South African boy wonder Reinardt Janse van Rensburg has vaulted onto the international stage with his selection for his first Grand Tour – the Vuelta a España.
Although his participation in the three-week Tour of Spain was only officially announced weeks before the event’s start in late-August, Reinardt says he has known since mid-June that he would be a shoo-in for the Argos-Shimano line-up if his health and fitness were up to scratch.
His inclusion in the nine-man squad makes him the seventh South African to line up for one of the three Grand Tours and puts the seal on a strong debut season with the Dutch UCI ProTeam.
“I think the team wants me to have the opportunity to experience my first Grand Tour, so I can develop as a rider with an eye on the future,” he says.
“They also have confidence that I can help the team in sprint stages and maybe get a result of my own somewhere along the line.”
Last season, Reinardt caught the world’s attention when he took 14 local and international wins. This included SA’s “big two” – the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour and Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge.
He also notched up some significant tour victories, including the Tour du Maroc, Tour de Bretagne, Ronde van Overjissel, Circuit de Wallonie and UCI 1.1-rated Ronde van Zeeland Seaports.
He capped off his 2012 palmarès by taking the points classification in the Tour of Portugal.
The former MTN-Qhubeka sprinter’s life has certainly done a radical turn since signing with Argos-Shimano.
“I had to move to the Netherlands, which was a huge change,” says the 24-year-old, who now lives in the south of the country, between Heerlen and Maastricht.
“I had to move out my parents’ home and I had to learn to cook for myself, and also keep up to date with paying bills etcetera.”
Living life in the fast lane with a WorldTour team is great, says Reinardt, but the former national time-trial champion is neither letting it go to his head nor psyching himself out.
“The racing is longer and more competitive. It’s quite cool to be riding next to some of the legends of the sport, but I don’t get carried away with it and it doesn’t stop me from trying to win.”
With 29 riders and three stagiaires (amateurs) on the roster – including fellow sprinter Marcel Kittel, who won four stages in this year’s Tour de France – Reinardt has worked hard to carve out a niche for himself.
“I think the highlight was second in the Classica de Almeria at the beginning of the season. And also some top-five results at the Criterium du Dauphine and Tour of Poland.
“I still want to get a win at WorldTour level. I think it’s important to make that breakthrough.”
Although the Vuelta is mainly a climber’s race, Reinardt says he still has a role to play in helping his team to a few stage wins.
“I would probably be the second or third last guy in the lead-out on the flat stages. Then on the lumpy stages I have the opportunity to sprint too.
“I would also need to help some of the climbers position themselves before we hit the climbs.”
He says it is an exciting time to be a rider, as the sport enters a new drug-free era.
“I think pro cycling has turned over a new leaf – teams and riders want to do it in an honest and fair way. The anti-doping efforts have also discouraged the continuation of an ‘arms race’.”
Being on a European team requires a different approach to racing and his new coaches have also made him rethink his training strategy, he says.
“Some days I will only do an hour and half, but other days it can be up to six. I have at least one off day a week, but I do core strength training on those days.”
In his downtime, he likes to explore the surrounding towns or enjoy dinner and a movie with girlfriend Leilani.
Despite a hectic racing schedule, which sees him crisscrossing Europe on trains and planes, he did manage to snatch a month-long mid-season break in SA in June.
Although his ambitions clearly still lie on the international stage, his heart, however, remains with his homeland.
“If there is ever an African WorldTour team, I would like to be there.”
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