Bike Enduro, motorcycling, motorsport

SA’s Kirsten flys to gold in world Enduro racing

SOUTH AFRICAN WOMAN FINISHES RED BULL SEA TO SKY EARNING GOLD. THE FIRST EVER WOMAN TO DO SO.
Interview from KTM PR
Photography by Irina Gorodniakova

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THUMB-UP FOR GLOBAL ENDURO CAREER: South Africa’s Kirsten Landman has become the first females to score gold in a tough sport usually dominated by men.

The Red Bull Sea to Sky off-road enduro is unique: three days of racing through the Turkish Riviera. Each day a different format over terrain that makes it one of the toughest and enjoyable races for world’s hard enduro riders. This year a South African woman shone to gold.

Meet Kirsten Landman, the first female to score gold in a sport dominated by men.

The fast-growing sport of Extreme Enduro has gathered more and more attention from riders and the motorsport media and Kemer has become THE place. Outstanding racing over three gruelling days and three types of terrain on the Turkish Riviera for the favourite of all events.

2015, however, saw the first opportunity for South African KTM rider Kirsten Landman to make her pilgrimage to the event so we caught up with her when she came home to South Africa. Here’s how the interview went…

Q: “Sea to Sky is quite a new event in the grand scheme of things – the 2015 race was the sixth in six years but you’re the first female rider to earn a gold finisher’s medal. How do you feel?”

Kirsten: “Wow, after all the trials and tribulations over the last few years and the bad luck I had at Romanics earlier in 2015 it was good to have a strong result, especially on an international scale. Which couldn’t have come at a better time for me and my sponsors. It’s a good feeling to know the hard work and dedication is paying off. I can’t explain exactly how I feel in words – it feels like a dream.

“I must say, though, that support from South African fans has been amazing. It’s humbling to know your country is following your progress but, more important, sharing in your success.”

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ROUGH COURSES ARE PART OF THE CHALLENGE: Kirsten blasts her way acoss a mountain stream on her way to gold.

Q: “So we can safely say this is your career high so far. What has led you to this? What made you want to ride dirt bikes? Did you realise as a little girl you wanted to be a dirt-biker or did a family member steer you towards the sport?”

Kirsten: “Well, first off you have to be a little bit of a tomboy to want to enter such a male-dominated sport, but my dad grew up with dirt bikes and my uncle and cousin rode. My cousin and I are close in age so I wanted a go too. At the time I was very into swimming and trying out for the provincial team so my dad said if I made the team he would buy me a dirt bike.

“I was eight. I got into the team and I was given a Peewee 80 and ever since I’ve been motorbike gaga! The progression went from there to ATVs and then I got an RM85, then an RM125, my first real dirt bikes, and I started entering the local club hare-scrambles. Like most I didn’t go fast at first but with more riding I started placing well against the boys.”

‘I JUST WANTED TO RIDE AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY’

Kirsten added: “I will never forget how good it felt to place fourth then third, then I started to win. When my father saw I had a talent his effort into the sport increased with us going to practice mid-week and then race or practice at weekends. I never looked at it as a career path, it was mostly a passion that I shared with my dad and all I wanted to do was ride my bike at every possible opportunity. Once my schooling was complete, the next year, I took a gap year from studies and my parents said I must do what makes me happy for a year.

“I chose dirt bikes. I was picked up by a team and started competing in National enduros. In 2012, what a terrible year… I DNF-ed in the Roof (of Africa) at my first attempt and had loads of stupid injuries that just slowed my development. I thought at the time, “well, this is as far as I go with racing” because I hadn’t shaped. That was when the legend of SA off road and enduro racing, Daryl Curtis, introduced me to my now team manager, Franziska Brandl of KTM SA.

“KTM was looking for a lady rider and I was put in touch with these great people who helped me when nobody else wanted to. It was like a fairy-tale.. I met the boss and within days signed a contract to be in the most-envied team in South African dirt-bike competition.

“I knew then 2013 was going to be a very different year for me.”

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NO ROOM FOR ERROR: A twitch on the handlebar can end in disaster – total focus needed all the way.

Q: “Tell us about that year. The unlucky number 13 reared its ugly head?”

Kirsten: “I was having a good year until halfway through the season when I had a high-speed crash in the Desert Race – let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. I had to be medevaced and had some bad injuries. I don’t regret the crash as it made me hungrier than ever to succeed and I feel I grew as a person and as a racer. I learned to live in the ‘now’ – you never know when it will all be taken away from you. The bulk of the remainder of that year was spent mending.”

Q:” And last year (2014), it was a good one wasn’t it?”

Kirsten:” Yes it so was! I got my first taste of Hard Enduro when I went to Romanics – what a challenge and what an honour it was. Then I finished the Roof… the whole year felt like every time I raced I improved and became wiser and consistent. The National enduros were also great.”

Q: “So, back to Sea to Sky… tell us about the experience.”

Kirsten: “I had no expectations. I had sponsors to please with a strong result but I just wanted to go and have fun – and finish. My expectation was only to get as far as silver – I would have been happy with that. Then, on the second day, my best friend and helper on the trip, Dan, said I could get gold. Until then it hadn’t crossed my mind. Straight away I started thinking that no woman had ever done it and I really had a shot.

“When I reached the finish I thought ‘Oh well, at least I got gold’ and was so blown away when the media, organisers and all the public at the finish went so wild about me becoming the first lady rider to achieve gold. The reaction was so overwhelming I had to pinch myself – it was surreal. It really was and is still a great feeling.”

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SOME SECTIONS JUST CALL FOR SPEED: Sand riding might loo easy but a deeper rut or a hidden rock can mean a nasty fall. 

Q:”So, what’s next?”

Kirsten: “Well, the National Enduro champs are done so its Roof of Africa time! We’ll take the race step-by-step – I don’t want to create too much expectation and pressure as the Roof is, after all, the mother of all hard enduros and anything can happen. I’m taking a week off to catch my breath and then we start with final prep and training. My goal, as always, is to finish.

“Anything can happen – the weather, fitness, bike damage, navigation, long hours make for a race where, to finish, the stars have to align for you but the prep is key. I’ve entered Silver again so the plan is to finish well up in the order.”

Q: “Would you make a switch in the National Enduros to possibly E2 or E1 after your hard enduro successes?”

Kirsten: “Well, the standard in SA Enduro is really high. My team mates Bouverie, Teasdale and Young are testament to this. Those guys can run top 10 in most races on the world stage and, in Wade’s case, top three. I have no illusions that I’m as quick as those guys – speed is not my strong side, I prefer technical stuff and the endurance side of hard endure so, for now, I haven’t really decided.

“Silver would be my immediate choice but maybe a stint on the KTM 250F is on the cards but, that said, I’ve tasted success on the KTM 250 Freeride and that’s going to be my first choice for hard enduro.”

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FLYING HIGH IN TURKEY: No nerves for Kirsten as she leaps a breach in the sea wall during the 2015 Red Bull Sea to Sky motorcycle race on the Turkish Riviera.

Q: “There are rumours there will be a hard endure championship in SA in 2016. Is this something in which you’d be interested?”

Kirsten: “”Definitely. I want to do as much hard enduro as I can and my goal would be to finish all the rounds and again pave the way for woman in our sport as the first lady finisher.”

Q: “Who would you say has been your role model or hero in your sport?”

Kirsten: “I’ve always looked up to Laia Sainz. She’s hard as nails and as fast as some of the fastest men in motorcycle racing. She demands equal treatment and I like that and want the same. I’ve always liked the prospect of breaking the mould and being different, an individual.

“Laia embodies that.”

Q: “You’ve mentioned you have quite a big following of fans and supporters. What message would you give to young riders and young girls starting out?”

Kirsten: “It sounds like a cliché, but ‘Live your dreams, don’t let go of them, they can be achieved’. Doubt is part of life but never give up when you fall down and things are tough. Always push for what you want. Don’t let anything hold you back ever. You’re on this planet once – make it count!”

Q: “Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?”

Kirsten: “Well, this being a sport of attrition, health and fitness are key to success. I plan to do as many extreme races as I can. Erzberg is not on that list for now as I find the prospect very daunting. There is a possibility of me doing some World championship Woman’s Super Enduro races and I’m going to see where that takes me. Away from racing, I have to get the ball rolling on my private pilot licence for a career after my racing.”

Q: “Anything you’d like to say to your fans out there?”

Kirsten: “Thank you, each and every one of you. For your social media posts, calls and emails – for every message I got. Every one touched my heart. I don’t plan on letting any of you down. To my sponsors, thank you. None of this would have been possible without your belief in me. To my family – you guys are my rock and I love you.”

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