A professional is defined by someone who gets paid to ride his or her bicycle. My name is Heinrich Stroebel, by definition I am not a professional, but that doesn’t stop most of us.
Currently the State Elite champion on the road and considered a sprinter, I am 1.73m and just over 70kg. Although you may think of a vertically challenged over-fed sausage dog as I weigh in with some of the worlds “biggest” sprinters at half their height, I can assure you I am not obese!
The South African Pro peloton is made up of a combination of the professional teams, smaller teams and riders that are ranked highly enough to be racing in the pro category. I fall into the second category riding for the Cycle Nation Team. We have a way of getting noticed in races, if not by our aggressive style of racing it’s by our “retina numbingly fluorescent yellow” Panda team kit.
Training and Racing in South Africa
I come from Bloemfontein, a town known to the rest of the country to be so flat that if you stand on your roof you can see your dog runaway for three days. Yet our province still produces some of the best riders in the country. At 1,400 metres (4,600 ft.), accompanied by temperatures into the low 30’s on a nice day, it’s a great place to breed athletes regardless of their sport code.
There are a wide range of training circuits from pan flat to the “climbing” circuit where everybody races on a loop combining 3 hills no longer than 800m each with gradients of about 15%. Training in South Africa is a little different to Europe. We don’t have as many races so we have to spend more time training to get in shape, where as in Europe there are plenty of races for training and competition.
We have our own “classics” which are basically “sportive” races, a mass participation events with a professional category at the front. The “Pros” normally start at ridiculously early times like 5:30am and the races are hosted by large corporate sponsors to try and get their name out there by bringing small to medium prize purses in the hope of attracting few well known professional teams and riders.
-The races themselves are nothing but hard-
We don’t race like a bunch of second hand lions as the courses are riddled with team tactics, attacks, breakaways and crashes. We like to start the racing off hard and fast! Cristian House, British professional Rapha Condor rider, said in a post-race interview that South African racing had some of the most violent starting pace he has ever experienced. This is because every rider and every team feels they have the right to be in the front or in the break and if you want to get there you have to fight for it, making racing incredibly rough and tough.
From personal experience, riders in Europe aren’t very fond of physical contact, for example a cheeky elbow or head butt in the ribs while weaving through the bunch trying to get to the front. Here at home that’s considered a necessary skill if you want to be one of the riders in the run for the line. This gave me loads of advantage when racing in Europe especially through the corners on the famous Dutch and Belgian criteriums.
South Africa is a rather popular destination for training camps, many European teams have come here not only for the gorgeous climate in summer time but also for the scenery and cultural experience. I remember meeting Marianne Vos on the road in Cape Town while training with the entire Dutch National team and, on a different occasion, the German National track sprinting team with guys like Robert Forstermann coming to use our velodromes and roads.
Future of South African Cycling
In the future I would like to see South African cycling move in the direction of more racing, more variety of racing and the continuing growth of the sport. It has had a massive injection of interest the past few years and can hopefully continue at such a rate. The country currently has one indoor velodrome in Cape Town and the possibility of building a few more is very appealing and could contribute massively to the development of new future star riders.
As for myself I would like to see my career move more in the direction of track cycling and one day classic races. I have always had speed on my side and would like to try and hone that skill into possibly snatching more national titles as an elite rider. The ultimate dream would of course to one day be invited to a European SIXDAY festival for some Madison racing or see myself racing in a European team vying for the front spot in a lead out on the charge to the finish line of a big classic!
I love the sport, not only does it keep me healthy and looking good but it also gives me the opportunity to meet people I would never have met under normal circumstances. Plus, there’s nothing as satisfying as stomping on the pedals and feeling stress leave your body in the form of a good sweat. At the end of the day, any good training session will give you both a sense of accomplishment and the best night of sleep you could ask for.
Enjoy riding your bike!