Checking In With Gert Heyns – SA’s Most Versatile Endurance Racer

31 October 2023. stellenbosch south africa | interview with professional cyclist gert heyns as published on bike network by myles kelsey

If you’ve ever been trailside and seen Gert float through a gnarly section you’ll understand when I say he has incredible skills on a mountain bike. He is one of those riders that makes things look easy. A natural. Gert is a racer that can line up for any XCM, Road, Gravel or Enduro race in SA and very much be a contender for the win. He has the power to sprint with the best, the grit required to grind out the long days and more skills than you can shake a stick at. Such versatility at this level is rare. He’s also a lekker guy. Here’s Gert:

31 October 2023. stellenbosch south africa | interview with professional cyclist gert heyns as published on bike network by myles kelsey
On the rails at the 2023 Cape Epic prologue in Meerendal.

Who is Gert Heyns?

I’m just another guy who likes riding his bike and going on adventures.

Where are you from and where do you live?

I grew up in George and moved to Stellenbosch 8 years ago.

What do you do for a living?

I have been a professional cyclist for many years now. It is however an unpredictable career and thus I have decided to pursue other exciting avenues as well. Since the beginning of the year, I started working part-time as a web developer and I’ve found that programming is something I feel very passionate about.

Cortado, tea or other?

Cortado for sure.

What is your favourite recovery meal?

A burger and chips always hits a little differently, especially after a hard race.

Who or what inspires you?

I loved riding my bicycle from a very young age, so naturally I grew up with massive hopes and dreams of a successful cycling career. These aspirations still inspire me daily and it’s constant motivation to give my best every day in the pursuit of coming closer to what I set out to do.

What hobbies do you have outside of biking?

I roast and brew my own coffee, I grow cacti and I also enjoy a little mountain trek every now and then.

How did you get into riding?

I grew up surrounded by people who were passionate about cycling, friends of my parents organized a few local races and so I always attended them as a youngster. At quite a young age, I realized this was something I thoroughly enjoyed and I knew it was a path I’d like to pursue one day, I started racing XCO provincials and progressed from there to the national circuit, by then I was completely committed to becoming a professional cyclist and well, here we are.

Tell us the history of your racing experience.

I started off racing XCO during my school years. In my Matric year, I was selected to represent South Africa at the World Champs in Switzerland. This was my first taste of a future I had always dreamt about so from there I decided to give cycling a proper go. In my first year out of school I spent a few months racing in the US hoping to get seen by an international team, the racing scene however was a lot smaller there than I expected and after my first long international stint I came home.

The following year I managed to get a few sponsors and I spent most of my U23 years racing XCO and doing World Cups whenever I could. After moving into the elite category my focus shifted to marathon and stage races while I also completed a BSc. degree at Stellenbosch University, during this time I managed to win most of the major MTB races in SA. Recently I started dabbling in the road and gravel racing scene and it’s something I’ve really enjoyed thus far.

31 October 2023. stellenbosch south africa | interview with professional cyclist gert heyns as published on bike network by myles kelsey
On the way to P4 at the 2023 Race To The Sun.

Which of your racing results would you say is the one you cherish the most? Why?

Winning the last stage of the Cape Epic during my debut as a 20-year-old still remains one of the results I cherish most as it was so unexpected. Becoming the National Marathon Champ was also really special as I worked really hard to get that title.

Whether racing or riding, what is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced on a bike?

Marathon World Champs on Elba Island two years ago still haunts me to this day. The course was so incredibly hard and I didn’t do a great job managing my efforts. It was the toughest day I’ve ever had on a bike, the race was simply impossible for me to finish.

In the professional ranks, inside SA, who do you have the most respect for and why?

Without a doubt, Matthys Beukes, his dedication to training always inspired me, his attitude towards racing was on a whole other level and setbacks always had him firing even harder. What a legend.

31 October 2023. stellenbosch south africa | interview with professional cyclist gert heyns as published on bike network by myles kelsey
A solid P2 at the 2023 Cape Pioneer.

The explosive nature of XCO, the sustained effort of XCM, Gravel, Road or multi-day racing – for you, which is tougher, which do you relish and which do you k*k yourself the most for? Why?

The toughest for me is the really long and hard sustained efforts during longer marathon and gravel races when you just grind at it for hours hoping you will still have enough left in the end. I personally feel I relish in technical terrain where speed and flow is the way to go!

Which is harder, Pioneer or Epic? Why?

Cape Epic for sure, the days are a bit longer but mostly just the level of competition is on a whole different level. I do enjoy the routes and terrain at Pioneer a bit more though.

What’s the toughest race you’ve ever done?

Elba Island XCM Worlds.

Inside racing, which climb in SA do you fear the most and why?

Swartberg Pass is probably the hardest climb that we race on and often it’s done towards the end of the race, it’s brutal.

4-hour solo training ride on the menu for the day – as you walk out the door, what do you have on you?

The aftertaste of my second double shot espresso for the day, a few energy bars, earbuds for music, a multitool, c02 with adapter, plugs and extra sunscreen during summer.

31 October 2023. stellenbosch south africa | interview with professional cyclist gert heyns as published on bike network by myles kelsey
There’s no lack of skills here.

You almost won SA Road Champs this year and you can play at the sharp end of any XCO, XCM, gravel, stage race or Enduro.  You are perhaps the MOST versatile racer in the country. What do you attribute that to?

Thank you, that is a big compliment, I think that my explosive power as well as technical skills are beneficial to all cycling disciplines. I attribute my skills to spending a lot of time training on a vast variety of trails over the years. I probably also spent more time riding trail bikes for fun over the years than most XCO/Marathon racers and I think that’s where I learned valuable DH riding skills. Doing more training and racing on the road in recent years has definitely helped make me a more balanced rider. I am a lot more confident maintaining speed on flat roads than a few years ago and it has definitely upped my tactical game.

What kind of racing do you enjoy the most?

Probably XCO even though I don’t do it that much anymore.

Which SA bike rider inspires you the most? Any category, any era.

Greg Minnaar for sure, it’s amazing how he can be at the top for so long. He’s the real MVP.

Your favorite training loop is?

Three hours in Jonkershoek hitting all the trails combined with a quick coffee stop in town on the way back of course.

Your dream destination for a bike ride is?

I have always wanted to go riding in British Columbia, Canada and visit places like Whistler. The trails look amazing and I have never been there.

In the end it was a P3 but Gert almost took the win at the 2023 SA Elite Road Champs.

Who would you like to thank?

I would like to thank my team, Valley Electrical Titan Racing. It was nice to follow the team’s journey since the start and to see how much the team has grown over the years. They stepped in late last year and supported me when my previous team informed me that they weren’t extending my contract. I will always be thankful to Valley Electrical Titan Racing for that.

What one thing (mantra/ ethos etc) would you like all riders to remember/embrace?

If you ain’t first, you’re last. Jokes, just ride your bike and enjoy doing it!

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