Jo's Games bid | SASCOC - SASCOC

Jo’s Games bid

By Mark Etheridge

Top road cyclist Jo Van de Winkel has sacrificed a top-paying job for now in order to devote herself full-time to the dream of racing for Team South Africa at next year’s London Olympics.

Van de Winkel has come on in leaps and bounds since first starting to ride back in 2008 ÔÇô┬áshe had a successful first year in Europe this year finishing in the top 10 (General Classification) in the Tour d’Ardeche in France and the UCI 2.1 Toscana race in Italy.

She also had a second spot in the Amashova Clasic, won the Jacaranda Satellite, took third in the last big race of the season, the 94.7 in Joburg and then rode off with the mixed category title in the 206-kilometre Double Century race in Swellendam late last month.

Van de Winkel also donned the green and gold of South Africa this year when raced for Team South Africa at the UCI road world championships in Denmark, Copenhagen.

Explaining her decision to swop work for wheels, Van de WInkel told Road to London 2012: “I want to give it my best shot to improve as much as possible and be able to compete on an international level.┬áI’ve set myself aggressive goals for 2012 with one of my dreams being to represent SA at the London Olympics.┬áNo dream comes without sacrifice and I have decided to give up my well-paying job to pursue my passion in cycling in Europe.

“Not to mention my husband and dogs who I will also miss while racing in Europe. But I’m determined that the extra nine hours per day I am dedicating to cycling will be put to good use and will be working closely with my coach Kim Rose-Gershow to gradually increase my training load and all-round ability, skills and strength as a cyclist and I believe the added recovery time will also make a significant difference.”

“To me, competing in SA was never a good enough reason to give up getting a degree and pursuing a top-end career.┬áAfter starting to ride with my husband [Tijl] in 2008, I joined the ‘pro-ladies’ CycleLab team on a no-pay basis in 2009. I was determined that waking up at 4am to train in the dark and often extreme cold before work was not going to be for nothing.┬áDuring that year I won both the 94.7 cycle race and received the ‘Woman of the year’ award at Accenture Consulting (where I was working as an IT consultant). Then during 2010, I opted out of racing overseas as I wished to pursue my career further and I did not believe I was strong enough to complete at an international level ÔÇô sure I could finish in the bunch at an overseas race but to give up my career I wanted to know I could compete for a podium position at that level and I did not yet believe this was possible.”

Since then a lot of kilometres have passed beneath Van de WInkel’s wheels and she’s now a different proposition all together. “I’ve come a long way since then.┬áAt the beginning of 2011 I can honestly say I did not believe I was good enough to become a ‘pro’, but after winning the Clover Tour in 2010 and finishing second, after teammate Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, in the Boland tour I was given the opportunity to race in the EU for the Lotto Honda ladies team thanks to Roy Gershow and Barry Austin and Hendrik Lemmer who believed in my ability.┬áSo I saved up and took unpaid leave for three months to race in Europe and experience being a ‘pro’ for the first time in my life.”

Needless to say, the 29-year-old Johannesburg cyclist loved it to bits.┬á”I only found out a week before that I would be competing in the 10-day Ladies Giro d’Italia (Donne) as my first EU race for the Lotto Ladies team ÔÇô the Giro is the hardest road race on the International calendar and I had a lot to learn.

“Bunch skills, descending skills, my first time on a TT bike, riding in the heat (which 4am rides before work don’t prepare you for), positioning on the climbs, getting back to the bunch through the car convoy after a crash or mechanical, feeding from the side of the road, recovery on tours, learning about the riders and who to watch out for and so much more.┬áIt probably took the first two months for me to adjust to the different level of racing there.”

And it was certainly no solo effort. Success on the cycling circuit is undoubtedly a collective effort. “Ash and her husband Carl were an inspiration to me and my turn-around really came in the six-day Tour of d’Ardeche where Ash and I raced as part of a mixed international team.

“After feeling a bit depressed after missing the break on the first day and leaving Ash out to fend for herself against the likes of Emma Pooley (Britain), Ash gave me one of her motivational speeches (which she is really good at).┬áShe needed my help in the front and she believed I could be there if only I believed in myself a bit more.┬áSo I decided to give it a go and from that day on I didn’t miss any of the breaks riding myself into a top 10 with Ash finishing second on GC behind Emma.┬áCarrying this confidence over into the next race I finished eight on GC at the UCI 2.1 Toscana race in Italy.┬á I was also very happy to be selected to race for South Africa at the World Championships in Denmark, an achievement that I never would have thought possible a year ago.”

Van de Winkel returned to the routine of a full-time job back in South African in September but before long she was back at it after a short break. Not only did she achieve a string of success locally but she’s also got stronger. “I’ve┬á improving my FTP (functional threshold power) by 20 watts and I also felt really strong for the whole 206km Double Century race. I’ve ended off the season with the confidence that I can improve even more next year.

“I’ll also focus on using some of the extra time to work with Ash on promoting woman’s cycling and encouraging young woman to take up the sport,” concluded Van de Winkel.