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African XCO Champion Bianca Haw

Bianca Haw was always going to be a mountain biker. As daughter to the effervescent ‘Farmer Glen’ Haw, the man behind world-famous races such as Sani2c, Imana Wild Ride and joBerg2c, she was around the sport from a young age.

Although professional cycling was on her radar from early on, the KwaZulu-Natal youngster followed her own path playing a variety of sports at school, excelling at canoeing and, of course cycling. 2014 was Haw’s first year out of school, with the 18-year-old relocating to Stellenbosch, both to start a university career and train among South Africa’s hotbed of professional endurance athletes. While she admits that adapting to a new home town takes time, and that she found trying to achieve in both your sporting career as well as academically quite a challenge, she still managed to take out the South African Junior XCO title, the African Junior XCO, the SA Junior Marathon Championship, and the South African Junior Road title. She was ranked fifth overall in the UCI Junior XCO world cup rankings. Haw likes to keep her training fresh and varied and mixes cycling up with running, canoeing and time in the gym.

Sports discipline: Olympic distance cross country mountain bike (XCO)

Claim to fame: African XCO Champion

Age: 21

Resides: Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Achievements:

  • African XCO Champ
  • Multiple SA Champion (mountain bike and road cycling)
  • Top 5 in the World XCO Junior

Give us a brief outline of your in-season training routine.

Pre-season there is a lot of cross training and long hours that are slow to build a good base for the season. It’s all about the base – if you don’t have a good foundation your house will topple before the storm, just like you’ll cave before the big day. I’ll work on around 4-7 hours of training a day in total, pre-season.

In-season training is more focused, with shorter, sharper training and a lot of gym work. Hours vary between 2-4 hours of training a day, 6 days a week. Skills training is also a big part leading up to races as it gets you sharp and ready for all the technical section out on course.

Rest is also important, especially for me as I’m still recovering from a long, very irritating virus. So, if I don’t feel recovered, then I rest more. I may train 4 times a week instead of 6 when I’m recovering.

Are there big differences in your in- and off-season nutrition?

Yes, for sure. Off-season is a lot more relaxed and it’s sometimes a good thing (or what I like to think) to put on a bit of weight before your season starts as you’ll get sick less. Having extra weight to carry during your base training can be helpful as you’ll be stronger once the weight is off, but that’s the challenge!

In-season nutrition is pretty important as you need to eat well to remain healthy over the season, but you also need keep light. There’s a fine line and I’m still working on it. I typically eat egg and bacon for breakfast as it keeps me full for longer. On a hard training day, I will supplement with a Red Bull pre-training as a quick energy boost. The caffeine and B vitamins helps a lot, allowing you to get through the session a lot easier and it, of course, perks up your overall energy levels! It’s always important to have something to eat after training. I try to get something in within 30 minutes after training as that is your optimal window to boost recovery. Protein is best for recovery. I either have some egg, a nut bar, or tuna on rice cakes.

During the season, I try to limit gluten as it inflames the body and makes me feel quite sluggish. I also limit dairy as it can play havoc with your sinuses and creates phlegm. I also avoid too much sugar to try and keep my weight down.

So that leaves me with meat, potatoes and veg, which equals a winning lunch and dinner. Tea and honey are one of my favorite treats! I drink a lot of that!

What advice would you give to a woman who wants to pursue a sport like yours?

It’s not easy, but nothing good comes easy. It’s a great sport to get into and so many people are doing it. Let’s face it, it’s a lot more social than swimming, or running for that matter, as you can only say one word at a time after every gasp of air! You can always find people to go cycling with, or head out on a cool trail expedition. The thrill is just incredible.

What are your thoughts on female equality in your sport? Have you seen growth in participants over the past few years?

Cycling has been trying for many years to get female equality and you see it a lot in races these days, with equal prize money and those sorts of things. The growth in woman’s participation is awesome, and it’s even more awesome when we start beating most men!

Images by: Kolesky / Nikon / Red Bull Content Pool

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