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Netball Star Takes on the Springboks on her Bike

2019-08-09

Adéle Niemand completed her second Absa Cape Epic this year; alongside former Springbok prop, Marius Hurter. The former Proteas goalkeeper represented her country for a decade before retiring from competitive netball in 2015. Since then Niemand has notched up IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 finishes to go with her two Absa Cape Epic finisher medals.

As one of but only a few women in a field of over 1 300 riders, Niemand was very definitely in the minority. “I think cycling in general is male dominated, I remarked to Marius [Hurter] at a stage that I see very few women on the course. This does not intimidate me much as I sometimes like riding with the men as I feel there are fewer emotions involved (tongue in cheek)” she joked. “Seriously though, I would really like more women to participate, the reality is that it is a very tough race; but so doable if you have mental toughness together with physical ability. I believe that any athlete that who participated in high level sports has mental toughness,” she said, inadvertently challenging any fellow South African sportswomen to enter the 2020 race.

“Some of my former teammates say that I am crazy to attempt all these endurance events, yet this is what we have been doing our whole life” Niemand reflected. “The Absa Cape Epic is so rewarding in terms of accomplishment as you test yourself each day. My advice to anybody – man or woman, former elite athlete or not – would be to choose you partner carefully as well as to understand and train specifically for this race. You need someone that understands pressure and can handle him/herself in tough conditions. Teamwork plays such an integral role here. As far as understanding the Absa Cape Epic goes, it’s one thing to read it on paper but a whole other ball game when you are at Stage 5 and fatigue sets in” she warned.

Reflecting on her Absa Cape Epic, for Oakheart, alongside Hurter she elaborated: “ Marius and I sat together before the Cape Epic and had a chat about how we would deal with different situations. I knew that I would have long days in the saddle as he prepared me and said that this is his riding style. Make no mistake he knows exactly how to pace himself and how to ride the Cape Epic. He knew his strengths and I am very adaptable. Being part of a team my whole life it was easy to slot into his style of riding. Yes I got nervous on some days as we were cutting it fine but he is such a calm person.”

Laughing at the times it got very close, Niemand added: “He would ask me afterwards if I stressed and I would say ‘yes maybe I did’. But he is not one to give up, and I am exactly the same. We knew what we were doing and in the end we really enjoyed every moment of the Absa Cape Epic.”

Like many elite sportspeople, Niemand had to find something to challenge herself with when she retired from professional sport. “When my netball career ended I was quite nervous as you kind of ask the question: ‘what is next?’” she confessed. “I always thought I would someday do something like an IRONMAN, but my netball schedule was so busy that I parked the idea. I had heard about the Absa Cape Epic, but I thought it was way too extreme. That was until a friend challenged me and asked me if I would be willing to ride it. I then did some research and decided that I could do this. I was just a social rider up until then. I did not have a proper bike and no skill, but I had a lot of determination” she recalled fondly.

“My journey to the Absa Cape Epic started in 2017 and it was a huge wake up call to lose my partner in the Prologue and finish the race alone. Mountain biking in general is so rewarding; as you build relationships, share the trails with like-minded people and test yourself to every extreme imaginable. At this stage I am constantly on the lookout for races. There are a few that I have not done yet, and would love to attempt,” Niemand said, clearly enthusiastic about the possibilities mountain biking has created for her. “The Western Cape is so rich with amazing races and we are spoilt for choice.”

Returning to her initial point about the relatively small numbers of women in the sport she elaborated: “I sometimes feel that we as women aren't rated amongst our male counterparts, when we line up in the start chute, but I do appreciate the sense of achievement when we ride over the finish line unscathed and we are chasing and beating some of the boys. I think, though, that some women are intimidated by men. In my opinion there should be equal prize purses in races. This has always been a major issue in sport and continues to create inequality, so it is great that the Absa Cape Epic, and now so many more mountain bike events, offer equal prize money. That being said, maybe the focus should be on some intermediate races for women so that they can participate and get the ‘feel’ for mountain biking in a less intimidating environment.”

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