Nino Schurter of SCOTT-Odlo MTB Racing Team and partner Phil Buys gave it the perfect frame: In a stunning final at the world's greatest Mountain Biking happening, the World Champion and his South African companion escorted Matthys Beukes and Gert Heyns of SCOTT Factory Racing to their first win at the last stage of the ABSA Cape Epic. Four SCOTT riders- three of them South Africans- gave the "Tour de France of Mountain Biking" an emotional end in front of a spectacular crowd.
We asked Nino Schurter a few questions about his experience he made during an incredible week.
One week of epic impressions- what was your best experience?
Our victory at the final stage was a true highlight for me - different, but definitely full of enormous amounts of emotion. To push and to escort these great guys to what you may call the “Champs Elysée of Mountain Biking” was a strong moment and a lifetime experience. The crowds were incredible, and our entire week was literally one epic adventure. The best experience for me was one that is not experienced often enough by mountain bike racers. Never give up, believe in yourself- it pays off! Our success was the perfect example of that.
…and the worst?
My race partner Phil Buys really struggled a few times - I had to push him hard in the first couple of stages. But everybody experiences some highs and lows during such a hard race. As the weaker part of a two-man team, you have to have a solid mental base and to be able to accept quite a few defeats. I might have ridden faster - but I couldn’t. That’s something that you have to learn to accept.
What were your personal key moments in the race?
I had several of these. But especially after a long downhill single track on stage 3 where we could extend our leading position with another two minute gap, we realized that our technical skills were much better than the ones of our competitors. Phil is a very good technical rider, which helped us open gaps again and again. A good level of anticipation in certain race situations was key quite a few times as we were the only top team without any technical issues - no punctures, no defects. Our Spark 700s turned out to be the perfect stage race weapons. I couldn’t imagine having a better full suspension bike for that purpose. With this in mind, plus our strong belief in ourselves, we got better and better, dominating the race from next day on.
What new lessons can a World Champion learn throughout such a week?
Never ever give up. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel! The Cape Epic is an incredibly long race. Anything can happen to you- and at a certain point, it will. If we didn’t have the brake issues on stage 2, we would have ended up on the podium on Sunday. But it’s the mental strength in the end. That’s what I learn time and time again, and what I will benefit from in future races.
What does having a good personal relationship with your partner mean? What does it evoke?
Phil probably put himself under too much pressure in the beginning. Having not met his expectations in the early stages, he was feeling down. But as soon as he handled the pressure, we felt like everything could be possible. You have to have the physical fitness, no doubt- but mental power is king. No other race proves this more than the Cape Epic. As soon as both in a team realize that, you are unstoppable.
What surprised you most this past week?
From day 4 on, all stages were won with 27.5” bikes - that was interesting to see. South Africa in general but also stage races all over the world were owned by 29ers up until now. But when it comes to technical MTB racing with demanding single tracks and steep uphills, you can’t deny the advantages of the 27.5” wheel sizes.
Stage race vs. XCO World Cup: How do you manage to switch to XCO mode now?
I didn’t go to my limit this past week, that’s the good news. But it will be a challenge to change my training from long and low pressure to the opposite right now. After 3 days of relaxation, I will train short intervals and sprints to be ready for World Cup No 1 in Pietermaritzburg.