DM168

MOUNTAIN BIKE RACE

Nic Dlamini takes on Cape Epic challenge with experienced partner Oli Munnik

Nic Dlamini takes on Cape Epic challenge with experienced partner Oli Munnik
Nic Dlamini (right) will make his Absa Cape Epic debut alongside Oli Munnik (left). Munnik has competed in 11 Epics. (Photo: Simon Pocock)

Top road cycling professional Nic Dlamini is no stranger to breaking new ground as one of the few black riders in the pelotons of world cycling.

Although Nic Dlamini’s passion for racing on the sport’s biggest stages remains undiminished despite financial setbacks for “Africa’s Team”, Team Qhubeka, which led to them losing their World Tour status at the end of 2021, the Cape Epic mountain bike (MTB) race offers a new challenge early in the season.

Dlamini (26) will partner with experienced MTB rider Oli Munnik on debut in the unique team race across the Overberg mountains over eight stages, 681km and 16,800m of climbing.

“I went to watch the Cape Epic prologue last year as a guest of Absa and the banter was amazing,” Dlamini told DM168. “I spoke to Geoff Lee from Absa, who said I should do the Epic in the future. It stuck in my mind, but I didn’t think it would be anytime soon.

“But a few months ago, Doug [Qhubeka team principal Doug Ryder] floated the idea that I do it in 2022 because I had room in my schedule,” he said.

“I really had to think about it because the initial plan was to ride with a development rider, which I wasn’t confident about doing.

“Anyway, there were several conversations and when it emerged that there was a chance to ride the Epic with Oli, I jumped at it. He’s done 11 of them and is very experienced. I was more comfortable with that because I wanted to do it with someone who has the experience.” 

The MTB veteran and the rookie

Munnik is a no-nonsense 36-year-old MTB veteran, whose experience of the Cape Epic race specifically, but MTB riding more generally, will be crucial to both their chances.

Dlamini, for all his prowess as a road cyclist – competing on Grand Tours such as the Tour de France and the Tour of Spain, and winning the best climber at the Tour Down Under and Tour of Britain in 2018 – is an MTB rookie.

“What makes the Epic different is that the entire race pivots on a partnership,” Munnik told DM168. “A lot of riders prioritise the technical aspects of the race – the bike, the route, etc – which I see as peripheral.

“The actual partnership is often overlooked. In my experience, you have to be extremely confident in your partnership with your teammate and then you can fill in all the other gaps from there.”

Work ethic

Dlamini won’t become a world MTB champion overnight, but he has been working hard, with Munnik’s support, to take a crash course – quite literally sometimes – in the art of off-road bike racing.

“I’ve done a lot of mountain-biking in the last seven weeks but before that I hadn’t done much at all,” Dlamini said. “Fitness has not been an issue, as I get that from road cycling anyway, but technically I have been working hard to learn the off-road skills.

“It’s amazing how much I learn from Oli in one session. We don’t just ride; we stop a lot and talk about what we’ve just done, or the section we’re about to do…

“MTB feels a bit like swimming. It’s harder on the upper body and it hurts differently. My hands are so sore sometimes. There are other little things too. I know how to fix a puncture on my road bike, but doing it in an MTB race … is going to be stressful.”

Which is where Munnik’s older, more experienced head comes in.

“Nic is willing to learn, which is a compliment to him,” Munnik said. “Nic comes from a team environment, whereas most mountain biking is a lone pursuit. Because Nic comes from a team … he is well primed to learn and absorb information.

“Obviously, we will ride as fast as we can, but we have to think about when we take risks and how we manage the ride.

“It’s obvious, but we want to break the race into manageable bits and not get too caught up in the hype and the excitement, but stick to the plan.”

The pair are not bold enough to predict that they will be contending for the title, but the competitiveness oozes just under the surface. They have good backing from Absa and will have their own mechanic as well as stay in relative luxury between stages compared with the amateur riders in the Epic’s tented towns.

“We have chatted about our expectations, and we have an A, B and C outcome in mind,” Munnik said. “The race is unpredictable. I was once taken off when a little klipspringer was startled and knocked me off my bike. You never know what’s coming.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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