Everyone was surprised that Ben Mwanje and Daniel Alikisente of Team Cycle Lab Toyota, won the overall title at the Bridgestone Route 69 Experience, a three-day mountain bike stage race held in the north west of Johannesburg, Gauteng at the weekend.
Everyone that is, except them. It was the first stage race that Mwanje (29) and Alikisente (30) had competed in as a team and the overall win was a confidence booster for the pair, who will tackle the ABSA Cape Epic, the world’s toughest mountain bike stage race, next month. “It felt very good to win. We were aiming for a top three finish.
We have been training together as a mountain bike racing partnership since December 2011. Our big goal is to finish the ABSA Cape Epic and we are fortunate that we have been given the chance by our employer, Cycle Lab, and our coach, Andrew McLean,” said Mwanje. Alikisente is employed in the workshop and Mwanje as a salesperson at Cycle Lab’s Fourways, Design Quarter branch.
They work full time and fit in training around their work. “We train about two hours on weekdays and on weekends we can go longer – up to four hours,” said Alikisente. “We are lucky to have a bike and supplement sponsor. We use Biogen supplements when we are riding and afterwards for recovery.
That is most important, recovery, especially for a stage race.” The pair finished all three of the Bridgestone Route 69 Experience stages in third position, but their daily consistency gave them the overall victory. “On Day 1 Daniel had a rear tyre puncture so we lost time. We rode very hard to try make up that time but couldn’t.
I said to Daniel do not to worry because if we recover well and ride strong on the next two days we can still win. On the last day the leading overall team had a crash and lost some time. We were consistent and that helped us to win,” explained Mwanje. At the end of January, the pair competed in the MTN Barberton Ultra-marathon.
Alikisente finished 39th and Mwanje 42nd. “That was a wake-up race for us! We suffered a lot and realised we need to be more focused on our training and we must learn to pace ourselves better in a race. One month later we were a lot stronger and more clever. The Route 69 stages 1 and 2 were rocky and tough. But that is mountain bike racing. It must be hard! We managed them no problem,” smiled Mwanje.
For the ABSA Cape Epic, the pair intends to be even more cautious with their pacing. “That is a very long stage race. We will see how we go each day. Maybe one of the days we can prove ourselves near the front.
But it won’t be so easy. We put our work first and our riding second. Maybe one day, if we get better results, riding races can be our work,” said Alikisente.