Epic Vs. Pioneer, Chasing GC’s, Student Life & more | Checking in with Justin Chesterton & Kai von During

21 september 2023 | cape town, south africa | interview with cape epic mountain bike racers justin chesterton and kai von during as published on bike network by myles kelsey

Young, fast, in the mix with SA’s best and building for the future. Will they make it to the top of SA’s marathon scene? Only time will tell. Here’s a catch-up with SA’s next-gen marathon racers, Justin Chesterton and Kai von During.

21 september 2023 | cape town, south africa | interview with cape epic mountain bike racers justin chesterton and kai von during as published on bike network by myles kelsey
Keeping warm before the going got hot at SA Marathon Champs in March.

Where are you from and where do you live?

Justin: Meadowridge Cape Town. // Kai: Cape Town.

How did you get into riding and when did you start?

Justin: I was raised in a very cycling-orientated family so going for a ride was always the norm. So pretty much from push bike to now I’ve always been riding. // Kai: Cycling was a family hobby although I only got into racing through the Spur Schools league in high school.

Pancakes or waffles?

Justin: Pancakes bru! // Kai: Belgian Waffle..

Green tea or cortado?

Justin: Flat White. // Kai: Black Coffee.

The Cape Pioneer starts with a prologue and you placed 5th in it. Just how flat-out is that prologue for the GC riders and is it easy to overdo things on day one?

Justin: It’s max effort from the start. We will usually hit the climbs as hard as we can but back off for the descents to recover. The goal is to do it as fast as possible but crashing on day one is not a great way to start a stage race.

Kai: Go big or go home. Any Prologue is a full-gas effort. It’s nice to settle the tension and see where you stand with your partner and against the other pros before the big stages. There is only so much damage you can do in a 27 km effort so it’s best to give it your all and minimise any time losses that you could carry for the rest of the week.

21 september 2023 | cape town, south africa | interview with cape epic mountain bike racers justin chesterton and kai von during as published on bike network by myles kelsey
A final gel before things get crazy.

You are young but not new to racing. It is however your first year as official teammates riding the big stage races. What lessons have you learned and what is it like lining up against the big fire-power of SA stage racing – Imbuko Giant, Titan Racing, Insect Science and Toyota Specialized?

Justin: It’s difficult to identify any one thing that has been important in our progression this year but I think a lot of it has been willing to learn from the numerous small lessons and finding a plan going into each stage race that works for us. Lining up against the best in SA is always intimidating but I’d like to think that with every race we are getting a little bit closer to becoming one of the big teams in SA.

Kai: Mountain Bike stage racing is the best positioned discipline in SA relative to the international standard. The standard locally is very high. Every team and partnership races differently and has a different personality. Stage races are great for learning as you have so many days and stages to draw on the styles and mannerisms of the bigger teams.

As a young squad, 4th overall at Cape Pioneer is a pretty big deal yet athletes like yourselves would want more. Looking back, is there anything you could have done differently throughout the race to rally up the GC standings? Any lessons learned that you’ll perhaps apply in future racing?

Justin: Cape Pioneer was an important stepping stone for us in our overall plan but when we look back at it there will always be things we can improve on. Our efforts could have been better spent if we targeted certain days but it’s always difficult to not put 100% into every stage.

Kai: As athletes we always tend to fixate on the next goal. I think as a group we need to manage that and enjoy the journey more. All the stage racing we’ve done this year has been a first for both Justin and myself so the learnings have all been massive. Pioneer is not to be underestimated. Perhaps saving some fire power for the latter stages would have been wise, but at the same time one has to maintain contact with the leaders as long as possible.

21 september 2023 | cape town, south africa | interview with cape epic mountain bike racers justin chesterton and kai von during as published on bike network by myles kelsey
Hustling for position on one of the first climbs of the day at SA’s.

Every year at these stage races is different, however, in your experience would you say the 7-day Cape Pioneer Trek is easier or harder than 8-day Cape Epic – and describe why?

Justin: Cape Pioneer Trek has a much more manageable stage length each day when compared to Cape Epic. For me this meant the racing was harder at Pioneer since we were still able to chase wheels in the front groups but the stages are generally much harder at Epic. Both events have a great mix of brutal terrain and awesome single track but Epic definitely uses its extra stage length to lean into the brutal terrain more.

Kai: Every race has its challenges. Pioneer’s short and intense stages are faster than Epic’s super endurance days. Combined with the super challenging and body fatiguing terrain, the racing at Pioneer is pretty electric. The constant battle for position in the bunch also depleted the reserves. We raced Pioneer at a higher level than our first Epic so it’s difficult to compare. The spectacle of the Cape Epic with the huge professional field that it attracts makes it the biggest and toughest mountain bike race there is.

For this year, was the terrain at the Cape Pioneer massively different from the Cape Epic – how and why?

Justin: Both races have some rough terrain but the trails in the Karoo are particularly rough. Although I’m expecting the Tulbagh stages of Cape Epic next year to be absolutely ruthless.

Kai: Cape Pioneer is rough AF. It’s a full assault on the body from the minute you leave George.

Compare your bike setup for the Cape Pioneer Vs. the Cape Epic?

Justin: My bike keeps a pretty standard set up year round, but I’ll use a Bontrager XR1 for smoother terrain and XR2 for everything else. The Western Cape isn’t kind to tyre’s so it’s always worth riding a tyre you trust and this year the XR2 has been consistently fast and reliable. Tyre pressures usually hover around 16psi front and 17psi rear. My list of spares usually consists of plugs, valve, tape, small bottle of sealant and AXS batteries.

Kai: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I toy around with my rear tire: swapping between the super-light Bontrager XR1 and the Bontrager XR2 for the faster and rougher stages respectively. The faster XR1 tire allows me to roll faster but the peace of mind provided by the XR2’s tougher casing suited me better for the tough Karoo terrain. #nopunctures. Justin and I distribute spares between our two saddle bags. Tube, plugs, pump, multitool, mushroom, blade and a spare AXS battery…

Staying healthy at these events is always tricky. You guys had it tough at the Cape Epic but managed to soldier on through. Did you have any illness at Cape Pioneer and perhaps share a few tips on things riders can do at a stage race to stay healthy.

Justin: There’s not much you can do besides keep on top of the vitamins, hydration and good hygiene. Another thing would be to make sure you are always drinking from a clean water source. And don’t shake hands when greeting.

Kai: Luck was not on our side at Epic. Replacing calories and vitamins adequately; while keeping on top of hygiene is the best you can do.

You are both full-time students and have made it clear that studying is your priority. Racing comes second. With that in mind, can you describe an average week in your life. Break it all down for us.

Justin: My weeks are usually pretty busy with training sessions in the morning and a combination of studying and tutorials for the rest of the day. Most of my socializing will happen on the bike or while studying with mates. Looking at the hours I usually ride 16 hours a week and I’ll do bigger weeks during the holidays. Racing and studying are both very time-consuming so it’s always a compromise in which one I allocate my time to. When a big race is coming up I’ll focus on the riding but when the race is over I have to do quite a bit of catching up.

Kai: The student-athlete life isn’t so bad. There are manic times, and times when we have more time to relax and enjoy time away from our major two spheres of academics and cycling. You really just have to take it as it comes. A typical day would start with an early bike ride. Lectures follow with whatever work is upcoming. Typically there is not much time left in the day thereafter during the week but varsity campus life is also social and entertaining. Critically one has to manage their level of fatigue as it is difficult to recover from big efforts (both cycling and academic) during the semester.

What hobbies do you have outside of riding?

Justin: I always enjoy going bouldering in the holidays with mates but it mostly consists of me complaining about arm-pump.

Kai: Love an adventure. Camping. Getting back to Clanwilliam dam for a waterski is high on the priority list.

What is your favourite local trail?

Justin: Signal Hill (Cape Town CBD)

Kai: Waffles on Signal Hill

What are your hopes for the rest of this season and beyond?

Justin: It’ll be great to be able to end the year off with a good result at Wines2Whales. We’ve had a successful year and we’re tracking the targets for our long term goal nicely so I’m looking forward to putting some bigger goals on the board for next year and hopefully we will be able to grow the team accordingly.

Kai: Gearing up for a big Wines2Whales campaign. Sticking to our messy master plan of becoming a stage-race force to be reckoned with. Growing the team and personally as athletes and students. 

21 september 2023 | cape town, south africa | interview with cape epic mountain bike racers justin chesterton and kai von during as published on bike network by myles kelsey
Keep it pinned at Wines2Whales gents!

| WORDS: Myles Kelsey | IMAGES: Supplied, commissioned work with Rob Ward |

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