'I’m still having to pinch myself a little bit, what a ride!' : Reinardt Janse van Rensburg’s journey to a sixth Tour de France

The 33 year old South African rider feared his career was over before Lotto Soudal came calling.

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Earlier this year the prospect of rolling down the start ramp at the Tour de France's opening time trial in Copenhagen felt impossibly far away for Reinardt Janse van Rensburg. He was on the brink of being forced to give up cycling.

The 33 year old had been a free agent after the collapse of Qhubeka-NextHash, at the end of 2021. 

After a rollercoaster few months, he then joined Lotto Soudal and tells Cycling Weekly being included in the team's line-up for the Tour de France, his sixth, has been a surreal experience. 

“It was quite unexpected. A few months ago I was thinking that I was going to have to retire and that my career was finished," he says.

"If you had told me even just a couple of weeks ago that I’ll be at the start of the Tour de France again, the biggest bike race in the world, I wouldn’t have believed you. It really has been an incredible ride! An amazing story and feeling. Yeah, I really am having to pinch myself a little bit about it." 

Within just five minutes with Janse van Rensburg, it’s clear that the South African rider is a fighter and that giving up over that bleak winter was never an option. 

“I was very motivated to train. I was always hoping and always believing that contracts even later in the year would come. I’d seen other riders do it before me so I knew it was possible. There was always a chance a spot may open up. I kept going and having the National Championships at home became a big goal and helped me to keep my focus,” Janse van Rensburg recalls.

“Having goals has always helped to keep me motivated in my head and to train” he added. 

Speaking ahead of the grand depart in Copenhagen on Friday, Janse van Rensburg told Cycling Weekly how special it would feel although his first would always remain a highlight. 

Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When Lotto Soudal unveiled its Tour team, the South African National Champion received messages from groups of well-wishers and fans that have all followed his story and were revelling in the news. 

“It’s been really incredible. I literally had hundreds of people sending me nice, personal messages and comments. It’s been actually amazing,” he says. 

“I just want to thank actually all of those people who messaged. A lot of people told me that they were inspired by my story which was so nice to hear” Janse van Rensburg adds. 

Lotto Soudal arrive at the Tour de France with ‘one of the fastest riders of the peloton’ in the shape of Caleb Ewan and first and foremost, will target stage wins with him. Janse van Rensburg’s role in the team will be to form part of Ewan's lead out train.

However, sprint opportunities at this year's race are scarce. Changes in the way the green jersey competition is contested also means that Janse van Rensburg doesn’t see the team considering the competition for now. 

“You have to be able to be competitive in the mountains and be in the intermediate sprints every day. So I actually think being a sprinter is really hard and winning the green jersey nowadays is a really difficult thing” he said. 

Regardless of results the opening  days of the race will be a time of celebration at Lotto Soudal as Tim Wellens celebrated 10 years on the team yesterday and Philippe Gilbert turns 40. 

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Yet despite the upbeat atmosphere in the team, Janse van Rensburg admits that covid-19 is putting something of a dampener on proceedings. “There is definitely heightened awareness now [after the Tour de Suisse] compared to a couple of weeks ago. We’re taking all the precautions we can as a team to make sure everyone stays healthy. It’s returned to like before for us with masks, sanitising everything and just trying to keep in a group bubble, it’s not nice but I can totally understand why everyone is stressing about it right now” he said. 

In 2022, riders of the likes of Biniam Girmay (Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert) have put African cycling in the spotlight. The World Championships will be held in Rwanda in 2025. African cycling appears to be enjoying a rise in prominence.

However, Janse van Rensburg says the loss of Qhubeka-NextHash was a big blow and the impact is still felt. 

“It’s terrible that we don’t have that African team now. There are very few teams at a continental level," he explains. "I think opportunities are much harder now, you have to hope that your country has got a good national programme so that they can send you to races in Europe. Otherwise you have to rely on a sponsor or something like that to get to Europe and compete. We really need to have more teams from Africa, especially at lower levels, that can help people out there get noticed. There is a lot of work to be done to help things change” Janse van Rensburg said. 

The South African rider woke up in Copenhagen on Friday and pulled on the South Africa National Champion’s jersey before getting his Tour de France under way. Speaking ahead of the start the 33 year old admitted it would be a proud moment and one he was looking forward to. 

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“I guess I might be biased, but I think it’s a very beautiful jersey and a lot of South African people have sent messages of support. It’s a very visible jersey which is nice for the South African fans as they can pick you out in the peloton” he said. 

“At the moment I’m also really looking forward to the cobbled stage five” Janse van Rensburg added, although the 33 year old was coy on his individual plans for the day. 

“It will depend on our tactics as a team for the day and the race situation. One thing is we will probably be one of the teams racing quite aggressively that day so hopefully at least one of our guys will be up there at the end.” Even making it to the beginning has been an achievement for Janse van Rensburg no matter where he finishes.

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Tom Thewlis

Tom is a News and Features Writer at Cycling Weekly, and previously worked in communications at Oxford Brookes University. He has reported from a wide range of races and events including the Tour de France and World Championships.