Switzerland's Graubunden region, which is home to over 17 000 kilometres of mountain bike trails. The team won the entry and trip to the Epic Series race by winning the Exxaro Category at the 2018 FNB Wines2Whales. Their excitement goes far beyond the race however.
“I have always wanted to ride in Switzerland” the more talkative of the pair, Ngxakeni, confessed. “Switzerland is the country of Christoph Sauser, Nino Schurter, Lars Forster and so many more of the world’s best mountain bikers. We’re also excited to experience a new culture. Lots of people come to South Africa and we try to show and explain our culture to them but now we will be in that situation of learning. It’s a dream come true!”
Ngxakeni will be teaming up with Thobigunya after Baphelele Mbobo, Thobigunya’s FNB Wines2Whales winning partner, left the academy. “Luyanda is so strong, it’s an honour to race with him” Ngxakeni acknowledged.
For his part Thobigunya had little to add. He appeared happy to let his chatty partner do the talking off the bike. “We’d love to finish in the top twenty overall” he offered quietly. “But we know it’ll be very difficult. There is over 2 000 metres of climbing every day” Thobigunya nervously pointed out.
That is why the pair have been rigorously cross-training. In fact, they had just come from a workout at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport where they had been put through their paces in a core and upper body strength training session. “I used to think what was the point of training my upper body, you don’t use it for pedalling” Ngxakeni recounted. “I am starting to see the benefits now though. Especially when I get tired on the bike, all the core and abdominal training helps your breathing when you are exhausted. I know that this training will come in very useful on the long climbs of the Swiss Epic!”
It is both Thobigunya and Ngxakeni’s first international trip. “We have been really fortunate to have been able to travel around the province and even South Africa to race our bikes” Ngxakeni said, expressing his gratitude to BMT, Fairtree Capital, Exxaro and the Spur School’s Mountain Bike League. “It is our first oversees trip though and we are really excited by that. It has been stressful though, especially getting passports and visas!”
“We also realise how privileged we are to be given this opportunity” Thobigunya humbly said. “Thank you to Exxaro, FNB Wines2Whales, our sponsors Fairtree Capital, BMT bike shop and Chris Norton. It is great that Chris will be coming with us to Switzerland too, he’s a fantastic mentor and has helped us so much to get to this point” Ngxakeni added.
“As the Swiss Epic approaches it feels like time is slowing down” Ngxakeni laughed. “We are looking forward to learning so much. Even if we make mistakes one day we will learn from them and improve the next. And at the end of the Swiss Epic we will be taking so much experience home, to use in stage races here in South Africa, like FNB Wines2Whales.”
Thobigunya and Ngxakeni are aware that the Swiss Epic will provide experiences beyond the bike. “We work in Environmental Education at Boschendal, between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, so the cultural lessons and experience we will gain in Switzerland will definitely help us at work too” Ngxakeni concluded.