We continue our four-part in-depth feature on Blake Gutzeit’s Junior SuperEnduro World Championship triumph and his road to becoming South Africa’s first superenduro world champion.
Quintin van Jaarsveld
A fresh-faced Gutzeit officially went from blue-chip prospect to professional straight out of high school when he signed with Cargo-Tac Husqvarna Factory Racing for the 2014 season.
That’s the year his career took off as he got the opportunity to compete in iconic international races and really test his mettle against the world’s elite enduro riders.
First up was the Erzbergrodeo’s imposing ‘Iron Giant’ in Austria, where he announced himself by finishing 16th.
From that point forward, he went on to establish himself as one of the best in the world with consistently stellar showings.
Amongst those were top 10 finishes in the Red Bull Romaniacs (ninth in 2014, eighth in 2015) and Red Bull Sea to Sky (eighth in 2014, sixth in 2015), a fourth place in the 2015/16 SuperEnduro World Championship junior class and, after having come full circle with a move to Bidvest bLU cRU Yamaha, a fifth-place in last year’s Roof of Africa.
All that was missing from his remarkable racing résumé was a signature win (even his in 125cc Class triumph in the Junior National Off-Road Championship back in 2011 wasn’t officially recognised as a South African title), one that would elevate him to superstar status.
His persistence finally paid off in France, as he not only got the monkey off the back, but did so in the best possible way. He concedes he was well aware of his lack of a signature title, saying, “It was in the back of my mind, but it’s something I used as motivation and having a world championship now is great.”
His coronation might’ve came on that fateful evening, but it was a lifetime in the making. Years of blood, sweat, tears and broken bones led him to that euphoric crowning moment.
Countless hours in the saddle and years of rigorous year-round training have shaped Gutzeit into the virtuoso he is today. “Through school I was just a normal kid; I ate what I wanted and did what I wanted. The sacrifices came when I turned pro.”
He’s embraced the grind and lifestyle of a professional athlete ever since. “The race is won in the week when you do the preparation. You make sacrifices every day – training, eating right, getting enough sleep and not being able to go to parties with friends, but I enjoy that and it’s really rewarding when it pays off and you get a world title.”
Rather than roping in specialist trainers and nutrition experts, Gutzeit prefers being in control of his conditioning. “Jade helped me when I was young to open my eyes to what real training was about. I don’t have any specific trainers other than Wendy Fleming, who helps me out in the gym when I’m at home.
“No-one knows your body better than you do, so I like to do my own thing based on the knowledge I’ve gained over the years. I go to the gym, cycle and ride my motorbike. I don’t count the amount of hours I train; I train until my body says it’s enough. It’s crucial to ‘listen’ to your body and I’ve learned how to do that to avoid overtraining.”
Injuries are an inevitable part of racing and Gutzeit’s had his share of setbacks. In 2012, he shattered his tibia in a high-speed crash during a national off-race race, bringing his evolution to a screeching, painful and frustrating halt, but he was back on the bike months later, still hungry and determined to take his riding to the next level.
Two years later, he broke his scaphoid whilst training for the 2014 Roof of Africa – but rode anyway and finished 14th – before tearing his ACL in the final round of last year’s SuperEnduro World Championship in Madrid, Spain.
That injury was equally cruel as it was crippling as it cost him a place on the overall championship podium and saw him undergo surgery, which sidelined him for months.
“That was a big blow. I basically lost all my leg muscles, so I had to start from scratch. It was tough and took loads of physio and hard work to get back to full fitness. It wasn’t a short six-week stint, it was a solid five months off the bike and trust me, that’s tough.”
He also endured a riding-related infection, which infiltrated his body from an elbow roastie and kept him off the bike for weeks earlier this year. He admits injuries and the ensuing rocky road to recovery is tough to deal with, however, he believes those negatives can be turned into positives with the right mindset and dedication.
“It’s always disappointing, but you deal with them the best you can and you have to stay positive. I knew I had to come back stronger, which I did, so I put my head down and worked my butt off. You learn a lot from injuries as well…they usually make you a better rider.”