South African Cycling

RWC-winning captain John Smit out in the cold

2017-02-16 11:57
John Smit in the snow (Snow Bike Festival / Nick Muzik)

Cape Town - In a first for the former Springbok hooker, John Smit travelled north to take part in the Snow Bike Festival 2017 in Gstaad, Switzerland for a unique four days Fat Biking in the snow.

Ryan Scott caught up with Smit in the Alps...

1. What did you expect to encounter heading North, in the middle of winter, to ride mountain bikes in the snow?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’ve never been on a FatBike and never been in the snow, so I was quite excited and quite intimidated at the same time. 35km at home would normally be just a coffee ride, but it was certainly more challenging than I expected. I still don’t think I have full control of a fat bike in the snow. I came pipe (crashed) many times, so learnt quickly from the first day.

2. How did you prepare back in SA to be ready for this unique challenge?

My training, I guess it was my training for the Absa Cape Epic. It’s my fourth Epic and having the opportunity to ride in the snow and do something new was pretty cool as was seeing a new part of the world, which is pretty much what mountain biking has done for me since I retired from rugby.

3. Did Dan Nicholl give you any tips?

The only tips I got from Dan Nicholl were on how to eat a cheese fondue, and he is without doubt the best I have seen at this. (Dan Nicholl from the Dan Nicholl Show was the MC for the Snow Bike Festival)

4. How does this all fit into your Absa Cape Epic training for later this year?

Four days of riding in the snow was certainly something different, but it did get me a little more accustomed to those long, long climbs which will hopefully payoff come middle of March and the Epic.

5. Can you explain your most bizarre fat bike experience in Gstaad?

On day one coming down the cat track slopes, and obviously a little too confident, my front wheel ended up slipping when I braked because the brakes were the other way around to my bike at home where the front break is on the right. So I lost my bike down a slope, it took me about five minutes just to get myself out of the snow and then couldn’t find my bike. I looked all over and eventually saw a little piece of the black handle bar sticking out of the snow, and that’s how I managed to locate the rest of the bike.

6. Any hot tips to deal with temperatures as low as -16°C, riding down ski slopes, and first timing on a fat bike?

I was always beyond freezing in the morning. So you start out really cold, but the climbs start straight away and about two thirds of the way up you warm up, get to the top steaming hot, take all your kit off, and then hit the downhill where you freeze and can’t feel your hands, so I don’t think I am too qualified to give out tips.

7. What did you ride, and what did you wear?

I rode a Trek hardtail, I think it was a 9.6, but I’m not sure. A carbon frame with no shocks in front so pretty light. Not the widest of tyres so there wasn’t too much resistance on the roll. In terms of what I wore: I had a mate in Geneva who took one look at my packed kit and added to it with some lifesaving snow gear. I would have frozen if I he had not helped me out. I wore between 3 layers, at the very least, and 5 layers on the very cold days.

8. Downhills or uphills?

In SA on my Santa Cruz, downhills. In the snow, uphills. Coming down that red slope on Day 2, I fell more on that one hill than I have ever fallen in the last 3 years.

9. With all that frozen water around, any hydration issues?

One thing I realised is that you certainly don’t feel the need to drink when it’s -16 degrees and then when you do eventually get thirsty and you reach down to grab your water bottle, it’s frozen, which doesn’t help anyway. Luckily the stages aren’t too long so hydration was not the biggest of issues. 

10. Fuel/nutrition tips in the snow?

Similar to the water, you don’t need too much to eat, but I was happy they had Twix bars at all the pit stops and that always makes a fat kid very happy.

11. Most vital item besides the bike?

Without doubt my gloves. I went looking for the race village on the first day without gloves and honestly thought I was going to lose all 10 fingers. First they burn, then they go numb. Eventually I found a heater to put them next to for about half an hour, which made them go back to hurting, then burning, and back to numb.

12. Rate your snow skills 0-10?

I’m being generous giving myself a 2...

13. Fear factor compared to other sporting experiences ?

I was a little nervous before hand because I was not quite sure what to expect. To be honest, I fell a heck of a lot and you never really fall that hard and the snow is very forgiving. As long as you avoid trees, things are generally fine, so I got accustomed to falling on soft snow and lost the fear factor.

14. Lastly, what was the most unique aspect of riding in the snow?

Never quite knowing where my front wheel would go and the unpredictability of the terrain. Concentration levels are constantly so high because you are looking for shadow spots, iced over sections, and anything else that is going to put you into 10m of sliding! 

It’s a long way from the plush green grass of rugby fields Smit used to ply his trade on, but the big fellow finished the Snow Bike Festival 2017 with aplomb and is already looking forward to taking some friends to share the unique experience with next year.

Next up ... Absa Cape Epic 2017

Snow Bike Festival, Gstaad, Stage 1 (Zoon Cronje)

John Smit in action at the Snow Bike Festival, Gstaad, Stage 1 (Zoon Cronje)

Snow Bike Festival, Gstaad, Stage 3 (Nick Muzik)

Read more on:    springboks  |  john smit  |  cycling


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