09 Oct, 2015

The dynamics of women’s teams

Lulu Ceronio and Teresa Coetzee crossing the finish line of the 2015 Absa Cape Epic. Photograph supplied.
Prize giving: Lulu Ceronio and Teresa Coetzee flanked by Jennie Stenerhag (left) and Robyn de Groot (right).
After eight days of hard riding, Teresa found inner strength knowing she could take on any challenge thrown at her.
Teresa and Lulu often find themselves riding together at other events, like the 2015 FNB Magalies Monster.

South Africa has no shortage of stage races and, at some point, you going to want to ride one. But how do you choose a partner, especially if you are a woman? Experienced mountain bike stage race rider Teresa Coetzee gives us some pointers.

One of the first questions people ask when they hear you are either going to ride or have ridden the Absa Cape Epic is who your partner is, or was.

Because yes, the question of team mates is just about the most important factor of riding a stage race like the Absa Cape Epic and the person that does ride with you is just as important as your preparation, fitness and endurance during the event.

I rode my first Absa Cape Epic in 2014 in a mixed team, and this year I rode it in a women’s team, and I must say to ride a big event like the Absa Cape Epic in a women’s team is very special, particularly because the team dynamics are completely different than a mixed team.

Women’s teams are in the minority at the Absa Cape Epic, out of the 600 teams that started this year, there were only 23 women’s teams that took part. And out of those, only 17 finished and received the coveted finisher’s medals.

My team mate in 2014 was Brendan Croft who is a work colleague. One of the biggest advantages of being part of a mixed team is that men are better at fixing mechanical problems than us girls. I always felt at ease because, if one of our bikes had a mechanical problem, Brendan knew what to do.

After every day’s ride, I would look after stuff like our laundry and our water bottles and he automatically took the responsibility for our bikes on his shoulders. The splitting of these tasks between us helped us a lot, particularly after a hard stage in the saddle.

However, I still believe that we girls have better endurance than men and our heads are often stronger than our male counterparts. For example, Brendan said from the beginning that he wasn’t strong enough to push or pull me, although he is actually a very strong cyclist. It would often have a relatively negative impact on me when other mixed teams went passed us as the men in the team helped the women. I believe that psychologically this had a very bad impact on the dynamics of our team.

My team mate during the 2015 Absa Cape Epic was Lulu Ceronio. We coincidentally met last year at the Du Toit Tankwa Trek in Ceres. I immediately liked this very ladylike woman and although she was almost 10 years younger than me, the age difference didn’t matter. During that particular Tankwa Trek, Lulu fell and broke her hand which meant that she couldn’t ride that year’s Absa Cape Epic.

Two months later, we rode the Old Mutual Joberg2c as a women’s team and, to date, that was one of the best multi stage endurance events I’ve ever taken part in. I believe this is due to the fact that we were such a good team. Lulu and I complement each other very well. She cruises up the steepest of hills and, at that stage, my technical skills were better than hers. So we would both wait for each other at different times.

Because we were such a good team at the Old Mutual Joberg2c, I asked Lulu to join me as a team for the 2015 Absa Cape Epic. The only disadvantage of that was that we couldn’t train together as much as we perhaps should have, because Lulu lived in Bloemfontein and I live in Johannesburg. However, we regularly swapped notes and kept each other informed of our training program and progress while we prepared for the Absa Cape Epic.

Even formidable mountain biker SA National Marathon Champion Robyn de Groot stated recently that she prefers riding in women’s teams over mixed teams. One of her reasons is that you have the advantage that you and your team mate are more or less of similar strength.

It is a proven, physiological fact that men are stronger than women and to ride in a mixed team often means that the woman will be pushed harder than she should be pushed because you are supposed to stay with your team mate.

Over and above that, the organisers of the Absa Cape Epic recently announced that the UCI-registered women’s teams will start in their own start group from next year. This year, we started every day in “B”-block with the men and although we made a point of starting at the back each day, it was challenging to stay on our bikes in amongst that group of men.

These days, the women’s teams get a lot of attention with Sasol sponsoring two teams, one of which came third in the women’s category.

During this year’s Absa Cape Epic, there was another women’s team from Bloemfontein, Elizma Kock and Marlize Wilson and, although the Epic is a highly competitive environment, we girls rode together most of the time and supported and encouraged each other. When Elizma and Marlize retired on the fifth day, this was, for me, one of the most difficult times of the entire race.

When Lulu and I crossed the Meerendal, Durbanville finish line hand-in-hand after eight exhausting days on our bikes, I became aware of an inner strength and endurance that both of us possessed. It is that inner strength that I know will be with me for the rest of my life which will help me conquer any challenge.

Mountain biking is a testosterone-filled sport and is dominated by men. And you often find yourself surrounded by male egos and people who think they are superior because of their gender. Lulu and I earned that medal for every woman who needs to wear their “burkas”, who think they are inferior to men.

Tips to choose a team mate:

  • Although men are normally better on the mechanical workings of a bike and even with technical riding ability, it is really worthwhile as a woman to empower yourself with this knowledge and ability. These days there are wonderful workshops on bike mechanical issues and skills clinics aimed at women. Do yourself a favour and attend these clinics, you will never look back.
  • If someone slightly irritates you before a multi-stage event, that person will become unbearable when you are exhausted or when you feel every ounce of energy draining from your body. So choose someone who you really get on with. Train regularly with that person so that you get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and know when that person is in a dark place.
  • My 2013 Cape Pioneer Trek partner was Raymond Bezuidenhout and he was, and is still, far stronger than I am. On the technical sections, he always rode in front of me and would shout out warnings and obstacles for me … for example, that I should select a lower gear, or which line I should ride through water crossings and rivers and even where the route was ride able or not.
  • Don’t choose anyone who is either too strong or too weak. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for someone for 15 minutes next to the road while the race time marches on. But it is also horrible to know you are keeping your team mate back and you simply cannot go faster.
Teresa Coetzee

Teresa Coetzee

Journalist |

Teresa Coetzee is a journalist, mother and very VERY keen cyclist. She specialises in mountain bike stage races and finished the 2015 Absa Cape Epic with ease.