NAMIBIAN Olympian Vera Adrian and her husband, the multiple Desert Dash champion Konny Looser are not your ordinary couple.
Adrian has dominated female cycling in Namibia for close to a decade and will be going to her second Olympic Games in Tokyo later this year, while Looser is one of Europe's top marathon mountain bike riders and last month won the Desert Dash for a record sixth year in a row.
The cycling couple recently returned to their home in Switzerland after a Namibian holiday, and both are now eager to pursue their goals.
Vera first made the headlines when she won the Nedbank Cycle Challenge in 2009 as a 15-year-old, going on to win the title three times over four years.
By 2012 she won the senior national championships for the first time at the age of 18 and went on to dominate the race, winning the title eight times in nine years.
Konny, meanwhile, grew up in Switzerland and from an early age dreamt of becoming a professional cyclist. He started cycling competitively by the age of 11, and gradually made his way to the top. In 2010 he won the European u23 championships for the first time and also got his first professional contract, going on to race all over Europe.
In 2011 he defended his title at the European Championships, while he also made history by becoming the youngest winner of the gruelling Trans Alp Challenge at the age of 22.
Over the next three years he raced all over Europe, but by 2014 he was looking for a new challenge and decided to join a training camp in Stellenbosch.
Meeting in the Cederburg mountains
By now Vera was studying accounting at Stellenbosch University and their paths crossed for the first time at a race in the Cederburg mountains, as Vera recalled.
Ï finished on the podium and on the last day Konny also won a stage and a bottle of wine, so he came up to me and asked in his broken English if I liked wine. I said I do, but when I heard he was Swiss I said he should rather speak German, because his English was really bad then," she laughed.
Initially Vera wasn't very interested in a relationship, but for Konny it was love at first sight and he persevered and their relationship eventually became more serious.
"He tried very hard to win me over, and bought me smoothies and coffee the whole time," she recalled with a smile.
By 2015 Konny started racing on the South African MTB circuit, going on to win the ultra marathon national series, while he also embarked on a record run at the Desert Dash.
After winning the mixed pair category with Vera in 2014, Konny won the solo race for the first time in 2015, and has since gone on to win the title for six years in a row.
Vera, meanwhile, qualified for her first Olympic Games after a brilliant performance at the 2016 African Championships in Casablanca, Morocco where she won both the road race and time trial titles, but her Olympic debut in Rio was disappointing.
Ï was so nervous and emotional before the race - I started getting knots in my legs the day before the race and the next morning I started getting shivers and hot flushes. When I left for the race I was fine again, but I think the whole experience cost me so much energy, so I wasn't on top form and got pulled off before the end," she said.
By 2017 they started racing more in Europe, with Konny winning the Swiss Marathon Championships as well as the national series, while he came second in the Swiss Epic for two years in a row.
Vera, meanwhile, was signed up by a Spanish professional team in 2017 and a Swiss team in 2018, when she achieved her best result on the European circuit by coming fourth in Cham Hagendorn, Switzerland.
A close call
By 2019 she was once again aiming to qualify for her second Olympics and
after an anxious waiting period, her qualification was finally confirmed at the end of October. With the top 100 professional cyclists in the world qualifying directly, Vera finished 98th at the cut-off date to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
"I got quite a few points by winning the National Championships, while I won two bronze medals at the African Games in Morocco and came fifth at the African Championships in Ethiopia. That gave me enough points to move into the top 100, and eventually I just managed to qualify in 98th position," she said.
Now a wiser and more experienced Adrian Vera is aiming to do better at the Olympics.
"I know what I have to focus on, but it won't be easy. But I'm definitely in a better physical shape than before Rio, because back then I'd never raced in Europe, and being young and still studying, I think I was just overwhelmed. Now I know what the racing is like, and I've raced against a lot of these girls before, so hopefully I'll be more relaxed," she said.
By 2018 Vera and Konny settled in Switzerland and although they got married in the Namibian desert last year, their visits have become less frequent.
"I always love coming back to Namibia, it's my home, but I think we will spend less time here in future," Vera said.
"The training opportunities are not that great and the roads are quite dangerous over here, while in Switzerland there are endless roads without traffic, you can climb forever, and there are always other riders that you can train with," she added.
Looser, meanwhile, still has to decide whether he will come back to defend his Desert Dash title.
Ï always get asked that question, but why not. For me it's not only about the race, but also about having a goal and training towards that, it makes it exciting and keeps me motivated. I also like to see the racing community here in Namibia, which is always so excited about the Dash - it's a very special and unique race and I hope it will carry on for many years."