Conrad Stoltz retired from racing as a professional triathlete after a very impressive career. The beloved South African who is best known for his XTERRA adventures and results is now focused on family, the Caveman Cafe, and more.
Slowtwitch: Thanks for your time Conrad.
Conrad Stoltz: Always a pleasure!
ST: Now that you have retired from racing as a pro triathlete can you finally spend more time in Stellenbosch, or do you still spend a lot of time on the road?
Conrad: After a lifetime of living on the road and out of my luggage and bike bag, it feels amazing to roll out of the same bed every day and just reach into the “usual place” in the closet for a fresh shirt or chamois.
Other people go away for holidays, we stay home for the holidays. For now, it’s a treat.
We love the great outdoors and cool destinations, so now and then we explore the local region, which is very diverse and has many cool things to do see or taste.
ST: Sometimes folks forget how beautiful the world is close to home.
Conrad: For sure! Often tourists see more of the local gems than the locals do. I’m definitely guilty there. I haven’t hiked up Table Mountain since the 90s, never been to Robben Island, or the Cederberg – all just a short drive from my home. But I can tell you everything about Kona or Maui.
ST: Well, how much has the birth of Zena changed your world?
Conrad: Once you hold that little bundle of love, everything else in life pales in importance.
As you know Herbert, its impossible to fully explain to a non-parent how awesome parenthood is. I try to sum it up by saying: “When you have a baby, make sure to supersize your camera and digital storage as much as you can afford to, because you’re going to take more photos and videos than you’ve ever had.”
By the time she was 6 months old, she had been to 6 countries, and she has been a great pleasure to travel with. Especially in Europe, they are so kid friendly. For example at the airport: “Please madam, come to the front of the line, which seat would you like? Please board first,” etc. Soon the entire check in crew would be so fascinated by Zena’s smiles and waves that they’d forget to weigh my luggage and charge for the bike. We may travel with a stroller forever after…
It’s a real treat to see her grow and develop perceptibly every day, we love every moment of it. Well, nearly every moment… apparently since that 12hr time change coming back from Hawaii, and at the same time, the emergence of that first tooth, she doesn’t sleep as well as she used to. I wouldn’t know, as I sleep like a log.
ST: Talk about your retirement.
Conrad: The timing of my retirement actually turned out perfectly. Originally I wanted to retire at the end of 2016, but at the start of 2015 sponsorship collapsed, which made me start imagining what retirement would feel like. Training for fun and lifestyle instead of training for performance, made me realize the huge sacrifices I have made my entire life in order to win races to pay bills and put potatoes on the table. Compared to many other athletes and disciplines like Ironman, I think I was quite good at staying balanced and enjoying my sport as a professional athlete. It helps if it's as much fun as XTERRA.
Having fun and enjoying the training and racing process explains in part how I could train and race at that level till age 42. I’m a little bummed that due to all kinds of mishaps, injury, and illness much of my last 2 seasons I didn’t always do my form justice.
ST: What about training now? How much time gets dedicated to riding?
Conrad: When I retired, I thought I was going to sit on the stoep, (veranda/lanai’i) sip coffee, mountain bike some challenging trails, trail run in mountains, and splash in the inflatable pool with Zena. (No illusions about “swimming for fun” here!)
But that lasted only a week. Somehow I’m a sucker for a challenge. The next thing I knew, I quickly developed an unhealthy interest in the Hour Record. The South African Hour record that is. I would never dream of riding 55km (34mi) World Record in an hour. But 47km I think I can do, I rode that at the SA road TT Champs @ 423 watts. The local tracks are poorly made and concrete - bumpy and slow compared to the wooden tracks Wiggins and Co. set their records on. More than once I wondered about suspension for my TT bike.
Riding round and round the track sounds pretty straight forward, but it is actually very technical. Not only learning to stay on the bottom line in the turns as the G forces in the 43degree banked turns pushes you up the banking and makes you ride further, but also small things like picking the right gear for the speed you think you’re going to ride. It’s a fixed gear bike with only one gear size, so you have to make 100% sure the gearing is right, as the “right” rpm window is quite small. 103 -108 rpm for me.
So here I am, back on the Shiv TT, doing eyeball bursting intervals on the road…
Every now and then I get to sneak in a cheeky MTB ride with mates and I shelved the hectic mountain running till this folly has passed.
ST: How far down the road are you looking to attempt the record?
Conrad: Its hard to name an exact date, as I first need to get my form in the right ball park before starting testing on the track to dial in the bike, equipment, gearing, pacing, etc. That said, I’d like to get this out of the way asap, as all these intervals on the road are starting to feel like work! If all goes smoothly, somewhere mid March - around the Cape Epic and Cape Argus tours.
ST: Looking back at your impressive career, what are some of your fondest memories?
Conrad: Breakthrough races I remember fondly:
- 3rd at South African road triathlon championships as a very skinny 16 year old in pink and lime green Speedos.
- Winning African triathlon championships at 18, after almost losing my foot with gangrene 8 months earlier.
- Winning XTERRA Worlds the first time, a week after Ned Overend gave me my first Specialized bike.
- Winning Mrs Ts Chicago- the world’s biggest triathlon at the time.
- Winning XTERRA Worlds 2010 by 5 minutes. Raced for my dad who had terminal cancer. First World title ever won by a 29er.
- 2000 Sydney Olympics. Smiling and proud as I was introduced by name and country on the start line. Also, breaking away on the bike with Olivier Marceau and leading the Olympics in front of a 350,000 triathlon crazy crowd at one of the most iconic triathlon settings (Sydney Opera house) I’ve ever been at.
- Cross Tri Worlds 2015. My last race as a pro and also smiling and proud as I was introduced by name and country on the start line. Seeing the crowd appreciation. The feeling of having had a fulfilling career with a few World titles, many wins, iconic companies as sponsors, and knowing I did it honorable, clean and fair. Although, there was a time, when I blew my nose on a guy blatantly drafting me.
ST: Talking about clean and fair, how much cheating is going on in triathlon in general?
Conrad: It's hard to say because the sport varies so wildly:
ITU will be very clean because of the stringent testing at events, but even more so by the fact that most NGOs has very stringent testing protocols for Olympic sports. These surprise out-of-competition testing is the best way to catch dopers, and probably also a big deterrent.
Ironman I don’t know well enough, but all the money and the ridiculous physical requirements would make it a fertile breeding ground for dopers if its not very well controlled. Again, unannounced, out of competition is the best. I don’t know what’s going on in the AG field, but judging by the level of competitiveness and infatuation, it could be a danger zone if there’s no drug testing.
XTERRA. Other than XTERRA South Africa, there has not been any drug testing that I’m aware of in the past 5 years. Unfortunately, as we have seen, it leaves open the door to riff-raff to drift in after being exiled from other sports.
Mountain biking, from what I’ve seen here in South Africa, if there a large unsanctioned racing scene or the federation is soft on doping, the message soon spreads and doping becomes rife. Just recently young Rourke Croeser was caught with needles in his fridge at UCI XC Worlds – he was sent home, but he carried on racing, smashing the best (except for his team mate!) with laughable ease. His case was handed to Cycling South Africa, but it miraculously evaporated. Just when we lost all faith in the system, a positive EPO test came up and he got 4 years.
My opinion is of out of competition controls by WADA (not the NGOs – look at Russia!) and a lifetime ban for the first offense.
ST: What are some of the changes you have noticed in XTERRA racing over the years?
Conrad: It’s really encouraging to see the sport boom across the world – particularly in Europe, South America and South Africa. But to be honest, the US series is not what it used to be. Smaller budget means less press, prize money and fewer events, which makes it pretty much impossible for the pros to make a living from racing alone. Triathlon has evolved to the level where one has to specialize in one sport. I remember circa 2004 I raced ITU circuit and Olympics, the full non-drafting US scene and the XTERRA USA series. And in the off-season multi day stage races like Cape Epic and Sani2C. The “Jack of all trades- master of none” days are over.
ST: Talking about Jack of all trades, how is your barista training going or do you not need any such training?
Conrad: Just like triathlon, I don’t think one could ever achieve perfection in the science and art of making coffee. Even the very basics, like the grind, steaming the milk, gets quite complex, and is something one can debate endlessly. Humidity, roast, bean brittleness, even the bean level in the hopper all influence the taste perceptibly.
I’m enjoying the process, but no, I can’t sign my name in Latte Art yet.
ST: Is Liezel doing well?
Conrad: Yes, thanks for asking. Our lives are constantly evolving – the first 3 years of our marriage we traveled the world 7 months a year, and she was an absolute trooper - she sacrificed her career to support mine, and this life is a hard one, but she took it in her stride and made it look quite glamorous and relaxing. I have some awesome photos of this, I just have to find them.
Little Zena was born in May last year, and Liezel took to motherhood like a duck to water. She really is a fantastic mom. Wanting to be the best you can be for your child is obviously quite a full-on commitment, so when the Caveman Café thing came about, rather unexpectedly, we got really busy really quickly…
As for the coffee shop, I think she imagined just dropping in from time to time for a relaxed cappuccino, or for Zena to play in the sand or do a few laps on the tartan kiddies' track. But just a few days before the Café was due to open I said something like “Aaaaaah! Sh!t is getting real!!” so she jumped in and saved me from myself.
Not only is she a natural with the financials, accounting, stock ordering and those non-Cavemanlike activities, but as a former athlete herself and feeding me, she’s passionate about preparing healthy, tasty and good looking food and drinks. She home makes about 80% of our menu from scratch – using only the quality of food we would use ourselves.
So without her I’d be in Jam Street, like we say in South Africa.
ST: How did the idea for the Caveman Café come up?
Conrad: Specialized opened a new shop in Stellenbosch and since coffee and cycling go hand in hand, they wanted a unique coffee shop to go with it. Maybe they heard about my Road Kill Rabbit recipe and knew there was no one else for this job…
We opened Dec 14 and not a coffee bean or rabbit has been safe since.
ST: Is it more so a coffee shop with bikes, or a bike shop with coffee?
Conrad: At Caveman Café we aim to be an everyone-welcome rider-meeting place. A hub where riders get together, fuel up before - or unwind and recover after, rides. One can visit the first of its kind Specialized store or workshop, watch events like the Tour de France or UCI XC or Downhill events on the giant screen TV, or relax with the family on the large patio adjoining the kids' playground. Outside seating features pram (stroller) parking, enclosed play area, sand pit and a rubber kids' bike track…
ST: On social media you were looking for name suggestions for the Carrot, Orange & Apple juice. How did that end?
Conrad: Depends if you want the real story, or the BS story? The BS story is, we had a poll and I picked The Orange Monster as the winner.
The real story is, my staff voted me off the island and changed it to…. Oh, they couldn’t come up with something better, so it's still Orange Monster.
ST: What are some of the other distinctive beverage or food names?
Conrad: Rocky Single Track (Princess Hotstuff’s home made Rocky Road), BeEtPO smoothie (Beetroot’s nitrates = Nature’s EPO), Breakfast Muesli Caveman style (and Princess Hotstuff made) smothered in Double Fat Greek Yoghurt & berries. Travel or home, it has been my breakfast for years. Once we have a liquor license, we’ll have the “Dirty Caveman”.
ST: Who is currently training in Stellenbosch?
Conrad: I’ve never been one to purposefully hang out with the cool kids. Now that I don’t go to the pool anymore, I only see them at the Café or on the road:
Coach Daz (Darren Smith), Lisa Norden & boyfriend Calle Friberg (Swedish MTB Champ), Mari Rabie, Amanda Bohlin, Jodie Stimpson, Jodie Swallow and James Cunnama.
Mark Cavendish and his Dimension Data/ Qhubeka were here a while ago, plus some serious looking Euro road pros – judging by the #sockdoping and roadmap-like quad veins.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Conrad: #StoltzCoaching is in the pipeline, which I’m really excited about. I have had a few young talents like Mauricio Mendez and Arthur Serrieres approach me for coaching and skills training. I’m really passionate about mentoring and helping athletes. It is second nature to me, and I had to try hard to not help my fellow competitors too much while I was racing.
ST: How many folks do you think you can handle?
Conrad: I will be corroborating with my own coach, Ian Rodger. We have a nice package, Ian is the science and I am the art of racing. We will offer a couple of levels of engagement, which will determine how many athletes we can handle. If we keep growing, I will engage a fellow pro athlete to help with the more practical side of coaching. For instance, I’d like to be at some of the key events in order to help athletes learn and master the course.
ST: Well, we wish you lots of luck and most of all happiness.
Conrad: Thank you very much.