Interview With Sam Saunders of Team Dormakaba
January 27, 2021

Interview With Sam Saunders of Team Dormakaba

INTERVIEW With Sam Saunders of Team Dormakaba

Welcome to our next Cadence Crew newsletter, today Chris checks in with 2019 SA mountain bike marathon champion, Samantha Saunders.

Sam hails from Nelspruit and rides for the dormakaba Mountain Bike Team. (The interview was conducted during level 4 of the South African lock down). This is fittingly a marathon interview with a marathon rider, make it through to the end and we might have a reward for you.
Chris: Sam, thanks for joining us today. Give the readers a brief background into where you have found yourself during the lock down.

Sam: Hi Chris and hi to all our readers, I hope that everyone is hanging in there. I have been at home in Nelspruit for lockdown. It has been the longest consecutive time I have spent at home for a good number of years. 
Chris: What have you been keeping yourself busy with during the lock down?
Sam: Zwift of course! Honestly, I was not a massive fan of the indoor training pre-lockdown, but one has to adapt and Zwift has been a key tool for me to do some quality training and maintain my sanity.
That said, I have been taking full advantage of the 6-9am window to be outdoors. 
This time has also allowed me the time to fully address the host of injuries and niggles I have been dealing with since last year. 


Chris: 2019 was a great year for you, but it also had some challenges. First of all, what were the main highlights?
Sam: Easily said, winning SA Marathon Champs.

To be able to give that title to your sponsor and support network is special. I have a great relationship with Shaun Frayne of dormakaba, Shaun is so passionate about women's cycling and does so much for our sport. 

Second to that was actually the early season form I hit going into Cape Epic. I say it was a highlight, because it was the best form I have had in my career so I know what the benchmark is.


2019 SA Marathon Champion, Image Credit: Henk Neuhoff


Chris: And some of the more challenging times of 2019?
Sam: Having to withdraw from the Cape Epic was a big disappointment. Anyone who has experienced the cancellation of this year’s event will completely understand the frustration. 
But perhaps more so was my steady drop in performance through the 2019 season, culminating in a complete disaster at the Cape Pioneer, which lead me to withdraw from the rest of the season.
Chris: Has the time through the lock down helped in terms of being able to get your injury sorted and getting back to full strength?

Sam: Yes and no.

After extensive testing and consultation with a number of specialists in South Africa and internationally, we have found that I have a blood flow issue in my left leg.
While we know that there is a blood flow issue, the precise location or cause of this is undetermined. I underwent a number of Ultrasound and MRI scans but they were unsuccessful in determining the cause and whether I have IAE (Iliac artery endofibrosis).
The plan was to fly to The Netherlands in April to see a specialist for further 
analysis, but COVID happened so I have had to roll with the punches and readjust.

Knowing and understanding now what the issue is, I am able to distinguish what was functionally impaired, and when I am physiologically limited.  Lockdown has given me the time to address the functional imbalances and chronic injuries I had developed.



Tankwa Trek, Image Credit: Zoon Cronje


Chris: Not many may know, but you came to cycling fairly late on, how did you get started and what did the first few years of your cycling career look like?
Sam: Yes, very late. I was a 23 year old, 3rd year law student at Tuks in 2006. I actually grew up with motorbikes and go-carts and only bought my first bicycle to commute to class.
The guys at the local bike shop got me to join a group ride that Wednesday at Groenkloof Nature reserve. I loved it and by the weekend I participated in my first ever XCO event at Fountains. I was horribly unfit and blissfully unaware that I was also on the most basic entry level bike, with flat pedals. 
I still remember Yolande Speedy won that race and I spent years chasing her after that. From that race, it was just a natural progression. I had absolutely no cycling experience, but I had buckets of passion and enthusiasm.

Thanks to my complete naivety, much of my career was trial and error but within a short time, I progressed to racing the National XCO series. I raced at a number of XCO World Cups and represented the national team at Marathon World Championships, but my total lack of experience and support meant that I never truly performed. 
As a semi-pro athlete with limited resources in my earlier years, I managed to become a top competitor in SA and ultimately won the national XCO title in 2013. 
After a year of injuries in 2015, I decided to focus on road riding in 2016 and was successful in the time trial at a national and continental level.

My partnership with coach John Wakefield started in 2017 and I truly started to scratch the level of performance I was capable of. I transitioned to marathon mountain bike races and started getting some good results. 
Chris: Talking of university, what did you study and do you foresee going into that field at a some stage in the future?

Sam: Much to many peoples surprise I studied a BA Law degree but don’t see myself going into the legal field in the future.


2016 World Championships Qatar, Image credit: Sean Rowe


Chris: What are some of the big objectives that you still want to achieve in your career?

Sam: The biggest would be getting another opportunity to race the Cape Epic in earnest.

I have never won Wines2whales, winning that would mean that I have won every major stage win SA.

Another South African title would be the cherry on the top. 
Chris: At this stage, the remainder of the 2020 season has a big question mark hanging over it, do you think there is a chance to get back to racing and if so what will you be targeting?

Sam: I think that it is too soon to say.

I want to be positive and believe that some racing will resume from October onwards but we also need to be mindful of the devastation that the lockdown has had on the economy and peoples' livelihoods. 
On a personal level, I won't be putting pressure on myself to be competitive this year. I still have a lot of work to do.

Chris: Of course we have to ask, what is your favourite Cadence Nutrition product? 
Sam: Only one favourite? That is tough. Being a pragmatist I would say that Marathon Passion Fruit is the one product I am never without.


Chris: Thanks for your time today Sam, would you like to share any parting words with the Cadence Crew readers?

Sam: Thanks Chris, it has been a pleasure. Stay positive and see you all out on the trails again soon.



Sani2c win with Robyn de Groot, Image credit: Sani2c