World Cup photographer and writer Irmo Keizer is traveling with the Ghost Factory Racing Team and getting a close look behind the scenes like almost no one else. Over the race season, he will share his insights and provides you with the stories behind the race results.
Text: Irmo Keizer
Photos: Attention Builders / Andreas Dobslaff
Video: Lars VeenstraFrom training in South Africa to today’s lockdown
We’re in Stellenbosch, South Africa, an area well known by mountain bikers and many athletes in general. Stunning scenery, excellent weather, great food and culture plus a thriving mountain bike culture make South Africa one of the very best training spots there is. As the girls get back, covered in dust, with grins from ear to ear, water is gulped down. Five ladies, aiming higher than ever before, set off on this year’s journey. Old & new
A new year means new faces, new materials and new challenges for a team. Mountain biking might be an individual sport in the end, but the support structure around each individual is paramount. For the Ghost Factory Racing team, the majority of the team remains the same, but there’s always work to be done.
With a mix of five riders from five nationalities, the Ghost team’s cultural mix creates a pleasant atmosphere. Caroline Bohé, from Denmark, is in her first year and gives an insight. “The time we spent in South Africa was great. For me it was my first, long, time together with all the riders and crew. It is nice to get to know everyone in such a relaxed atmosphere without any race pressure.”
Tom Wickles, team manager: “We had a really good time in South Africa. Some of us started our journey a bit earlier with the Tankwa Trek race. The highlight was with the whole team together. Our new physio, Kim and new rider Caroline, got to know everyone and had a great time. We have a great team and excellent setup, so we’re ready to roll.”The new reality
Although the team camp finished just prior to the Coronavirus spiraling out of control, it now impacts riders like everyone else. Barbara Benko got stuck in South Africa due to flights being cancelled and borders being closed. “For me, it got really crazy as I was not able to fly home. With the help of the Hungarian embassy I finally got home and am now enjoying some downtime. But with the borders closed, it is difficult. My boyfriend can’t come over as planned, but at least I am with my family. We have no clue when we will be able to see each other again. That makes it hard. For now, health is most important and fight this virus.”
The COVID-19 situation brings different challenges for everyone. Sina Frei: “Now, for everyone in the whole world the situation is bizarre. In Switzerland, we can still go out. We don’t know when and how the season will start, but I just try to stay positive and make the most of this situation.”
For team manager Tom, the rapidly changing situation meant making the decision to withdraw from the Absa Cape Epic. I felt I had to make that decision with everyone’s health in mind. Soon after, the Cape Epic was cancelled as a whole. We got to stay a bit longer due to that decision but also had to make sure everyone was able to get back home safe. As for racing, I hope we will have some races. Our team feels good and I am super happy with that.”About training, goals and coping
Everyone’s lives got turned upside down and so did the life of the Ghost athletes. With the Olympic Games in Tokyo postponed and no foresight on if, when, or how World Cup races will take place for this year, training schedules and goals can be thrashed. Lisa Pasteiner describes it as follows: "This virus kind of set everything back to the beginning of November- back to training without any racing or preparation towards a goal. And there’s no countdown to peak. At the same time, it is a bit more relaxed because you know have more time at your hands to prepare. I am super happy that I'm still allowed to ride my bike outside, be it with restrictions. It is a weird situation, but everyone is in this together."
Anne Terpstra: “Our team camp was finished just prior to the big Corona crisis hitting the world in full force. Now, I am in Germany with Tom. There is no social life here, we can’t visit anyone, Tom has setup office from home. This is a challenging time, but we have to find a way to cope. For me, writing and meditation helps me get through and make sense of this situation, for how long it might take.”