Interview: Hannele Steyn

Author: Tori | 01/15/2015 | , ,

Following an impressive performance at the inaugural TransAfrika Bike Race, we caught up with joint-winner Hannele Steyn for insights into endurance racing, and what it takes to conquer an epic bikepacking.

The TransAfrika is notably absent of the prize money, series points and sponsorships that characterize most races. Given your experience as a professional racer, how do you feel this changes the dynamics of the racing experience?

Hannele: I suppose it does make a difference to the amount of entries, but the kind of person that usually go for races of this extremity is of a different breed, and it is all about the challenge and not the money. The cost of doing it is also quite low compared to other race entries.

Are you considering other self-supported races?

Hannele: I have completed the Freedom Challenge, which is also unsupported. For me, it is not about supported or unsupported; the race needs to grab and challenge me in many ways to consider doing it. The challenge, the beauty, the freedom, the unusual…

How did you manage the nutrition and recovery in a race in which the clock doesn’t stop and where food choices are limited, to say the least?

Hannele: I am a geneticist/microbiologist with a diploma in nutrition, so that is the great part for me. I made sure that I carried as much of the right stuff with high nutrition, but small amounts and at the stops that I made; I chose what I believed to be the best.

What was the hardest part of the race?

Hannele: REALLY, the sore bum.

What was your favourite moment?

Hannele: Being at all the check points first and crossing the finish line.

We noticed you paired up with Dan Hayman. How important was this to your success in the end you feel?

It was quite a strange decision, as I wanted to do it solo. When we started to ride together, Dan was still part of a team and of a team mate that stopped, so I thought he was just doing it unofficially from there and would just ride the way he felt. Then the organizer asked me if I would mind if he gave him solo status. We then realized that we each had our strong points and that we could try to battle each other or see if we enjoy each other’s company J. Needless to say that we became best friends, (although he wanted nothing to do with me in the beginning as I was a woman, kicking their butts) I was stronger on the climbs; he was stronger on the descents. My stops were much shorter and my eating much better; while he had to stop for a long time to eat more and to fill 8 litres of energy drinks. My time that I stopped on day one was altogether 23 minutes. With him, it became almost 2 hrs/day. He ate whole meals at stops, while I knew what to eat on the go to not have to do that. Where he was stronger was on the navigation, which is my weakest point and one of the reasons why I put myself through these things (I challenge that fear of mine to get lost). He is 32 and I am 49. He weighs 80kg and I weigh 50kg. He was on a road bike and I was on knobblies on a mountain bike. But I think he has more respect now J To give you an idea about the feeling of a Kiwi being as kind as Dan was to me, his friends texted him and asked when he was going to get rid of that handbag of his and he answered…never!

What’s the most prominent memory that you have of the event when you think back to it?

Hannele: For me, who is known as the nutrition fanatic amongst my friends and clients, to eat a pie and drink a coke…unheard of from me…but I did it and it is engraved in my memory.

What recommendations would you make to aspiring TransAfrika racers in terms of mental and physical preparation, race strategy and recovery?


Physical prep:

T.I.T.S = Time In The Saddle

Mental side:

Learn how to pray

Don’t think too much

Make peace with loneliness and don’t bargain that your plan A is going to work. Have a plan B, C, D and “no plan”

Make peace with pain and discomfort and embrace the moments you are in

See that your equipment is right and reliable:

I trusted my Momsen bike, my Apidura saddle pack, my Continental tyres, my PVM nutrition, my CWC parts, my Sludge tyre sealant, my Rockets pants and my Zurreal medical aid.

AND remember: “normal people worry me”


We would like to thank Hannele for taking the time to chat with us about the race. We’d also like to thank Andy Masters, organizer of the TransAfrika Bike Race, for the photo (and for putting on a great race!).