Close up with the Caveman

From BMX riding as a boy to leading light on the Xterra circuit. Conrad Stoltz assesses his career…

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This has been something of a stellar year for South African triathlete Conrad Stoltz, one of the best off-road triathletes in the world. In May, he took his 40th Xterra championship victory, in Alabama, while in April he claimed the inaugural ITU Cross World Championship in Extremadura, Spain.

In a rare break from training and racing, 220 spoke exclusively to the character dubbed the Caveman…


220: You won the inaugural ITU Cross World Champs. How did the event and type of course compare to the races on the Xterra circuit?

CS: I was pleasantly surprised at the level of technicality of the course in Spain. It was quite a flat course, with short steep climbs, which I like and quite different to a lot of Xterra races, which have over 1000m of vertical gain in 30km. The fact that the courses are wildly different is part of the reason why off-road tri really appeals to me. Of course, the ITU distances were shorter, which is fun too. Less pain, more speed, and I think the result would be the same if it’s a 1:30hr race or a 2:30hr race. Everyone really enjoyed the lapped course.

The Xterra circuit hasn’t really taken off in the UK so our readers may not be aware of the yearly calendar. So in what far-flung parts of the world do you race? And are the events popular among spectators and age-group athletes?

I race mostly out of the US because almost all my sponsors are based here, and I’ve built a pretty strong brand since that first US win in 2000, where I was training for the Sydney Olympics in Colorado Springs. I would love to travel the world and race Xterras, but as long as I’m focussed on winning Xterra Worlds and the USA Series, it’s hard to travel extensively and still have enough tiger in the tank to take all-comers at Worlds in Maui. Brazil is especially tiring. Those guys know how to party.

Xterra is growing like wildfire in some countries. Brazil has 14 races on the roster, with huge turn-outs, and in South Africa this year, two of the Xterras I did were sold out weeks in advance. The potential is there for huge growth in off-road triathlon.

You raced in the first Olympics back in 2000. How has the sport changed in the intervening 11 years? Has it become more of a run race in the Olympics? And what are your views on the rise of long-course triathlon?
It is a very different sport from Xterra and non-drafting triathlons. I watch Frodeno, Don and Gomez train in Stellenbosch and I wonder which planet they come from. The level of excellence and crazy training loads in their running and swimming boggles the mind. Since ITU racing became draft legal in Japan in the early ’90s, the sport has changed into a swim run game. At 6ft 3in and 80+kg, I’ll never run a sub 31min 10km, and even with a minute lead off the bike in Sydney, I knew I had to find something that suits my genes and skill set. That’s how I bumped into Xterra and I’ve been absolutely loving training and racing ever since.

You’ve been racing top-end triathlon for 20 years. Have you any training, nutrition and recovery advice for our readers as they progress through the age groups?
 If you enjoy what you do, you’ll do it for a long time and you’ll probably become better and better at it while having fun and living a balanced life. I think a lot of age groupers take results and performance too seriously and neglect the other fine things in life. Overtraining mentally and physically drains you and thus takes the fun out of everything.
In terms of nutrition, if you can dig it from the ground, pick it from a tree, if it swims in the ocean or runs around on feet or hooves, then its probably good for you. But if your food was made in a factory, it’s probably not good for you. Sure, I often drink the fruits of the beer tree and eat from the ice cream patch, but when I buy groceries and cook for myself, its mostly caveman-style.

How easy was it to make the transition from road biking to MTB? What were the main differences, and how did you overcome them?

I guess I’m lucky. I raced BMX when I was eight or nine-years-old. I rode off-road motorbikes on our farm till I was 16, and dabbled with a bit of mountain biking in my mid-20s. When I started Xterra on a whim in 2001, I borrowed a different mountain bike for every race. By the end of the year, after winning the USA Series and Worlds, Ned Overend got me a Specialized sponsorship, which allowed me the best bikes and equipment. That led me to improving on my skills. I would ride with some downhillers in the off-season and learn as much as I could from them. Of course, I spent a lot of time on and in the dirt. I have a saying: If there is no blood, it’s not a ride.

Looking back at your career, has there been one defining moment that stimulated the amount of success you’ve enjoyed?
That first Xterra World title in 2001 was very special. It feels like I went from pauper to king. It was my first full season in the US and I lived like a bum. I had no significant sponsorship, I had been borrowing bikes all year, I just discovered this amazing sport and I just won $25,000 on this cool race on a Hawaiian island, and sponsors were falling over themselves. Wow! How could it be better?

What’s been the hardest race you’ve ever competed in?

The Cape Epic Mountainbike race is pretty tough. I did it twice, in 2005 and 2006 I think. The second was 900km over seven or eight days and we climbed Everest twice. It’s in March so it’s a rough start to racing season…

Which race has given you the most pride?

Sydney Olympics, the first triathlon Olympics. A dream come true. Epic venue. I broke away with Marceau and led the race. Crowds were crazy. I finished 20th, but the Olympic experience was amazing.  

THE CAVEMAN’S TOP 3 OFF-ROAD TIPS
– Look ahead on the bike. The faster you go, the further you need to look ahead so you can read the terrain, pick a line and react to obstacles.
– Brake early. Avoid braking in corners or in obstacles. (That’s usually where the traction is worst). Slow down before the obstacle, get off the brakes and roll it through.
– Ride with a pro. Riding behind a skilled rider will teach you to read lines, braking points, technical skills and improved confidence.

Read more from Stoltz at
www.conradstoltz.com.
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