There is no doubt that being on a professional cycling team with sponsorship deals,
surrounded by coaching staff, having financial security and racing around the country,
has been a dream for most competitive cyclists.
We sat down with five extraordinary women who are making this happen for themselves. These ladies have committed themselves not only to creating a fully fledged racing team but also a female tribe of riders which will grow the sport of mountain biking and get more women on bikes.
This team falls under their main project, Project Barrier breakers, along with many other aspects. They emphasize that racing alone cannot urge women to ride their bikes
fearlessly, but there are many other factors that will contribute to this. Therefore, their
project also focuses on other aspects such as school cycling teams, charity fundraising
and other opportunities for women to skill up in all things bikes and life.
The five riders are Elrika-Harmzen Pretorius, Tyla Setzkorn, Bianca Silberbauer, Cally
Silberbauer and Renata Bossi. The core team will consist of two female racing teams, the elite team and adventure team.
Tell us how you four amazing women came together to form a women’s cycling team.
We all met at the weekly ladies rides led by skills coach Joanna Dobinson (BikingInTheBosch) where we rode together in Stellenbosch very often. The rides were always pondered on afterwards over a cup of coffee or a beer. Eventually, some of us teamed up for races. Racing together for the first time, Bianca and Elrika raced their way to the podium at Wines2Whales 2019 as Team Rehidrat. Tyla and Elrika each took on their first Attakwas Extreme. Even though it is a solo event, they rode their solo categories together. Here they experienced the way their racing styles match up fluently.
Sisters Bianca and Cally Silberbauer have been doing extreme challenges and races together. They are well-known for their ultramarathon capabilities. One of which is the very tough KarooBurn. Where the four of us eventually raced together was at our first road cycling event, Coronation Double Century. As mountain bikers being in a ladies team of 12, we gladly took on the challenge. Finding our way through the dynamics of road cycling, we enjoyed the camaraderie brought on by all the ladies.
Renata, being very new to mountain biking, got to know the team members at her first proper mountain bike ride. She borrowed a hardtail mountain bike and rode the 2-day bikepacking trip as if she has been doing it her whole life.
Little did we know that this will all eventually develop into something significant. A couple of weeks later Elrika mentioned the idea of a women’s cycling team to Tyla. Being wildly passionate individuals and dreaming on the ‘seemingly impossible’ side… That is where it started. They knew that they wanted and needed Cally, Bianca and Renata to perfect the team. We want ladies of all ages, backgrounds, levels of cycling experience and goals to be able to relate to our approachable team. Therefore, having five different individuals who bring something else to the table, our women’s cycling team was created.
We want to inspire and motivate more ladies to get on their bikes, whether competitively or not. One of the many things that we do have in common is that none of us have big racing titles behind our names – we are just ordinary South African girls with a passion and drive to be our best. Therefore, from this angle, we approach racing differently. Without any titles to show (yet), but one set mission to take hands with all women cycling and grow it with what we have.
Tell us more about your team, Barrier Breakers.
Not long after everyone agreed wholeheartedly on their involvement in the team, a detailed business plan started to progress. Our ‘team name’ started out as ‘Team X’ while we brainstormed the perfect name. We realized that, just like the rest of the teams out there, the main sponsor of the team will eventually dictate the final team name.
That is when Elrika met Barry Austin through one of his Strava club challenges in her hometown of Melkbosstrand. Barry, being a renowned and very experienced cycling coach (coaching athletes such as XCO and Marathon World Champion, Pauline Ferand-Prevot as well as local South African marathon star, Robyn de Groot), went on a ride with Elrika. She roughly discussed the team idea with him and what we aim to do. Very enthusiastically, Barry jumped at the chance to get involved. He then very kindly offered to lead and coach the team as his vision for women’s cycling very much
aligns with that of the team. He also sees the same potential that we do and he supports our way of reaching that potential. Barry brainstormed along with us to come up with a name.
Playing around with the whole ‘Barrier’ word, we finally concluded it at ‘Barrier Breakers’.
Why Barrier Breakers?
Let’s first look at women’s cycling in South Africa as a whole. There is so
much potential in South Africa. We are not speaking here of only the elite field, but also the other batches … going all the way to the last batch! Standing in the way of women’s cycling reaching that potential in South Africa, are the undeniable barriers that first need to be broken through. Just think of any local or even national MTB / road event in South Africa, you will find this small A batch of elite ladies… Very seldomly with a womens-only start… Followed by batches with few ladies surrounded by masses of men. Off goes the front batches and the women are left to fight for their place on the singletracks, standing no chance of really being noticed. All due to the fact there are not enough females entered into races to set them apart in their own league of racing. So that is the main barrier that women’s cycling South Africa faces.
As avid amateur cyclists ourselves, we have some barriers of our own to break through before we reach elite level racing in South Africa. Measuring ourselves up to the elite field of women’s racing, we identified the following barriers: Majority of the elite ladies have started racing from a very young age, gaining lots of experience and titles. This exposed them to sponsors and with their financial, nutritional, mechanical support etc, this placed them in a capable position to fully pursue their professional careers. For this, we truly admire and respect them! For the majority of ladies, this is not the case. They might not have the financial means or any other support whatsoever to really go for it. This is where our team approaches it from a different angle… from
an angle where the rest of the women in cycling can relate to us. And from this angle of relation, we aim to bridge the gap between elite level and amateur women’s racing ourselves … and certainly take the rest of our women’s field along with us (zero to hero)…We have planned in detail to do this in multiple ways of which our main platform will be based on our social media.
Here the ladies can follow our journey, the ups and downs. We are going to be very
approachable on all levels. The potential sponsors we look for will get involved in really growing women’s cycling along with us through their services and or products. At the end of the day, we want other women to break through their personal barrier whatever it may be and follow in our footsteps. This will, in turn, increase the numbers of women cycling. And women’s cycling, my dear friends, will undoubtedly sky rocket.
Because it is so important for our team that all ladies relate to us and we want to cover all disciplines and goals, Bianca, Cally and Renata are a vital part of the team. Although they are very versatile athletes, they are in a different class when it comes to ultramarathon and toughing it out over extreme distances and elevations. We call them the ‘Adventure team’ and although they are set out to race events such as 36One, TransBaviaans, 24 hours, they are not limited to only this. With the ‘Elite team’ and ‘Adventure team’, we believe that we have covered all the bases when it comes to women’s cycling.
Why a cycling team? Did the five of you always dream of racing and being competitive in the sport?
As individuals, we each have our own story. But just like everyone else, we all fell in love with the sport and it’s people. Over the years, each one of us identified a potential and skill for the sport within ourselves. After testing the limits at a variety of races, results showed improvement. This carved each member’s competitive edge. After finding one another through group rides and teaming up at a couple of races, the vision kind of developed. That is how the team was shaped – we can go fast alone, but albeit faster AND further as a team. Not only do we want to build our own team, but we want to team up with the rest of the female cycling field to grow WOMEN’S CYCLING IN SOUTH AFRICA.
A bit background about each athlete:
Elite Racing Team : Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius & Tyla Setzkorn
Elrika obtained her PhD in polymer science in 2016 and is currently co-owner at an analytical analysis company, BEAM Analytical. She only started mountain biking 2.5 years ago but has already developed into a very strong athlete.
Tyla obtained a Higher Certificate in Fitness and Sport Massage at ETA and is currently
studying Sports Nutrition at HFPA. She is starting her studies in BSc Sport Science as of next year (2021).
Elrika and Tyla have experience as Soigneurs for Professional teams. Both are very
competitively and equally passionate to inspire women of all ages and levels to cycle.
Adventure and Media Racing Team: Cally Silberbauer, Bianca Silberbauer and Renata
Obtained her BA degree in Visual communication at Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography along with a postgraduate study in Copywriting at AAA School of Advertising. She is currently working as a freelance journalist and media creator at Women's Health Magazine.
Bianca obtained her MSc in animal food science and worked at Trails Ends (MTB heaven and hotel) and will be working at Ciovita permanently.
Cally and Bianca are two sisters very well known for the extreme and ultra-endurance
challenges they took on while still managing to keep the spirits super high.
Renata is completing her BA in Psychology and Criminology through UNISA. She works as a freelance copywriter and editor, and dabbles in photography and social media management. While being relatively ‘new’ to the sport of cycling, she excels in unfavourable conditions and over ultra-endurance distances.
Racing and COVID-19 - A crazy time to form a new cycling team. How do you see the next year or so panning out for you because of this? What plans have you had to adjust?
Yes, for sure a crazy time to form a new cycling team! Sadly, big racing teams are currently losing sponsors due to the impact of this pandemic. We are terribly sorry for this. We believe that, just like we are building this team up from scratch, those teams will surely be able do so too. (Maybe just from a different scratch).
COVID-19 certainly changed the game from here on forward. It is a time forcing each individual to think innovatively and possibly look at things from a different angle. As we have seen, Covid has broken the whole ‘race results for exposure’ model and if you can motivate from a different angle and think out of the box, sponsors get interested in sharing in that idea. In that aspect, we feel positive and energized in the way the next year will pan out for us.
Our idea for this team pretty much came together towards February this year (2020). Tyla and Elrika have been chatting about this idea for a while. Elrika got the ball rolling after drawing up the basics of a business plan. It was during the hard lockdown that endless time for brainstorming eventually finalized the business plan. This time where racing is put on hold, it really gave us a time to reflect on things deeply without being rushed by the ever-changing standards and expectations racing evokes. Not only that, we got to catch up to finding the ropes of training like a professional cyclist – following a structured plan, with maybe more time than we would’ve had if it was not for lockdown.
From the beginning we have been aware that convincing potential sponsors would be a tall order. Mainly for two reasons: We have really taken on this team project from a complete opposite side than others. Normally, a team would have their main sponsors in place before revealing their team. But here we are, after putting aside the whole ‘who am I – without any impressive results- to approach this?’ Nonetheless, we started building up the social media platform so long. As sponsors and or partners jump on board, we have a platform to boost their exposure. Once all sponsors are finalized, we will design kit and a proper team photoshoot session. As for the rest, we trust the process.
We are aware that some industries/companies/businesses struggle a bit more than others due to this sudden health scare. Thus, one would think that we won’t approach the struggling companies (because ‘they will not have the financial means to support us’) but we figured that our team will actually be able to help these ‘struggling’ businesses on a marketing and exposure side. We will also go out of our way to invest in the ‘woman’ side of their product or service. Therefore, we do not limit our target ‘sponsors’. So far, we have had the most incredible support from companies willing to sponsor and help with gear and gear related products.
These companies include:
● LEADout Cycling/Barry Austin Coaching for coaching and leading us not only in our
training regime, but also leading us in the industry in which he has a lot of experience.
● Joanna Dobinson at BikingInTheBosch for skilling us up and getting us faster and more confident on the technicals! (https://bikinginthebosch.co.za)
● Squirt Cycling Products making sure our bikes and gear are running smoothly with the best products – clean bikes, lubed chains and puncture-free training and racing! (https:// www.squirtcyclingproducts.com)
● Rugged Distribution for gear and protecting our heads with the best helmets (Abus).
Their involvement has been very enthusiastic right from the start! (https://
● Catherine Materson at K&M Biokineticists to guide us in our nutrition, strength training and recovery needs! Catherine will also join us as our support on races and attend to our racing needs. (https://personaldev.co.za/human-performance/kolenic-and-mastersonbiokineticists- cape-town/)
● Cape Cycle Systems for gear and tools as well as shock servicing. (https://
Setting up this team will require the support of gear as well as financial support. We are ready to receive these companies with open hands and take on this journey along with them.
Let's talk about your teams. How did the partnerships come about? Why do you think it's important to have a good teammate?
So, our team of five is divided into an ‘Elite’ team and an ‘Adventure’ team. Although, not limited to the aforementioned. We like to look at the individual first… Each one has their personal story and matured their way to their position in the team.
We met at the ladies rides of skills coach Joanna Dobinson (BikingInTheBosch). Before the team was even an idea, we individually admired the way Jo just got women cycling confidently. Under the radar, we realized that is what we wish to instil within each woman finding herself in the world of cycling. After cycling together for fun, we teamed up for races here and there. Wines2Whales, Attakwas Extreme to mention a few. As sisters, Bianca and Cally have always committed to doing the most extreme challenges together. Great results come from it all – both on a racing and personal development level. Wrapping this all up, it took a wild heart with an ‘impossible possible’ dream to spark the start of this partnership. Elrika mentioned it to Tyla who had her personal doubts before. But along with go-getter Elrika, the two of them very spontaneously followed their intuition. Without thinking twice, they knew that Cally, Bianca and Renata shared their limitless sky. That is how the partnership came about.
It is definitely important to have a good teammate, for various reasons. In order to accomplish the physical, the mind needs convincing first. Surely, a teammate is not going to physically push you up the hills the whole time. No! The teamwork comes in at the mental side of things but not only there, it is so beneficial to have someone that “virtually” train with you too. Although Tyla and Elrika are staying in different towns, they go through the same training program and can bounce (together with their coach off course) stuff off each other. It is important to be in tune with each other. When it comes to racing, you can physically prepare yourself as much as possible. Whether that physical shape shows up is uncertain and inconsistent. What is consistent though is, and will always be, mindset. Mindset is shaped by character. And character is, well, who and what your teammate is. So ultimately your characters need to match
up and compliment one another’s. At the end of the day, a teammate can make or break your experience with this sport. And reaching for something on such a deep level as this team’s vision, so much more your teammate needs to match up to your being. In this, she must dream Big!
Riding in an all-women's team is special. Women are different in their style and approach to racing and tend to be different teammates. Tell us what is special about female riders and being on an all women's team vs. a mixed team?
When it comes to racing, there is both the physical and psychological aspect to be considered. Starting out with the physical aspect, men are naturally much stronger and have a higher power output. Women's endurance kicks in at a later stage than men. Therefore, riding with a male team mate, the woman has to sustain a much higher wattage where the male sits comfortably sustaining an easier effort. Where, on the other hand, riding with another woman, both are in the same league concerning this. So, the combination of women put out a more equal effort. Something else to keep in mind when it comes to female physiology is the actual female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. As this fluctuates, it also affects performance. In this regard, women in a team will be able to relate more to one another and feel more comfortable discussing this.
When it comes to the psychological aspect of women’s vs mixed team, there is a cognitive difference between most men and most women. (Referring here to the majority, not all). Women tend to demonstrate more empathy than men. In a racing environment, In a women's team, like in our case, it is so motivating to know and feel how all team mates relate to one another. This makes it a comfortable space to communicate clearly. Everyone is driven towards the same purpose. Elrika has a lot of experience in racing in a mixed team. She teamed up with a good friend and they raced PE2Plett together. She found that she had to put in much more effort just to keep up with her teammate, where he came into the finish line feeling much fresher than her. Through this experience, she has learned that communication is super
important. Even if it means sometimes putting proud in the back pocket and slowing the pace to finish feeling strong, but yet accomplished.
The main reason for the team being an all-women’s team is not to try and ‘intimidate’ or disregard men, but to rather build up a form of unity for women to relate to and approach.
Let's talk about role models/idols on and off the bike. Who inspires you? Who makes you want to be a better person on and off the bike? Who encourages you? Who do you aspire to be?
Jennie Stenerhag, as she is the example of an athlete who started at an age many would consider as ‘later’, but through her work ethic and discipline, she is excelling. Another athlete that inspires me is Kate Courtney.
This is something that has always been super difficult to specify, as there are so many incredible idols and role models to look up to. If I had to choose, an 'on the bike' role model for me would undoubtedly be Ariane Luthi. Not only is she a super strong rider, but she is truly so invested into women's and youth cycling overall. Through it all, she does not shy away from opening up about her own mental ups and downs. I also look up to the passionate way that she carries on the message of where women's cycling needs change. Then she goes out and actively contributes to making and being the change.
An 'off the bike' role model would undoubtedly be my very own mom. My dad got me into cycling and he was always the drive behind it. Very sadly, my dad passed away 9 months ago... Ever since, my mom has been supporting my passion as best as she possibly can. Be it surprising me with post-ride snacks or listening to the details of whatever structured workout I did the day. As for my dad... He is being kept alive through my cycling...
In a nutshell, I aspire to be the best ME that I possibly can. For too long I have wanted to be like others and live the lives they do. Until, through my own journey, I realized that I would not want to trade my own scars for anything else. It has shaped me into the space that I need to take up in this team and in women's cycling.
While the first name to pop to mind when asked who inspires me to ride would be Kate
Courtney (tenacious, badass, but always having fun on the bike). I find myself constantly being inspired by those around me, my friends. From those who have ridden all the way from Cairo to Cape Town to those that can shred the trails with a speed and style I can only dream of. It is my friends that inspire me most to keep challenging myself to be a better, stronger rider, but to alw