I feel like I’m a more complete runner than ever’ – the national champion who can’t find a pro contract
“It’s really hard to see the races that are already happening,” says Reinardt Janse van Rensburg.
“It’s really weird for me watching the races right now,” he said. “I feel like I have to be there. Especially Opening Weekend and Le Samyn. I follow all the results, everything but I haven’t watched much to be honest. It’s not a nice feeling to watch on TV.”
We are in March and the South African is still without a professional team. Since Qhubeka-NextHash ceased to exist at the end of last year, he is one of the few riders who has not decided to retire from professional cycling, or who has been lucky enough to find another team.
He hasn’t given up on his search for a team, the hope that he can find a race for 2022, even this late in the year.
“I had good discussions with some teams, some WorldTour, some ProTeams,” he says. weekly cycling from his home in Pretoria. “We had a few discussions, but in the end nothing really materialized. So at the end of the year I was stuck without a team. And all the teams came back to me and told me that all their budgets were tied up, or they are full. It was not a good situation.
It’s still not a good situation for the 33-year-old. Despite eight years of experience in the WorldTour, he has not found an end to his exile from the ranks of professional cycling, and Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico have already been there.
His last race as a professional was Paris-Roubaix in October, and last year he proved he was still capable of performing well, with nine top-10 finishes throughout the season.
“It’s frustrating,” he explains. “Because I feel like right now I’ve just reached the peak of my career. Physically I’m still at my best. And I have so much more experience. I have the feel like a more complete driver than ever.”
Many of his former Qhubeka teammates found teams, many at the last minute: Simon Clarke found a new home at Israel-Premier Tech, while veteran Domenico Pozzovivo secured a last-minute spot at Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert .
“I’m really happy for a guy who gets contracts,” he says magnanimously. “It’s a sign of hope, that there are still teams looking for riders. It’s definitely a good thing and I’m really happy when my teammates can get professional contracts.”
However, there are a lot of things that work against Janse van Rensburg, including that there are simply fewer teams left for Riders to join in 2022, also at 33 he is not in favor at the moment.
“If you look at how many teams there were in 2019, I think we had 45 WorldTour and ProTeams,” he says. “And this year we only have 35. What is it, 250 fewer places in the professional peloton, suddenly. So places are really hard to come by.
“Also teams are looking to sign younger riders. Once you hit your thirties it’s actually very difficult to switch teams because the teams kind of like it and they kind of hold you back if they’ve seen your experience, but to change a team in your thirties, you have to win fairly consistently.”
What makes his absence from the peloton even stranger is that Janse van Rensburg actually won one race this season – the South African National Championships road race.
His sprint to victory in Graskop last month, along with a fifth place in the time trial, means Janse van Rensburg has 110 UCI points, a valuable asset this year.
“It was the only race that I could really set my sights on and target because it’s the only race visible on the world stage,” said Janse van Rensburg. “And of course there are UCI points scored in that. So when I didn’t find a team, that was my goal, to try to win it. Because then you stay a bit as pictured In the eyes of other teams and they remember you are still riding.
“I have a good amount of points. I think you have to earn a 1.1 or something to get the same points. It’s a good amount, and also I’m not affiliated with any team at all. If I was on a continental team then they would keep my points but now because I’m not affiliated my points go everywhere I go so that’s also one of the reasons why I don’t part of a team, it’s because I can take my points everywhere I go.”
At the end of the year, new WorldTour licenses are available, which means there could be some movement in the composition of the top cycling teams, so UCI points are more important than ever. A run of 110 points could be the difference for a team near the bottom of the standings.
Janse van Rensburg sends in his own applications, after dropping his agent: “Now I contact teams directly myself, I think you get a better response doing that. An agent has to sort through the many different riders he represents .”
His next goals come with the African Continental Road Championships, which will take place in Egypt next week. A win or a good result there will give him even more UCI points to give to a team.
“If I can do well there, then suddenly I would have a lot of points, that would be really valuable.
“I think I have a good chance to win. But I think Eritrea, it depends on what kind of team they send. They have strong guys there. And they still have a lot of talent. , it depends who they want to send there.”
To make his situation even more precarious, he does not have the support of a national federation or a professional team to help him in these races, despite being the favourite.
“Cycling South Africa, they’re bankrupt so they don’t give anything in terms of support or funding or anything,” he explains. “It’s all out of your own pocket to go there. So yeah, that’s a pretty big commitment.”
What made Qhubeka-NextHash’s demise even worse for Janse van Rensburg was that he had been there since he began his association with Qhubeka, the South African charity that donates bicycles as part of the World Bicycle Relief charity program in South Africa.
“It was amazing,” he says. “What we’ve done with the team, where we started and how we’ve progressed and built the team. I hope the story isn’t over yet. I know Doug Ryder is still working on finding a support for next year, so hopefully he can resuscitate himself.”
“I think there was something really special about the team, the Qhubeka project,” he continues. “They do a phenomenal job across the continent, and particularly in South Africa, providing bikes to school children. It was really special to be part of a project. It’s definitely a special thing for me, and I think of every cyclist who was in the team.”
However, stepping back from her time with the team, Janse van Rensburg suggests she may have gotten a bit lost in her mission over the years as she sought to retain her WorldTour status.
“I think the team may have gotten a bit lost in their vision of African cycling over the years,” he says. “That came with being a WorldTour team and the pressures of being in the WorldTour, that you had to perform. Maybe in the future it will be better to stay Pro Continental until there is enough talent from the African continent to make it to the WorldTour. Like I said, it was an amazing journey and I was really proud to be a part of it. Hopefully it’s not the end of the road .
“I think in 2015, our first Tour de France, we were a very African team. There was a huge spirit because of that. I think over the years it has become more result-oriented rather only on the development of African talents. That kind of changed the mood in the team a bit. It was not good the last two years, I think it was just me and Nic Dlamini from the continent African. There’s definitely been this regression in terms of African talent in the squad, the numbers. It would have been nice to keep that going.”
Janse van Rensburg’s first two years at WorldTour level were actually with Argos-Shimano, the team that has now become DSM. The Dutch team have recently been accused of strictness and an inability to speak freely.
However, Matt Winston, one of the team’s athletic directors, said weekly cycling last month: “I really don’t think we’re being too strict. We have a way of working, a protocol in place, and it’s helping everyone.”
Janse van Rensburg may have last raced for the setup in 2014, alongside riders like Tom Dumoulin and Marcel Kittel, but still sees echoes of what he experienced in recent reports.
“After doing mostly South African races and then a few stints in Europe on a fully-fledged European program, it was a big shock,” he explains.
“Maybe a bit of a culture shock for me too. I think I had a great time there. As you see lately a lot of guys are having a hard time fitting into the setup there- I was kind of the same that I had a hard time adjusting to their stringency, and I didn’t really like how prescriptive they were with their policies there.
“I don’t want to say bad things, but that’s what a lot of riders are struggling with there, they feel too limited and I think that’s a problem with cycling in general. It’s become too process-based, you’ve done this, this, and this and you forget about racing your bike and the passion and freedom that comes with it. I think cycling has become way too focused on process, power numbers, instead of racing bikes.
Janse van Rensburg, on the contrary, thinks people need to remember that cyclists are both humans and athletes.
“Cycling is definitely a lifestyle. And you should have the kind of lifestyle that you can sustain. Otherwise you can’t be happy and you won’t have a long career,” he says.
“There is a balance you have to have. Cycling is very professional and is getting more and more professional, but you are still a human being. You have to think, how the balance will affect your life as well.”
Now Janse van Rensburg is still trying to find his way back to the top level, while keeping the right balance between cycling and life; he still has hopes of getting a contract, but time is running out. He claims a team will pick him up, and his UCI points in the process. He still wants to ride.