'I feel like I'm a more complete rider than ever' — the national champion who can't find a professional contract

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg was part of Qhubeka-NextHash before it left the WorldTour at the end of 2021

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg
Reinardt Janse van Rensburg
(Image credit: Getty Images)

"It's definitely difficult to see the races that are already going on," Reinardt Janse van Rensburg explains.

"It's really odd for me to watch the races at the moment," he says. "I've got a feeling that I need to be there. Especially Opening Weekend and Le Samyn. I'm following all the results, everything but I haven't been watching that much to be honest. It's not a nice feeling watching on TV."

It's March, and the South African is still without a professional team. Since Qhubeka-NextHash ceased to exist at the end of last year, he is one of the few riders who has not decided to retire from professional cycling, or has been fortunate enough to find another team.

He has not given up his search for a team, the hope that he can find a ride for 2022, even this late in the year. 

"I've had some good discussions with some teams, some WorldTour, some ProTeams," he tells Cycling Weekly from his home in Pretoria. "We had some chats, but in the end, nothing really materialised. So at the end of the year, I was stuck without a team. And all the teams came back to me and said all their budgets are tied up, or they are full. It was not a good situation."

It still is not a good situation for the 33-year old. Despite eight years of WorldTour experience, he has not found an end to his exile from the ranks of professional cycling, and Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico have already flown by.

His last race as a professional was Paris-Roubaix back in October, and last year he proved that he was still able to put in good performances, with nine top-10s throughout the season.

"It's frustrating," he explains. "Because I feel like, right at the moment, I actually just reached the peak of my career. Physically, I'm still at my best level. And I've got so much more experience. I feel like I'm a more complete rider than ever."

Many of his former Qhubeka team-mates have found teams, many at the last minute: Simon Clarke found a new home at Israel-Premier Tech, while the veteran Domenico Pozzovivo got a last-minute berth at Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert.

"I'm really happy for a guy that's getting contracts," he magnanimously says. "It's a sign of hope, that there's still teams looking for riders out there. It's definitely a good thing and I'm really happy when my team-mates can get professional contracts." 

However, there are a lot of things working against Janse van Rensburg, not least that there are simply fewer teams left for riders to join in 2022, also as a 33-year-old, he is not in favour at the moment.

"If you look at how many teams there were in 2019, I think we had 45 WorldTour and ProTeams," he says. "And this year we've only got 35. That's what, 250 spots less in the professional peloton, suddenly. So the spots are really hard to come by. 

"Also, teams are looking to sign younger riders. Once you get to your 30s, then it's really difficult actually, to change teams, because teams kind of value and they kind of hold you if they've seen your experience. but to change a team in your 30s you have to be winning quite consistently."

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What makes his absence from the peloton even stranger is that Janse van Rensburg has actually won a race this season - the South African National Championships road race.

His sprint to victory in Graskop last month, along with fifth place in the time trial event, means that the Janse van Rensburg is the holder of 110 UCI points, a valuable asset this year.

"That was the only race I could actually put a goal on and target because that's the only race that's visible on the world stage," Janse van Rensburg says. "And of course, there's UCI points scored in that. So when I didn't find a team that was my goal, to try and win it. Because then you stay kind of like in the picture. In the eye-view of other teams and they remember you're still riding.

"I have a good amount of points. I think you have to win a 1.1 or something to get the same points. It's a good amount, and also I'm not affiliated to a team at all. If I was in a Continental team, then they would keep my points. But now, because I'm not affiliated, my points go to wherever I go, so that's also one of the reasons I'm not part of a team is because I can take my points to wherever I go."

At the end of the year new WorldTour licences are available, which means there might be some movement in the makeup of cycling's top teams, therefore UCI points are more important than ever. A haul of 110 points could make a difference to a team near the bottom of the rankings.

Janse van Rensburg is sending out his own applications, after ditching his agent: "Now, I'm reaching out on my own speaking to teams directly, I think you get a better response doing that. An agent has to sort the many different riders that he represents."

His next goals come with the African Continental Road Championships, which will take place in Egypt next week. A win or a good result there will give him even more UCI points to give a team.

"If I can do well there, then suddenly I would have a lot of points, that will would be really valuable.

"I think I've got a good chance of winning. But I think Eritrea, it depends what kind of squad they send. They've got strong guys there. And they they've got a lot of talent coming through right now again, it depends who they want to send there."

To make his situation even more precarious, he doesn't have support from a national federation or a professional team to help him at these races, despite being a favourite.

"Cycling South Africa, they're bankrupt, so they don't give anything in terms of support or funding or nothing," he explains. "Everything comes out of your own pocket to go. So yeah, it's quite a big commitment."

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What made the demise of Qhubeka-NextHash even worse for Janse van Rensburg is that he was there from the beginning of its association with Qhubeka, the South African charity that donates bicycles as part of the World Bicycle Relief's charity programme in South Africa.

"That was amazing," he says. "What we did with the team, where we started and how we progressed and built up the team. I hope the story is not finished yet. I know Doug Ryder is still working on securing a backer for next year, so hopefully it can resurrect itself."

"I think there was a really special thing about the team, the Qhubeka project," he continues. "They do phenomenal work across the continent, and especially in South Africa, providing bikes for school children. It was really special to be part of a project. It's definitely still a special thing to me, and I think to every rider who was in the team."

However, stepping back from his time with the team, Janse van Rensburg suggests that it maybe got a bit lost in its mission over the years, as it sought to hang onto its WorldTour status.

"I think maybe the team got a little bit lost in its vision for African cycling over the years," he says. "That came with being a WorldTour team and the pressures of being in the WorldTour, that you had to perform. Maybe in the future will be better to stay Pro Continental until it's actually enough talent from the African continent to step up to WorldTour. Like I said, it was an amazing journey and I was really proud to be part of it. Let's hope it's not the end of the road.

"I think in 2015, our first Tour de France, we were a very African team. There was a massive spirit because of that. I think over the years, it came became more focused on results rather than developing African talent. That kind of changed the mood a little bit in the team. It was not nice in the last two years, I think it was only me and Nic Dlamini from the African continent. There was definitely that regression in terms of African talent in the team, the numbers. It would have been nice to keep that momentum going."

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Janse van Rensburg's first two years at WorldTour level were actually with Argos-Shimano, the team that has now become DSM. The Dutch team has recently faced accusations of strictness and individuals being unable to freely express themselves.

However, Matt Winston, one of the team's sports directors told Cycling Weekly last month: "I really don’t believe we are too strict. We have a way of working, a protocol in place, and it’s to the aid of everyone."

Janse van Rensburg might have last raced for the setup in 2014, alongside riders like Tom Dumoulin and Marcel Kittel, but still sees echoes to what he experienced in recent reports.

"Coming from doing mostly South African racing, and then a couple of stints in Europe into a fully-fledged European programme, it was a big shock," he explains. 

"Maybe a little bit of a culture shock to me also. I think I had some good times there. Like you see in the recent times, a lot of guys are struggling to fit in with the setup over there. I was little bit the same that I was struggling to fit in with how strict they were, and I didn't really enjoy how prescriptive they were with their policies there.

"I don't want to say bad things, but that's what a lot of riders are struggling with there, they feel too restricted and I think that's a problem of cycling in general. It's become too much of a process-based, you have to do this, this and, this and you forget about racing your bike and the passion and the freedom that goes with it. I think cycling has become way too focused on the process, the power numbers, instead of racing bikes."

Janse van Rensburg, instead, thinks that people need to remember that cyclists are humans as well as athletes too.

"Cycling is definitely a lifestyle. And you should have the kind of lifestyle that you can sustain. Otherwise, you can't be happy and you won't have a long career," he says.

"There's a balance that you have to have. Cycling is very professional, and becoming more and more professional, but you're still a human being. You have to think, how to balance will affect your life also."

Now, Janse van Rensburg is still trying to find his way back to the top level, while keeping the balance right between cycling and life; he still has hope that he can get a contract, but time is running out. He is holding out that a team will pick him up, and his UCI points in the process. He still wants to ride.

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