Bernard Esterhuizen, twenty-five-year old rider from Team AlfaBodyworks/Giant is living cycling, and has what it takes in abundance.
Do you have what it takes to pedal against the best the world has to offer? Do you live, breathe, and eat to feed your mind and body, to have the power to achieve the one thing that feeds your soul?
At school Bernard was a natural sportsman with a inbuilt competitive drive to win whatever sport he participated in. Growing up in the Esterhuizen household, Bernard’s dad, Wikus Esterhuizen, a Masters rider and record holder of 3 World Champs in sprinting, imparted wisdom unto Bernard of what it takes to be the best. At the age of 8, Bernard started his day at 4am with his dad to train. In that same year he rode his first SA Track Champs, breaking the U11 record for the 500m Time Trial, which record still stands to this day.
Bernard recalls that this was something that just happened. Wikus one-day questioned Bernard on becoming either a SA Champion or an International Champion, and his answer to that was unquestionably International.
Having this inner will to win sparked in him the knowledge that if he took cycling very seriously, he could achieve all he set his sights on. His training took a complete new look, while his focus and goals targeting specifics became the order of the day. Bernard achieved SA 500m Time Trial records for U15 as well as the U17, and to him any form of slowing down was never an option.
He calmly recalls those early mornings and hours of standing starts, flying efforts and bike pacing. His dad would ride on a motorbike pushing on Bernard’s back while experiencing speeds of 60km/hour. His dad would fall back and let Bernard pedal and build leg speeds in excess. Those who ride with him today remark that: “If Bernard kicks no one can catch him” – now you know where this quote comes from.
Bernard won every race at the SA Champs U17. As a junior, Bernard took on the Elites knowing that this was the only possible chance he stood to race at Junior Worlds, and he succeeded. During Bernard’s first year at the 2009 Junior Worlds held in Moscow, Russia, he achieved an SA record of 10.41sec for the 200m sprint, which still stands to this day. Achieving 8th position in the competition attracted some attention regarding his abilities.
After Junior Worlds he was invited to train in Aigle, Switzerland at the World Cycling Center where he trained alongside Sarah Hammer – multiple World Champion in the Pursuit and Omnium. His new coach saw Bernard’s drive and pushed him harder than any of the other competing athletes. He progressed very well and was expected to win 3 gold medals at the Junior Worlds in 2010. He qualified 3rd fastest in the sprint and ended up in 6th place – over exerting himself in the earlier rounds. In the Keirin he was boxed in and an accident ahead of him caused him to settle for 4th place, which resulted in great frustration and disappointment.
After the disappointing result in the Keirin, Bernard was motivated to do well in the Kilo. He focused on not riding for the podium, but rather, to look like the Argentinian rider after his Kilo. As he stepped off his bike to sit on the chair, he literally fell off with exhaustion. As he launched his start his handle bar broke, yet, focused as he was, he finished taking the Gold, so exhausted that he could barely manage to get up on the podium. The South African record he set in Montichiari, Italy in 2010, still stands to this day at 1.03.265 for the 1000m kilo.
After two weeks of rest, Bernard took on the Common Wealth Games in India taking 6th place in the Kilo, despite becoming very ill.
The World Cup became his next target. In the first year he gained experience. In the second World Cup he ended in 11th place. After 2 years of collecting points, he qualified to compete at the 2012 Olympics. Putting a lot of pressure on himself for the London Olympics, Bernard lost 3kg to improve his power to weight ratio. JP Van Zyl, his manager at the time, lifted his tactical race and Bernard took 11th place in the 200m.
Bernard left UCI racing to regain his cycling enjoyment. He was invited to ride road races for Bonitas, but received a call from SASCOC and was placed in the Operation Excellence program where he received funding to train overseas. He moved to Spain and trained with Andy Spokes, being his first coach from the UCI before the World Cup in Mexico. He broke and set SA records in the Men’s 200m TT of 9.786, and Men’s 1000m 1.00.673 in Mexico 2013, which still stand to this day.
The next two years he trained in America for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and achieved 6th place in the 1000m Kilo, and placed 8th in the Keirin. After he moved back to South Africa, he chose to do road cycling, and took a full year out of racing to build up his endurance. Having done this is the reason behind the results on the road – as he will always have that ‘kick’.
Since 2015, Bernard achieved top 10 finishes at the Amashova, EP Herald, and Kynsna Cycle Tour with his best winning result being the Stellenbosch Cycle Tour in 2016. While competing in the Team Sprint at the Commonwealth Games in October 2017, he had his hardest fall to date, and broke his collar bone, which resulted in an operation followed by a 6 weeks recovery period.
“I would like to be back in action from January 2018, and my focus will be at the Cape Town Cycle Tour.”
“My advice to young cyclists is to persevere and keep at it. To get to the top is a long road of ups and downs,” Bernard says.