Cyclingnews grilled two-time Olympian and multiple national BMX champion Sifiso ‘Skizo’ Nhlapo about the highs and lows of this often underrated discipline. Sifiso is currently chasing his dream of world domination from his American base in California.
1. What first drew you to the sport of BMX racing and how did you get into it?
S: I had a friend who used to race when we were younger. I went to watch him race when I was about 12 years old and the following year I decided to give it a try – I have been racing ever since.
2. How long have you been a professional racer?
S: I have been racing professionally for eight years. My current sponsors are Team MTN-Qhubeka, Red Bull, Faithwear and Oakley.
3. What would you say are your top five career wins?
S: My first would be my junior cruiser world title in 2005.
My first European Pro win in France in 2007.
A round of the European finals in 2008.
A European round at my home track in Norway in 2009.
And a European round in Italy in 2009.
4. Tell us a bit about your daily training regimen.
S: As of now, I am working on my explosive power and track speed. I’m doing this because we are still in season and I have a few more races left this year. I work on starts a lot too as it’s an important part of the race.
5. What makes a good BMXer – strength, power, leg speed or fitness?
S: Personally, I would say mental strength is a big part of our sport. You can have all of the above but if your mentals are not on point you’re wasting your time.
6. What types of fitness do you need compared to traditional cycling?
S: I would say more explosive power and speed, similar to that of a 100m sprinter, as other disciplines of cycling need more endurance than power and speed.
7. Typically a BMX race lasts a matter of seconds, so you have to be on it right from the start, mentally and physically. How do you prepare before a race to be focused and on your game from the word go?
S: Personally, I visualise a lot before getting on the gate. I try to stay relaxed and focused.
8. Would you agree that BMX races are usually won from the front and positioning is crucial right from the very start? Tell us about the technical aspects surrounding this.
S: The start is very important but it’s not everything. You need the full package to win a race – a good start, explosive speed, track speed, endurance and mental focus. That’s why I think BMX is one of the hardest sports out there because you have all of the above to be good at, plus you are racing seven other guys, and the track is another factor.
9. You’re based in the home of BMX, California, for a large part of the year. Tell us about your American racing season – and especially the Supercross Series – so far.
S: Well my goal for this season was to be injury-free and consistent throughout the race season, which I have managed to do so far. I believe to be best you need to compete against the best on a consistent basis. This helps not only with your skills but also confidence. I have been in the majority of the main events here in the USA, which is the world’s most competitive BMX racing series. Here we have world champions, Olympic medallists and Olympians whom we race against all year round. The Supercross World Cup Series has been going okay for me – I had some good races and some okay ones. Being consistent is the key and I think I have managed to do just that across the board.
10. Where else have you raced internationally this year?
S: Argentina, the Netherlands, England and New Zealand.
11. Where are you based when you’re in South Africa?
12. Are you aiming to defend your national title at the end of September?
S: The national race is really close to the World Cup event in San Diego (in the same month) and, as that Supercross race gives you more world ranking points, I will be in California instead.
13. Where are you currently placed on the UCI world rankings?
S: I am currently 30th in the UCI world rankings.
14. What was your racing highlight of 2013?
S: I want to say making the main event at the World Cup in Argentina. I finished fifth that weekend.
15. What was the low point?
S: Finishing fifth in the semis at the world championships in New Zealand at the end of July.
16. Off the bike, it’s been a big year for you personally, hasn’t it, with getting married?
S: Yes, my wife and I are very happy.
17. You’ve been on quite an injury rollercoaster these last few years, first fracturing your neck vertebrae in 2009 and then the reconstructive knee surgery two years later. Are these just the nature and hazards of pro BMX racing that one has to accept and try to overcome?
S: I really have but somehow I have found a way to bounce back. I just had to overcome the ups and downs, as I believe that’s what makes me who I am.
18. When you broke your neck, what did the medical experts say and did you think it was the end of your career? How did it affect you emotionally, your training and your racing style?
S: The surgeon who did my neck surgery in Norway, where I crashed, was very good and had a positive mindset as to me returning to racing. The doctors I dealt with at home were not so optimistic but nonetheless I made it back. It was scary at the time but once the doctor in Norway told me that the eight-hour surgery went well, I knew I would be okay. At the time the only thing that would stop me from returning to racing was being in a wheelchair or death. It took time to get back to where I was before the crash and I was cautious when I started racing again but I’m still here chasing my dream of one day becoming world champion and bringing home an Olympic medal.
19. The Olympics have also been tough for you – crashing out as one of the favourites in the Beijing final, and then making a more cautious post-surgery comeback in London. Have you still got your eye on a medal in 2016?
S: Last year was hard for me as I missed out the whole of the 2012 season due to my knee reconstruction surgery. I know what I am capable of doing when I am healthy but that has been half the fight for me throughout my career. My goal is to have the next three years leading up to Rio be injury-free and to fight for what I know is possible in 2016.
20. Compared to the other disciplines, how would you describe the state and status of BMX racing on the South African cycling scene?
S: I still think it’s looked down upon compared to road cycling and mountain biking. But that’s just my opinion. I think we have a lot of potential to produce more world champions and pro BMX riders given we have good development programmes that help guide the future of the sport.
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