15 Questions | Tiffany Keep, The Exceptional

In bike racing, riders who focus their efforts around a single genre generally have more success than those who dabble across disciplines.

Then there are the exceptions to the rule. The riders who can podium at an elite level on the road and then win a mountain bike race a few days later. Tiffany Keep is one such rider.

Tiffany in action at the 2019 UCI Road World Championships.

Who is Tiffany Keep?

I am an aspiring professional cyclist from Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, who grew up riding a bike from the age of 3 years old. Aside from that, I am currently into the second year of my degree at Varsity College and have many other passions outside of the sport, such as photography, writing and spending time with family and friends in the beautiful outdoors.

Where do you live?

I currently live in Hillcrest, a suburb within the larger area of Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

What do you occupy your days with?

Although many people think that I just travel and occasionally ride my bike for a living, this really isn’t the case. I am currently studying a BA in Corporate Communications, a 3-year business degree (If done full-time), through Varsity College. This generally keeps me on my toes, as well as the fact that I spend a large portion of my day either on my bike, doing cross-training to make me faster on my bike or doing bike-related admin or traveling. In between all of this, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, writing in my journal, photography, and pursuing my newly-found hobby of learning new languages – my French is slowly getting there. So, as much as it is generally quite a busy lifestyle, it definitely could be worse I guess.

Where is your favorite place to ride and why?

My favourite place to ride in South Africa would have to be either at Karkloof MTB trails or in Jonkershoek in Stellenbosch. Both very different in terms of the terrain, but both equally fun. These trails are truly world-class, which I can safely say after having had the opportunity to ride at various other places around the world. Of course, I can never leave my home trails at Giba Gorge MTB Park out of the equation. These trails bring me back to my roots – literally and figuratively and I always enjoy a good rip around here with my dad and friends.

Hypothetically speaking, you have three bikes in the garage; gravel bike, a roadie and a 120mm 29er – which one do you pick to go have fun on?

Yoh, just one? I’d have to say that I would pick the 120mm 29er to go have a good time on the trails. This Titan Racing Cypher is genuinely an all-round capable bike that I can hit almost anything and still get away with it.

When are you happiest and why?

Generally, I love outdoor adventures with good people. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a bike or not, spending time outside, just being left in awe of the wonderful beauty that is all around us in nature, is honestly the best thing ever. And no, not every moment has to be captured and posted on Instagram.

What is your greatest fear?

I don’t really have a phobia, but something that would be pretty scary would be getting to the end of my life questioning whether I actually truly lived it to the best of my ability. I don’t like to live with regrets; “Better an oops than a what if?” is a suitable life motto. Because at the end of the day, even the bad decisions make for great stories. Making mistakes, learning from them and “failing forward” as such, is really the only way we can grow as human beings.

What’s the best piece of advice for racing you have ever been given and why?

The best piece of advice I’ve been given was being told to focus on being the best version of myself, both in racing and training and race my own race. It’s so easy to be swept into this vicious competitive circle where one is constantly comparing themselves to their competition. You can’t control your competitors, but you can control how you compete and how you handle various situations. There is nothing more satisfying than being proud of your own performance, regardless of the number on the results sheet. Your only limit is you.  

Lycra or baggies?

The stigma that baggies are slow is constantly being challenged. Personally, I think not, especially if you have a very fast rider wearing them. It all depends on the context and what type of ride/race you’re doing. If aerodynamics is not a worry of yours, pull on a pair of baggies and you’ll feel like a superhero sending it down the trails after all the lycra bandits. The majority of my fun MTB rides are spent in baggies, where the lycra is stored in the cupboard for race day.

What has bike racing taught you about yourself and about life in general? Why / how was that lesson learned?

Cycling is one of the few sports where you’re given the opportunity to turn yourself absolutely inside out, totally exceeding your limits, often several times over. I’ve been in the game for a while, it has taught me how to handle both success and failure and to remain humble and level-headed in all aspects of my life. The list of countless lessons this sport has taught me is also ever-growing and has helped shape me into the person I am today. I’ve been taught to be patient and trust the process when things don’t quite go my way and happen out of my own control, such as mechanicals, crashes, injuries etc. I’ve also been taught to relish in the success of winning, but at the same time using that to give back to the younger generation who are constantly looking up to you and aspiring to be like you one day. I was there too, not so long ago. Lastly, failure is not final, at the end of the day it is just another bike race. It’s your ability to pick yourself up again and keep reminding yourself that you’re doing this for the love of the sport, which really shows true character.

“It’s your ability to pick yourself up again and keep reminding yourself that you’re doing this for the love of the sport, which really shows true character.” – Tiffany

If you could do a bike ride with 3 famous people who would they be?

Tough question, there are so many people I look up to in this sport. One of them would have to be Jolanda Neff, a rider I’ve always enjoyed watching and one with so much skill on the bike. Then South Africa’s own Ashleigh Moolman Pasio – such a down-to-earth person both on and off the bike and a fantastic ambassador for women in sport. We’d also probably spend most of the ride chatting. Lastly, Mathieu van der Poel or Pauline Ferrand-Prevot – both cyclists who have achieved success in multiple cycling disciplines. It would be cool to take a leaf from their book.

As a racer, what are your weaknesses?

I generally view myself as an all-rounder on the bike and as a result, without sounding arrogant, I try to be versatile in all situations. However, this gets a bit more challenging on the road for example, where you get your specialists such as climbers, sprinters etc. The mental aspect plays a huge role in cycling, and so I believe if you truly want something badly enough, you’ll push through your weaknesses to be as good as everyone else. 

Dropper post or old-school?

I am a fan of dropper posts, having ridden with one on both a hardtail and a dual-suspension. As a cross-country rider, the only concern is really the weight penalty that comes with them. But no sooner you ride with one will you realize how much confidence something so small can instill within a person. But, at the end of the day it all comes down to what you’re most used to and comfortable with while riding.

As a racer, how many hours a week are dedicated to training?

It all depends on the time of the season really. Base season reaches close to 20 hours or over, while during the racing season it is generally a lot less. The important thing to remember is to also include gym/cross-training into your training schedule. So, with this also taken into account, the hours tend to rack up quite quickly.

What are your plans for the future?

At this point, it’s hard to tell, with the world around us changing at such a rapid rate. But the definite common factor will be cycling for sure. I’m loving the journey the sport has taken me on, and I can’t wait to see what it next has in store. Whether on the road or mountain bike, the focus will be to keep on enjoying being on two wheels as much as possible as well as continuing to pursue my passions outside of the sport. One thing is for certain, I’m going to keep living my life to the best of my ability.

| IMAGES: Anton Vos, SW PIX, Craig Dutton |

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