Robyn de Groot is a multiple South African marathon champion, with an impressive array of titles under her belt. 2016 was a mixed year for her: a shoulder injury kept her off the bike and forced her to miss Marathon World Champs, where she had been selected to represent South Africa. She was also knocked out of contention for the women’s overall jersey at the 2016 Absa Cape Epic, after her partner Jennie Stenerhag was forced to withdraw due to illness.
This year she will be racing the 2017 Absa Cape Epic with German veteran Sabine Spitz, who finished second at last year’s Cape Epic, alongside teammate Yana Belamoina. The two will be riding as Team Ascendis Health, and look set to be strong contenders in the battle for the women’s podium.
We asked Robyn some questions about her plans for 2017, hopes for the Absa Cape Epic, her new bike, and the obstacles she faced last year.
Photo credit: ZC Marketing Consulting
Part of being a professional sportsperson is coping when things don’t go to plan. 2016 had some ups and downs for you, including losing your Epic partner after a very promising start, and a shoulder injury that saw you off the bike for several weeks, missing some big races. How did you deal with these setbacks, and did you manage to find a positive side to these events?
2016 certainly threw some difficult times my way, it is part of being an athlete I guess. I never really dwell too much on disappointments, but rather use them to grow, learn and find motivation.
In terms of Epic last year I decided to continue as an outcast, which was the best decision I could have made. It kept my mind positive, it kept my heart free from disappointment, and by the time I reached Meerendal on the final day I had enjoyed a “pressure-less” ride at Epic. I got to see the event from a perspective that one doesn’t usually get to enjoy when you have your head in race mode.
My shoulder injury tested me properly, however. I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. I learned to be patient, and funnily enough, it all happened during a time when I needed to focus my energy on my family - which I was then able to do.
Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag winning stage 1 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
You will be riding the 2017 Cape Epic with Sabine Spitz, whom you raced against last year. What characteristics do each of you bring to the team that might see you take the win?
Yes, I am extremely excited and honoured to be racing Epic with Sabine. I don’t know her well, but we did have some interactions at last year's Epic. Her personality, energy, and mannerisms were things I certainly noticed as a drawcard. We are both professional and serious, yet relaxed. I only rode a few days of last year's Epic alongside Sabine, but I feel we will compliment one another’s riding style. She has so much experience and I have no doubt that I will learn a lot riding with her.
Team dynamics are very important for stage racing: are you looking forward to racing with Sabine, and will the two of you be doing any races together as preparation?
Yes, I am looking forward to racing with Sabine. I am not a partner that requires a lot of maintenance, or pre-race interaction and it seems that Sabine is the same in this regard. At this point in time, we will be doing our own separate preparation.
Photo credit: ZC Marketing Consulting
Has your training been going well? Will you be doing any special preparation during the build up to Epic?
Yes, my coach tells me we are on track, and I have absolute faith in him. I guess there is always specific preparation leading up to an event like the Epic.
Who are the other women’s teams to watch this year, and who will you be keeping an eye on at the start line?
I believe that we are in for another thrilling women’s race this year - there are some really strong ladies teams that have been made public, and I am certain there will be more to come within the next few weeks. It is wonderful for the sport and for women's cycling. I hope not to leave any names out, but for now these names come to mind:
- Ariane Lüthi & partner
- Jennie Stenerhag & Esther Süss
- Sally Bigham & partner
- Hielke Elferink & Cornelia Hug
- Candice Lill (nee Neethling) & Vera Adriaan
- Yolandi du Toit & Theresa Ralph
What do you think of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic route? Will it play to your strengths and which stages might you see as key?
I’ve taken a brief look at the route. My approach, as always, is just to prepare, remain focused and be able to adapt and overcome the route as the race unfolds. My coach looks into the routes in more detail and prepares me accordingly. I actually keep my mind off the route itself until just before the race, and then I take one day at a time.
Beyond Epic, what are your goals for 2017? You have unfinished business with SA Marathon Champs and World Marathon Champs, will these be an area of focus for you?
It is always such a gamble as to what state the Epic leaves you in: it can leave you completely broken, or relatively unscathed, so we will have to see how it goes this year.
Beyond Epic, we have a National XCM series (Ashburton Marathon series) which offers one-day races and an entire series country wide which I will focus on. It suits the format of Team Ascendis Health this year for me to focus on these kinds of events.
National Champs has, and always will be a goal, as I am sure it is for many others. Marathon Worlds qualification is an objective for sure, as my plans for last year's Marathon Worlds came to an abrupt end with my crash and shoulder injury.
Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag on their way to winning the Prologue of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic. Photo by Mark Sampson/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS
Your Ascendis Health teammate from last year, Jennie Stenerhag will be riding for CBC this year, which means you no longer have a female teammate for local stage races. Do you have a partner in mind for the year, or will you be taking it race by race?
That is correct, at this stage I do have some ladies in mind to team up with for various stage races throughout the year. I think as the season develops, I will get a better idea as to my form, and other ladies form, and we can take it from there in terms of forming a compatible team. So if there are any ladies looking for a partner, they are more than welcome to chat to me or my management at Lange Sports: for now the door is open….
You are riding the new Scott Spark RC 900, which has seen some serious design changes from 2016. How are you enjoying the updated design and geometry so far?
There have been some major changes, and it has been an absolute pleasure to ride, with a noticeable improvement in terms of the suspension, stiffness, and responsiveness of the bike. I am proud to be associated with the Scott brand and very thankful for the support the provide to me and the team.