- Nolan Hoffman talks about how he overcome self-doubt and personal tragedy to win the 2021 Cape Town Cycle Tour and why he’s determined to leave the sport on his own terms.
- The 36-year-old, who served an 18-month ban for doping, shares his views on the fight against drug-use in cycling and how he feels about Lance Armstrong who gained notoriety.
- He also unpacks whether he agrees with the award of equal prize money for male and female cyclists and reveals if he has any regrets having never raced in the Tour de France.
Sport24 asked: How does it feel to have won your fourth Cape Cycle Tour?
Nolan Hoffman: The fourth time was incredible. I’m 36 and, as an elite athlete, when you reach your mid-to-late 30s you start doubting yourself. Especially with the pandemic, we had such a long time with no races and doubt creeps in. For me to bounce back and win the race was really amazing and like fairy-tale stuff. From a personal point of view, the last 18 months have been very tough. I have had to deal with family losses, which really grounded me and made me realise that life is short and sport is not forever. It was a dark time in the world and through all of that, I had to regain the motivation and get to a proper level of training. I managed to channel the grief and loss in such a positive way. I said to myself, “It’s your last chance so give it a go and honour your profession.” It was a combination of all of those elements that realty pushed me to get back to this level. It reignited my hunger and I’m really chuffed to see that I could get it back. For many riders, it gets too much mentally. They aren’t able to reach that level and end up stopping the sport. I’m just grateful that I could get back to this level and I’m going to thoroughly enjoy it. I’ll push through and ride this wave for as long as I can. I’m determined to carry on and have a good support structure behind me.
Sport24 asked: How would you describe your race preparation for the event?
Nolan Hoffman: My preparation ahead of the Cape Town Cycle Tour was amazing and I couldn’t have asked for any better. I stayed healthy throughout that whole period and in the back of my mind I knew I had the endurance and mileage under my belt, which filled me with confidence. I prepare myself visually for a race. Mentally you have to think how you are going to ride the key points on the race, namely Smitswinkel, Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie. Those three points are the only ones where they can make a difference in attacking the sprinters. For me, it’s tunnel vision going into those areas. This year, I climbed better than the other years. On the hills, I didn’t suffer as much as the previous years. That was a good sign and it gave me a big boost. With my experience, I gambled a bit on race day and played it cool. Team tactics for us on the day were incredible. With 180 metres to go, I managed to get myself right to the front and that was the ideal place to start the sprint. At that point, you have to put your head down, go for it and hope the legs last. I had a good sprint and on the day everything came together. In terms of the race landscape, the Cape Town Cycle Tour is such a scenic route but I never get to see any of it which is sad. During the race, I have complete tunnel vision. I focus on the wheel in front of me and make sure that the gap is not more than 15 seconds. I zone out and all I think of is the finish line and how I’m going to get there! There was the odd occasion when I could heard someone shout, “Go Nolan!” but the external is white noise to me.
Sport24 asked: Are you in favour of equal prize money for the men and women?
Nolan Hoffman: It was a big step for the Cycle Tour Trust to offer equal prize money. (The men’s and women’s Cape Town Cycle Tour winner each received R45 000). There will always be people that differ in opinion and may feel that the male riders should be paid more. (The men’s race was 109km while the women’s race was 78km). I think that is the traditionalist, old way of thinking. The world has changed and we do things differently now. We have to embrace the change and can’t be stuck in an old-fashioned approach. Women put just as much effort into what they do no matter how long the distances are. At the end of the day, it’s the best of the best competing against each other. You have to honour and acknowledge that. Kim Le Court, who won the women’s race, is a tough cookie. She is a good all-round cyclist. She is able to face the onslaught of the climbers and she can sprint. I think those qualities make you a champion in bike riding because you must be able to do everything.
Sport24 asked: What led to receiving an 18-month ban from Cycling SA in 2010?
Nolan Hoffman: I made an honest mistake and owned up to it. I used the medication for an injury. (Hoffman tested positive for testosterone in his system). I put it forward to the Medical Tribunal, they believed me and I got a reduced sentence from the initial two-year ban. I served my ban and had to work really hard to regain trust from the community and people in the sporting circles. I think people have since forgiven me. I have moved on from that and have gotten stronger. I believe I have restored my credibility and have been on ADAMS (The anti-doping administration and management system) which tracks your whereabouts for the past 12 years. I’m pretty much the most-tested elite rider out there. There is reform in that and people should not judge others before knowing the true facts and circumstances. I 100% think that WADA and SAIDS are winning the battle against doping. Cyclists are under the spotlight the whole time. In terms of anti-doping efforts, I believe cycling is at the forefront of trying to clean up sport. It’s the only sporting code that has put such strict measures in place. I can honestly say that cyclists are the most-tested athletes throughout all sporting codes and cycling is the most public in terms of the fight against doping. In my mind, the sport has really been cleaned up and there is no place for it anymore. The number of doping cases reported on in the media has gone down significantly and the other sporting codes are now making the headlines.
Sport24 asked: Is Lance Armstrong an athlete you admire in the world of sport?
Nolan Hoffman: Many people differ in opinion on this subject. There is no such thing as perfect in this world and everybody has got their flaws. Lance is one of the great champions in the world of cycling. In life, you will do a thousand good things and the one thing you make a mistake on, people will always throw it in front of you and forget about the other thousand good things you’ve done. Armstrong is a classic example and all of that has pretty much overshadowed his legacy so to say. On the sporting side, I think Lance was a true champion and a good bike rider but it must be said that that era was pretty much tainted and it was a dark time for the sport. Off the bike, one has to acknowledge what he did in fighting against cancer and raising funds via the Livestrong Foundation.
Sport24 asked: Do you have regrets having never ridden in the Tour de France?
Nolan Hoffman: I think it’s any competitive cyclist’s dream to be at the biggest stage of the sport, which is Le Tour. It’s not possible for everybody but it doesn’t mean that you can’t be professional at a lower level. Sometimes you miss the boat but, in terms of what I got exposed to during my career, I wouldn’t do it any other way. I got to ride in the World Championships as well as other races internationally and earlier this year I competed in the Tour of Panama. There is still prestige in those sorts of events but to have been at the Tour de France would have been the cherry on the cake for my career. However, there are no regrets over career and I don’t want to be that guy that has regrets at the end of day. When I stop I will say to myself, “Well done bud, you had a good innings.” Having grown up in Franschoek, I think cycling chose me. I didn’t choose it. In terms of the love for the sport, I believe I’m still like that 16-year-old boy from Groendal who started out back in the day.
Sport24 asked: What does the future hold for you and when will you call time?
Nolan Hoffman: I’m going to take one year at a time and I’m not going to put a definite deadline on my professional career. I don’t feel my age and reckon you can go on for as long as the mind allows because it controls the body. Alejandro Valverde won the World Championships when he was 38. Sports science has evolved and 40 really is the new 30. While I’m still enjoying the sport, I’m going to go all out. I could easily switch to race in the veterans category but the excitement of competing against young cyclists is something that still spurs me on. Their fearlessness pushes me to go hard and I still relish the competitiveness that comes with racing. For me, each win is special now, especially racing against the younger competitors. It shows that this uncle can still give them a hiding! When people ask, “When can you go until?” that creates the doubt and an athlete deserves to go out on their own terms because they have sacrificed their whole life for the sport. Ultimately, if you are true to yourself you will know when the time is right to retire… The next two months are packed for me, with a race pretty much every weekend. A big focus is the 947 Ride Jo’burg race which is in November. I haven’t won that event yet so it’s a monkey I would like to get off my back.
Previous interviews:Paul Wallace