South Africans have proven themselves as adept stage racers. With the Absa Cape Epic in their backyard and a plethora of other events including the Epic Series’ FNB Wines2Whales, on the calendar they know a thing or two about preparing for and riding multi-day mountain bike races. Charl Neethling, Marketing Manager for the Epic Series’ Technical Cycling Apparel partner Ciovita, shared his experience from -Graubünden.
“The SPAR Swiss Epic was my first experience of riding an Epic Series event,” Neethling confessed. “But I’ve been to the Absa Cape Epic and FNB Wines2Whales, Freddie [Enslin] my partner at the SPAR Swiss Epic and Ciovita’s Sales and Marketing Executive rode the Andorra MTB Classic Pyrenees in June; he’s also completed an Absa Cape Epic. We’ve also been listening to riders talking about the Australian races and reflecting on 4Islands MTB Croatia. What’s clear is that the SPAR Swiss Epic is the perfect stepping stone towards the Absa Cape Epic.”
“Specifically, because it is properly difficult!” he pointed out. “It really is challenging. The distances might not be massive, but the climbs are properly, properly tough! The quality of the riding is also incredible. Combining Swiss bike parks, where the trails are well groomed and relatively smooth even, with more natural trails makes for a great mix. When the race ventures onto the roads, which doesn’t happen often, you feel very safe. The traffic control is incredible and the road surfaces are so smooth.”
“Hospitality wise, staying in hotels is great for recovery. You hand your bike in to MASQUEBICI, if you’ve booked their bike services as an optional extra, to have it washed, lubed and tuned. You don’t have to stress about your bike at all. On the transfer days your bags are already in your room when you finish the stage, so you can just flop down on the bed and have a recovery nap. Dinner and breakfasts are in the hotels too, which makes logistics very simple. Lunches are in the race villages after each stage. Overall, it’s logistically very straightforward, in the rare case that you have a question the hotel and race staff are super helpful. It’s been a great experience,” Neethling complimented.
It is fortunate that the off-bike experience is so easy because the riding in Graubünden’s towering Swiss Alps is exhausting. “It’s a personal thing, but coming from sea level, I’ve really struggled with the altitude,” Neethling confessed. “Climbing, riding or trying to race between 1 500 and 2 500 metres above sea level is something that I’m definitely not used to. I knew it was going to be an issue coming into the race though, so I just took it easy and did my best to pace myself.”
“That climbing and altitude comes with a major benefit though,” he caveated. “The scenery is incredible. On one of the race videos a rider defined it as ‘indescribably beautiful’. And it really is the case. The mountains are massive, the lakes are beautiful, the rivers are clean and there are breath-taking views around every corner.”
“The people are friendly too. They seem stoked to have us, even though we’re a bunch of mountain bikers taking over roads, trails and towns. Everyone is excited that we’re here and they’re happy to hear that we’re here for the SPAR Swiss Epic. The hospitality of the Swiss people was an unexpected highlight” Neethling smiled.
“From a Ciovita perspective, taking part in Epic Series events ourselves is essential,” he said, shifting his focus to work from pleasure. “We are always developing new products and this gives us the chance to test them in the crucible of competition. But I think the most apparent need the SPAR Swiss Epic has highlighted is simply to get more product into Europe.”
“It’s great to see South Africans kitted out entirely in Ciovita apparel at the Epic Series events. Now we need to start making inroads into the European markets. We’ll be focusing on strengthening our distribution network across the continent, increasing the number of bike shops who stock Ciovita. It’s the next step in the company’s growth strategy, to become a global brand,” Neethling revealed.
With the world’s best mountain bikers racing in Ciovita leader jerseys in Epic Series races, the South African company already has a proven track record at the pinnacle of the sport. “The feedback from riders has been overwhelmingly positive,” he concluded. Following in the trail blazed by the Absa Cape Epic, in creating a global brand, Ciovita is poised to leverage the Epic Series association into furthering their already impressive global footprint.