By Mark Etheridge
London Olympian Robyn de Groot will be South Africa’s sole rider at the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships in Laissac, France next month.
Just one rider was seen by Cycling South Africa as having fulfilled the necessary selection criteria and she’ll fly the flag in the Elite Women’s category.
The 33-year-old, who made the move from road to mountain-biking after the 2012 Olympics, has found her niche in the world of mountain-bike marathoning and has competed at two XCM world championships to date, missing last year’s event due to health issues.
She’s had a solid year in the saddle to date having competed in the gruelling Cape Epic in the Western Cape before partner Jennie Stenerhag was forced to pull out with what was later diagnosed as a heart condition.
Then she also rode her way to another national MTB marathon championships title in Clarens, Free State last month, while her latest action saw her ending runner-up in last week’s sani2c race in KwaZulu-Natal.
After having spent most her year in the quiet southern Cape town of George, de Groot will head up to Johannesburg as she fine-tunes for France.
She told Road to Rio 2016: ‘I’m very happy to have been selected but obviously with the announcement being made while we were busy with Sani2c I haven’t had the chance to hear all the finer details.
‘So far its been a good year, form-wise I’ve been feeling great and happy with my performance. There have obviously been some big disappointments, but when looking back they have been due to external factors and not poor form which is part of mountain biking, and I suppose these things are what keep us grounded and hungry.
‘After Epic it became a push to keep good form until National Championships which was four weeks later, fortunately it all went well and I was able to retain my title there.
‘I’ve just come off a little break, feeling refreshed and motivated to move towards some new goals for the year. Sani2c was my first race back after my rest period, and I must say I was feeling happy with where I am at right now.’
For now though all focus is on the lead-in to Laissac. ‘I’ll be following a well-structured programme to prepare as best as I can for that with the budget and surroundings I have at hand. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to recce the course and I guess being from South Africa, a quick trip to the south of France isn’t practical and cost effective at this stage, so I’ll plan to arrive in Europe with enough time beforehand to hopefully scout the important sections of the route.’
A biokineticist by profession, De Groot is, for the moment riding full-time which will help her to focus on France.
‘I always consider it a privilege to wear the national kit and represent SA at any world championships, so thank-you to my federation (Cycling South Africa) and my sponsors Ascendis Health for seeing this and backing me up.’
When it comes to expectations at worlds, De Groot is a blend of expectation and reality. ‘Obviously as an athlete one has the big dream of the rainbow jersey. But I always keep things in perspective, and I feel it’s important to do that in order to be realistic. Sure rainbows and the top step would be the absolute ultimate… but realistically I’d say a top 10 is something I’ll be aiming for and the main goal, provided that all goes really well, a top five.
‘With this in mind I’ve also scratched my head and questioned whether its worth going considering these performance goals. I’ve come to realise though, that standing on the top step at a World Championships doesn’t happen overnight, and is a process, so for that reason it is vital to be competing at World Champs each year in order to progress towards the bigger goal and dream.
‘I think the Cape Epic this year opened my eyes to the type of performance I am capable of at an international level, and has possibly ignited a flame within me to strive to keep on improving and to keep dreaming!’
Picture of De Groot courtesy of Cape Epic