Recognisable by their neon yellow kits, with green and black accents, the Insect Science MTB team has forged a reputation as one of South Africa’s premier mountain bike squads. For the 2023 Absa Cape Epic, the team will be represented by Arno du Toit and Keagan Bontekoning, as well as by Herman Fourie and Alan Gordon. In the background, the riders will have the support of former elite racer, Nicol Carstens as well as fifth teammate CP van Wyk.
“We’re going into this Absa Cape Epic with dual aims,” Bontekoning stated. “We’re aiming for a top ten overall and with that, we believe an Absa African jersey is a strong possibility. This year will be fiercely competitive, with the South African teams in the mix for the general classification too I believe. The racing is going to be very exciting and we’re looking forward to mixing it up with the best in the world.”
The team’s title sponsors, Insect Science (www.insectscience.co.za), are a responsible pest management company that specialise in creating targeted pest-management solutions for farmers and homeowners, so that they can produce environmentally safe crops and plants with zero harmful residues. Founded in 2017, Insect Science MTB was born out of the company owner, Gerhard Booysen’s love for cycling. The team began with Gordon as the sole supported rider before Van Wyk, followed by Bontekoning and Du Toit, came aboard. Recent additions, Fourie and Gunther Katzke, are stars of the future whom the more experienced riders in the squad are helping to mentor.
For Fourie, the next step in that process is racing the Absa Cape Epic alongside Gordon. “I’d like to do as well as I possibly can; and to be as close to Arno [du Toit] and Keagan [Bontekoning] as possible, to be able to help if needed,” Fourie explained. “I think we’ll take it steady,” Gordon, cautiously added. “Starting hard, every day, to stay in touch for as long as possible will probably see us losing tens of minutes in the final parts of the stages. It would be wiser to ride consistently and that way be closer to Arno and Keagan should they need a wheel, for example.”
While Du Toit has been among the country’s leading mountain bikers for the best part of a decade his partner, Bontekoning is still relatively young, at 23. Despite this their seven-year age gap the pair have forged a strong bond on and off the bike. “Even in solo events we’ve ended up racing together a lot this year,” Bontekoning noted. “We’ve been better matched this year than ever and I believe that will stand us in really good stead at the Absa Cape Epic.”
Along with Insect Science, the team is backed by Toyota South Africa through Malmesbury Toyota, SCOTT Sports Africa, Maxxis Tyres, Squirt Cycling Products, Wahoo, Sigeyi, PVM Nutritional Sciences, Versus Socks, Front Runner, Oakley and Enjoy. A major change for the team ahead of the 2023 season was the move to SCOTT bicycles. “We’ve been on the new SCOTT Spark RC World Cup EVO since just before the Tankwa Trek,” Du Toit smiled. “They’re absolutely fantastic! They’re exceptionally capable on the technical terrain and climb superbly too. I feel they are the perfect machines to take on the Absa Cape Epic aboard. Partnering with Maxxis is also great, as their race-proven tyres have shown again and again that they can handle the harshest conditions.”
The team’s stated ambition may be the Absa Cape Epic, but the South African season is only getting started in March. The South African Cross Country Cup events and National Championships are also on the squad’s radar, as is sani2c, Cape Pioneer Trek and of course the Magoeba Trek, presented by Insect Science. Van Wyk will also be pursuing an extensive gravel campaign in 2023.
“I think it’s good to diversify,” Van Wyk noted. “I love mountain biking and will definitely be racing alongside the rest of the team off-road too this year, but I’d like to do as many gravel races as possible. The gravel calendar has grown massively in South Africa in the last few years and you can now build a pretty good season around the gravel events. Along with true gravel races like Karoo Burn and Around the Pot, I’d like to race Trans Baviaans this year too. I’ll just have to convince one of the other guys to team up with me for it… I know Arno [du Toit] loves it so I’m sure it won’t be difficult.”
What will not be so easy however is performing at the Absa Cape Epic. “It’s the toughest race of the year, but we’re ready to give it our all,” Bontekoning concluded. “Having a great collection of people in the team and supporting us helps tremendously. The Epic is long and tough, but having fun off the bike helps reduce the stress.”
To share in the excitement as the Insect Science MTB team take on the Untamed Mountain Bike Race like the squad’s Facebook page, Insect Science Mountain Biking, or follow @insectsciencemtb on Instagram. Mountain biking fans can also subscribe to the team’s YouTube channel, @insectsciencemtb, for longer form updates from the Kings of Neon.