Champion Mountain Biker, Robyn de Groot, is aiming to spend the next few seasons of her career conquering Europe as she intends to add more silverware to her glistening trophy cabinet.
De Groot began her career as a road cyclist – representing South Africa professionally from 2006 to 2012 – flying the flag at four World Championships, the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India and the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
In 2012, she retired from professional road cycling, returning to her profession in Biokinetics.
A year later, the Johannesburg-born took up mountain biking primarily as a hobby and it soon became another avenue she excelled at.
She went on to win the MTN National marathon mountain bike series proving the consistency of her results, the SA marathon title on her first attempt, and was selected to represent her country at the Marathon world championships in Austria where she finished 19th.
In 2014, she successfully defended her National XCM title for the second consecutive year, and finished 6th at World Championships held in Pietermaritzburg.
Three years later, she went on to ride with German, Sabine Spitz, finishing the Absa Cape Epic in third position after a string of setbacks – mainly the German’s two major crashes – put paid to the pre-race favourites’ chances.
It was de Groot’s third Cape Epic after finishing second in 2015 and as an individual finisher in 2016 when her partner pulled out of the race due to illness.
In 2019, de Groot became the first South African woman to win a UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships medal when she scooped the bronze in a sprint finish at the end of a gruelling 70km/3500m ascent battle in Grachen, Switzerland.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, de Groot chats about returning to action after months of inactivity due to Covid-19 and what keeps her motivated.
Robyn, thank you for chatting to us! You recently represented South Africa at the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships in Sakarya. What was the experience like considering the fact that sport is gradually making its way back?
It was certainly very special to be able to get to Turkey to compete at an international event. I had really written off the 2020 racing season abroad due to the pandemic and the restrictions that came with it. So, it all happened very fast and was a last-minute decision. Travel is certainly very different at the moment – the airports are very quiet, and the number of people is fewer. In a way it is actually really nice – it makes you really wonder whether all the hassle and bustle of life is necessary.
You earned a fourth-place finish on the day. What are some of the lessons that you have taken away from the race?
The first lesson, is to take consideration and be open to opportunities that come knocking 😉
“On the day for sure I gave absolutely everything I had in me to do the best I possibly could.” – South African Mountain Biker, Robyn de Groot
On the day for sure I gave absolutely everything I had in me to do the best I possibly could. I spent some unnecessary energy in certain places during the race, and for sure it took a toll on me in the final half of the race… That being said though, I have no regrets and there was no real way I could have done any better on that given day.
I did realise that a racing block in Europe as a build-up to World Championships is still vital and that I really missed that racing experience you gain by doing that.
The past few months have been challenging due to the global Coronavirus pandemic. How have you been able to stay on top of your game?
Initially I fought the restrictions and got very frustrated about the situation, being unable to get to travel to Europe, to race in SA etc… However, once I came to terms and accepted the things I couldn’t change, I really became more relaxed… I found a good balance between training and life. I have embraced the opportunities that I usually don’t have available during “normal” circumstances and worked really closely with my coach who found great ways to keep me motivated, stimulated and to strive for growth as an athlete and as a person.
What was the most challenging for you?
The most challenging time was when we were allowed to exercise between 6am and 9am with the first hour being in the darkness… I think that lockdown period was tough, but once I really let go of that and accepted the situation as it was, I found my energy and motivation come back.
What is it about mountain biking that continues to fuel your passion for the sport?
I love the challenges it provides, the endurance aspect I really enjoy, the problem solving out on the route, the stimulation nature provides and the technicality of mountain biking. What also attracts me is being out in nature, seeing and experiencing some incredible places out on a bicycle. It’s that freedom and that wilderness the really speaks to me.
There seems to be an increase in the level of women venturing into Mountain Biking. However, what do you think still needs to be done to encourage more girls to get into the sport from a young age?
It is fantastic – there is a notable rise in the amount of women I see out riding mountain bikes. More and more women are also interested in skills clinics and training plans/coaching that I do.
“We need to nurture the youngsters and encourage them to get out and be active, enjoy the wilderness, etc.” – de Groot on encouraging young girls to consider mountain biking as a sport of choice.
The school series and events are so vital to gain Mountain Biking experience from a young age. The Spur Mountain Bike League comes to mind in this regard. We need to nurture the youngsters and encourage them to get out and be active, enjoy the wilderness, etc. It’s such a fine line between determining performance related goals, milestones and really competing for the enjoyment and passion.
What are some of your biggest highlights to date?
Back in the days when I raced road… For sure Commonwealth Games and Olympics were special to me.
In terms of Mountain Biking, my six national marathon titles were very special to me and each one remained as special as the last. The stage wins and performances at the Cape Epic were also highlights and of course last year’s Bronze medal at Marathon World Championships in Switzerland is for sure the best moment of my career.
What keeps you motivated?
My dreams 🙂 The drive to better myself, to push myself to new levels and to learn along the way. I also find motivation in carrying/representing my sponsors and South Africa well – I truly appreciate the support I receive from those who invest in my dreams.
I love the lessons and characteristics that sport carries over into everyday life.
Which women in sport inspire you and why?
Athletes who value sportsmanship, honesty and fair play are the ones that I admire the most.
My idol when I was a child was Steffi Graf (former German professional tennis player).
What are you hoping to still achieve in your career?
I would really like to spend another few seasons racing in Europe and giving my best shot on an international level. The Cape Epic is also an event I would love to stand on the top step on the podium! I have many fond memories from the past Cape Epic’s and for sure with incredible support in South Africa it would be very special to get that right.