Clint Hendricks: Sprinting to Bronze
A few days before the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Clint Hendricks got dropped. Out on a course reconnaissance with fellow South Africans Brendon Davids and Nicholas Dlamini, the fastman from Paarl just wasn’t feeling it. It, one might ask? Well “it” being that thing called good form, something so special and rare that one almost wants to bottle it up and keep it safe. And to compound matters, he was also feeling a little under the weather.
‘I really don’t know what was going on with me in the days leading up to the Men’s Road Race,’ said Clint recently. ‘It started on the Tuesday or Wednesday and I wasn’t feeling well. Then I was out with the guys for an easy ride and I got dropped up the climb. I mean, I could barely get over there. My GPS said I was going 10km/hr or something, so I told them to just leave me.’
Ever the optimist and professional, the Lange Sports and Team BCX athlete didn’t panic. He had come too far to simply throw a “hissy fit” ahead of the biggest race of his career. But then Clint knows a thing or two about commitment and patience, something which he attributes to his formative cycling years growing up in the Boland.
‘My stepfather was a good track rider and competed at World Championship level,’ he explains. ‘I was already playing rugby at school and riding my BMX around the neighbourhood streets before I actually got to go watch him race at the local track. Soon I was joining his groups for their long rides and really liked the sport. But he told me that if I wanted to be a cyclist, I needed to fully commit because the sport is so demanding, not to mention expensive. That piece of advice has stayed with me ever since.’
Commitment aside, Clint goes on to explain that he was already going on regular 120 km training rides as a 15 year old, long before had he even pinned on a race number. And loving every minute of it, actually.
‘Riding from Paarl to Gordon’s Bay and back was a long way, but I just loved it. So when I finally did start to race, I found it fairly easy to adapt. All that training as a teenage kid sure built a great foundation.’
Which brings us back to that Saturday this past April. While they were certainly one of the smaller teams in terms of numbers, the South African riders made up for it in quality and planning. Knowing they were up against powerhouse squads like Australia and New Zealand (each containing World Tour riders) didn’t deter the boys in the Green and Gold one little bit. In fact, they thrived off it. You see, they were content to feed off the bigger squads and just “play the game”.
‘We knew the racing at Commonwealth Games would be unpredictable,’ Clint explains. ‘Brendon was coming off the back his great performance at Le Tour de Langkawi (7th overall), so he was going to be factor. Add in the fact that he rides for an Aussie pro team and has won races there; he was definitely a marked man. So when he got in the breakaway, it was really good for us. Nic (Dlamini) and myself just sat back at let the race unfold naturally.’
Although he was already cramping 40 km into the race, Clint didn’t let that get to him. You see, he has a clear understanding of his body and mind. Plus he had an added ace up his sleeve.
‘The cramping was more emotional than physical,’ he says. ‘Just like that abortive training ride a few days prior, I’ve learned not to read too much into these sorts of things. And luckily for me, none of the other riders knew who I was. So I used my anonymity to my advantage.’
And use it he most certainly did. With the race coming back together, Clint hung tough after New Zealander Sam Gaze’s attack over the final climb. Barely hanging on near the back of the pack (‘I was second last over that climb,’ he confirms), Clint feigned pain by pulling faces for his companions to see. If the Aussies and Kiwis were going to play poker, then he was certainly going follow suit.
‘I sure kept out of sight and out of mind,’ he remembers. ‘Then suddenly, I saw the 1km-to-go banner. It was as if a light switch had been turned on and a surge of energy coursed through my body. I got out of the saddle for a couple of pedal strokes but immediately sat down with slight cramp. Never in my life have I sprinted in the saddle and holding the brake-hoods. But I did that day, and it sure worked.’