The Kargo Pro Mountain Bike Team have just announced that Marco Joubert will be taking part in this years ABSA CAPE EPIC starting Sunday on 13 March. We were lucky to get the early scoop on the news and arranged an exclusive interview with this promising young rider from Port Elizabeth.

Marco at the recent KZN XCO Provincials. He relocated to KZN in 2016 in order to further his professional cycling career. ©Tyron Mackenzie

Me: So, the CAPE EPIC! When did you find out you’d be riding?

Marco: Well, actually I only found out this past weekend… Friday I was out testing the KZN XCO Provincial course for Saturday’s race. Shortly afterwards I got a call from my manager who asked me if I’m ready to do the Epic. I didn’t believe him at first.

Me: What was the first thought that came up when he said that?

Marco: I was excited – obviously it being the Epic and all. But that night the reality of it did sink in, especially while I was looking at the Bicycling’s magazine supplementary book about this year’s Epic. I went through all the stages and I realised how tough this year’s race was going to be. To be honest I was doubting myself.

Me: Who will be your team mate?

Marco: Andrew Warr, my fellow Kargo Pro MTB team mate, will be racing the Epic with me.

Me: Seeing role models like Nino Schurter and the late Burry Stander riding the Epic and even winning it, it must feel like a dream come true to ride it yourself?

Marco: Yeh, definitely. Also, just the fact that I would be spending 8 days with some of the world’s best riders is also a big thing for me. It’s not everyday you get to suffer alongside your role models for 8 days – if I do manage to make it through all the days.

Even though I’m doing the Epic my goals stay the same – which FOR me MEans focusing on XCO.

Me: As a pro rider your focus is actually Cross Country and not Marathon and Stage Racing. How different are these two disciplines from each other?

Marco: With Cross Country (XCO) all my training is focused on racing at my max for an 1h30min. That’s basically racing at my ‘Red Line’ to the point were I almost just want to pass out. With something like the Epic the intensity [on average] is much lower. I would need to sustain 70% effort over +5hrs as opposed to 110% effort over 1h30min. So it’s completely different styles of racing. One of my challenges will be the ability to hold myself back and not push myself to my limit like in XCO. I won’t be able to sustain such high intensity throughout a stage race.

Me: Having that in mind, what stages do you think will suite you?

Marco: After having had a look at the stages, the prologue which is short and intense is a stage that would obviously suite me. Thereafter the next few days will be tough with stages over 90/100km. There we will just fight to get through these stages. I don’t know how my body will react with 8 days of racing so it’s tough to know where we can push hard. My longest racing [this year] was at the Herald Cycle Tour which saw me race a 80km MTB on the first day and a 106km road race on the next day. But even these don’t compare as we finished the 80km in 3 hrs and the 100km in 2h30min which tells you that these races aren’t close to the intensity of the typical Epic stage.

Me: Speaking of the Herald, you had a stellar ride finishing 3rd in the 80km MTB and beating the likes of 2015 Epic Stage winner Mattheys Beukes. Do you enjoy these ‘longer’ races as well?

Marco: I enjoy any type of riding – I really just enjoy riding my bike. Actually, and this may sound strange, I enjoy being thrown into the deep end like this. I’ve proven to myself in the past that I can mentally push through tough challenges, which is a good thing but can also be a weakness because I could push my body too far. However, my team mate on the other hand struggles with short bursts of intensity which is a good thing for us both. It means that I will be forced to hold back at certain times and he will be forced to ride for short intense bursts when we need to bridge a gap to a group in front of us, for example. The Herald Race also showed me that I can stay with the big guys like Johan Rabie and HB Kruger form Team Telkom and I believe my team mate will also be able to do this. I am setting my sights on maybe a third overall for our team for the African Team category.

Me: Wow, that would be great! So you guys believe you have a shot at it?

Marco: Anything can happen at the Epic and a rider could loose an hour for a snapped frame or broken wheel and that could put us in a podium position. I think the first two steps are between Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck and Waylon [Woolcock] and Daryn Lill. Looking at it, I believe the 3rd spot is up for grabs and there are a few teams who could take it and we will keep our sights on it. [Me: A nice way to stay motivated.] For sure, having that as a motivation will help us when things are tough.

Marco Joubert - Epic
Racing to 2nd place behind Alan Hatherly at the recent KZN XCO Provincial. ©Tyron Mackenzie

Me: During the race, is the team going to have full support from Kargo Pro MTB? Mechanics, masseuses, the works?

Marco: I’m not to sure about all the details. We will discuss this at the meeting I’m having with my team manager this afternoon. But from what I know we will go with full support as a Kargo Pro MTB Team with everything that goes along with that. Our manager, Shaun Peschl, and another person will be at the race to support Andrew and myself. Something I didn’t know and what also makes it quite different from a XCO race is the type of support we can receive during a stage. During a XCO race we have people who hand us our supplements and can work on our bikes at dedicated tech zones, however at the Epic you aren’t allowed any outside assistance. You only get to fill 3 boxes which will be at the water points and if anything is wrong Andrew and I need to fix it ourselves with whatever we planned to have in the box. So that’s also another aspect of the race that will be important. [Me: So you guys will learn a lot.] Yeh, it’s also what my manager told me, that I should just soak up the experience and see it as a learning curve. But I have got a good feeling and think we might surprise ourselves.

Me: You guys are with Giant this year. What bikes are you using at the Epic?

Marco: We are using the Giant Anthem X Advanced 29er. It’s a 29er dual suspension and really an awesome bike. I know a few people that frowned upon us because our bikes feature an Aluminium rear triangle. They said things like, “It’s not race bike” and “You won’t be able to win races with that bike”. But early on in the season we’ve been able to prove them wrong. [Some proof of this is that team mate, Alan Hatherly, at the age of 19 is leading the Elite XCO SA Cup after two races.] Giant is one of the largest Bicycling manufatures in the world and I believe we are riding one of the best bikes out there. We also are riding with Shimano which I also believe in and which are tried and tested at an event like the Cape Epic.

It being my first year in the U23 I will most likely only be participating in UCI World Cup Events that are taking place later in the year

Me: And what tires are you using? Every year we see how teams lose lots of time because of punctures and tire problems.

Marco: We are using Continental Tires. This is my first year riding Continental and I’m blown away by its durability and grip. I think its the best tire for the Epic. In order to puncture these you really need to do something wrong. What’s also nice is that they work very well on low pressures without the risk of damaging your tire on sharp rocks, etc. [Me: Speaking of pressure, what pressure do you ride?] It depends obviously on terrain and type of race but with a normal XCO course I can ride 1.5 bars. With Marathon it will be a bit harder just incase you end up losing some air and so that you have enough air to start off with.

Me: Cape Epic was obviously a last minute addition to your race schedule, but what other goals do you have for 2016?

Marco: Even though I’m doing the Epic my goals stay the same – which for me means focusing on XCO. It being my first year in the U23 I will most likely only be participating in UCI World Cup Events that are taking place later in the year. This is to make sure that I’m at my best performance. Other goals are to get a top 5 finish in the SA XCO National Cup Series [which comprise of 4 events], to win the upcoming African XCO Champs for U23 and as well a win at the SA XCO Champs later in the year. I think these are reachable goals especially after I was able to finish 2nd at the recent SA XCO National Cup in Mankele in U23, only beaten by Alan Hatherly, who will instead be racing Elite for both African Champs and XCO Champs. I’m also privileged to not only have Alan as a Team mate, but also as a training partner and friend. I’m learning a lot from him and as things stand he his the guy to beat on the SA XCO scene so I’m very happy about that.

 

Follow @MarcoJoubert on Twitter for some behind the scenes insight at the Epic. He promised me he would tweet if he was able to still move his fingers after a stage. You can also follow @KARGOPROMTBTEAM for up to date race progress.