Within less than a year, Robyn de Groot went from the disappointment of crashing and limping across the finish line in the London Olympic road race, to the elation of becoming the South African mountain bike marathon champion at her first attempt. – Sean Badenhorst
Quite a turnaround for you – going from full-time roadie pro and Olympian to starting mountain biking virtually from scratch. Why the change?
The time felt right for some changes to my life. After the Olympics I spent some time figuring out, “where to from here?”. Realising I had ticked all of my boxes on the road, it was time for something new. To be perfectly honest I had no intention to really compete on the mountain bike. I decided to get back into my profession as a Biokineticist and started working full day in January. After two weeks of full days working I very soon realized I couldn’t just stop cycling, which had become such a huge part of my life, and had added so much colour to my days. My boss was very understanding, and we adjusted my working hours so that I could keep cycling.
The mountain biking has been a new exciting adventure. I set some new goals when I started enjoying the mountain biking, and to be honest I haven’t looked back.
You did a stage race with your dad recently. Is he also new to MTB?
Yes, that’s right we did Joberg2c together. No he has been mountain biking for a good couple of years now. He’s one of those that does the singlespeed thing. When I was cycling on the road he had always said his dream would be to do a stage race together as a father-daughter team. I never ever showed interest in mountain biking back then. Last year in Europe when I decided I would be retiring from professional road cycling, I suggested we do Joberg2c together. My only instruction was to have a bike ready for when I arrived back in SA – “just not a singlespeed”!
What was it like competing with him? Are you fairly balanced in terms of strength and skill?
We have only raced the joberg2c together, and it would be great to maybe keep doing a multiday event once a year together as a mixed team. We really just had fun out there. Yeah he is a strong rider, so it worked well teaming up. We trained together leading up to the event so it worked out nicely. It was special to race nine days from Joberg to Scottburgh with him. Not many daughters and fathers get that kind of opportunity.
You went from fully sponsored roadie pro to pretty much a privateer on the mountain bike. Has that been a big challenge?
It has been yes. Mountain biking is a lot more expensive to maintain and compete in than the road. I had planned on stopping cycling in 2012, but once I did my first MTB race the bug bit again and it re-kindled my passion for this amazing sport. I never expected to enjoy it as much as I have, so I never secured a sponsor for 2013 last year. I guess it has been difficult to get a sponsor on board, the reason being that they generally secure sponsorship budgets by September/October the year before. That being said, it has been worth every cent, and I have no regrets following my dreams and passion, I’ve enjoyed the freedom.
You still don’t have a sponsor – have you been actively searching? If so, how has that search been?
It’s been a constant search since March this year I guess. It hasn’t been easy…and at times I’ve felt a little despondent, but anything worthwhile is always worth pursuing. My focus has changed now to securing something for 2014, it’s the right time of year for that. It’s a constant project in my free time.
What are your plans for the future – return to road racing or stick with mountain bike racing?
Mountain biking for sure. I love everything it has to offer, I can’t see myself going back to the road.
What do you love most about mountain biking?
Where to start? There are so many things I’ve come to love about this new sport. I love the fresh air, being closer to nature, in amongst communities, the people I’ve met along the way, the vibes at the races….and I love the challenges it has to offer, it’s not just physical but you have to keep mentally sharp. What I love most is that no ride or path is ever the same….
How different is your mountain bike training to your road racing training?
All of my training since November last year has been on my knobbly tyres. So I don’t ride the distances I used to on the road, but I put the time and quality riding in. My training is very different in the sense that I don’t have a coach like I used to on the road, I don’t have that structure and file analysis…but I guess after all the years of structured training, one comes to learn the principles, and to listen to your body.
How do you think mountain bike racing can improve in terms of catering for women and attracting more?
From what I have seen the women’s MTBing is a healthy category. We always need more women… I guess good prizemoney and media coverage can be used as a drawcard to events & will always secure healthy racing fields. Having specific women’s races like I have seen happening of late, will certainly keep attracting women to the sport. Women’s skills clinics are also a great way to encourage participation and improvement and hopefully keep the racing competitive and healthy. We just need to encourage women to get out onto their bikes and have fun
What is your weak point on the mountain bike currently and how do you plan to strengthen it?
Every cyclist has room for improvement and I guess coming from the road my technical skills would be my area I could improve on, although I’m not bad. The only way to strengthen it is to do it over and over again. Train the areas that need attention. I have a wonderful group of people who I ride with, who have been fantastic at showing me the ropes… I’ll stick with what has been working.
TREAD Magazine (Sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio)
Originally published in TREAD Issue 25, 2013 – All rights reserved