It's a good thing for South African cycling that Reinardt Janse van Rensburg often failed to see eye to eye with his rugby union coaches when he played the game as a schoolboy.
Janse van Rensburg, 27, still loves rugby and follows the Springboks. But he has no regrets about giving up the game that in South Africa is akin to a religion and which he played in the position of flanker at the Hoërskool Waterkloof, a school steeped in rugby in his native Pretoria.
For cycling has been Janse van Rensburg's calling ever since his father Anton, who took up the sport for "health reasons", encouraged him to do the same at the age of 14 - to the point that he is now one of the Rainbow Nation's leading professional riders.
"My dad started just for health reasons basically and got me involved and I started. I was really passionate about rugby when I was younger, but I fought too much with the coaches and started to do cycling and riding instead," Janse van Rensburg told Cyclingnews before the start of Monday's stage 6 of the Tour de Langkawi. Later in that drama-filled day, he would leapfrog Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) to take the race lead after the Colombian rode into a hole with six kilometres to go, broke his wheel, and lost 35 seconds.
Until then Lopez, 22, was in a strong position to win the tour, and Janse van Rensburg's only chance was to use his sprint prowess over the Colombian to claw back time through bonuses in the daily intermediate sprints and sprint finishes. He was 29 seconds behind the Astana rider after losing 35 seconds on stage 4, but had hoped to be closer. While he gained six seconds on Sunday's fifth stage on bonuses to cut his deficit to 23 seconds, a flat tyre two kilometres before the second intermediate sprint that day cost him a chance to win more time.
"I had the overall in the back of my mind," he says. "We didn't know exactly how hard the climb [on stage 4] was going to be, but after I saw the profile from the previous years, then I reckoned I could survive that, and then the overall was always in the back of my mind. But you have to see after the climb where you are and see if it is still possible."
Janse van Rensburg held Lopez to a 35-second lead on stage 4 to the Cameron Highlands and had committed himself to the challenge of chasing time. But that all changed on Monday with Lopez's mechanical issue.
Next stop: Milan-San Remo
Whatever happens in the next days, Janse van Rensburg is confident about his spring campaign in Europe, and his first major target, Milan-San Remo in Italy on March 20.
"I'm in really good condition now. I knew I was in good form coming into this race," says Janse van Rensburg who began his season in Australia at the Tour Down Under in South Australia (January 19-25), and then placed 12th in the Cadel Evans Great Road Race (January 31) in Geelong, Victoria; and after that third at the South African Road Championships in both the time trial and road race.
Janse van Rensburg knows that his climbing and sprint strengths augur well for the marathon "Primavera" route.
"It's pretty good for me but we have got a really strong team for Milan-San Remo with me, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish," he acknowledges. "When we come to a sprint we will have a really proper train going into San Remo after the Poggio. I think all of us can survive the Poggio."
Janse van Rensburg's belief in Dimension Data and its capabilities extends beyond its pure sporting potential.
Being a South African team, he also hopes Dimension Data will help promote its awareness and that of cycling back home – as well as the Qhubeka charity it supports.
There is still much progress to be made in cycling in South in Africa, especially in Pretoria where, he says: "Cycling is kind of up and down the whole time there. It's struggling to get sponsors the lower levels, but there are some really good youngsters coming through now. So it's quite encouraging."
Home is where the heart is
Janse van Rensburg's ties with the team go back to 2010 to 2012 when he rode for MTN-Energade, then a Continental team with whom in 2012 he won the Tour de Bretagne, Tour du Maroc and Ronde van Overijssel overall, two stages of the Volta a Portugal, and the Ronde van Zeeland Seaports. He joined the Dutch Argos Shimano (2013-2014) World Tour team, winning the 2013 Binche-Chimay-Binche in Belgium.
In 2015 Janse van Rensburg returned to his current team, then named MTN-Qhubeka and carrying a ProContinental license, which upgraded to the WorldTour this year as Dimension Data.
So what brought him back to the South African team? Janse van Rensburg says: "I am really passionate about the team.
"I am South African and would really like to see the success of this team. I feel kind of at home here. It was always, if the team gets big enough and to the level of World Tour, then I would like to be in this team more than any other team."
A Tour de France breakthrough
Janse van Rensburg's enthusiasm for what the team can do was boosted by its highly successful participation in last year's Tour de France for which it received a wild card entry.
The team became one of the most popular in the race, with Eritrean member Daniel Teklehaimanot drawing huge numbers of fans around the team bus during his four-day spell in the red and white polka dot jersey, and for many days after. Steve Cummings won stage 14 from Rodez to Mende, and by the finish in Paris, Belgian Serge Pauwels was 12th overall, and MTN-Qhubeka fifth on the teams classification.
"We definitely overshot our expectations in the Tour," Janse van Rensburg says. "We hoped to win a stage. We did that; and also did a really good team GC and Daniel in the King of the Mountains jersey … We couldn't have asked for more."
Janse van Rensburg finished the Tour placed 96th overall, with his best result being an eighth place finish on stage 7 from Livarot to Fougeres in a bunch sprint.
Although, when pressed on that stage 7 finish, Janse van Rensburg says that he had hoped for better. "To be honest I wasn't really surprised [being in the finale]," he says. "I was hoping for more … seventh I am not really satisfied with, but it's just about taking opportunities when they are there."
Sprinter more than climber
Janse van Rensburg regards himself as a sprinter, rather than as an all rounder, because of his useful climbing capabilities. "I am more a sprinter than a climber," he says. "If there is a hard profile and a small group I will always have a chance."
Is he a rider who is unafraid to go with a move, or is he one who would rather hold back in the hope of a bunch sprint?
"It depends on the legs, of course," Janse van Rensburg says. "If I can follow them, yes; but normally I am the kind of guy who tries to save energy as much as possible."
Suffice to say, Janse van Rensburg is open to all opportunities, much like a rugby union flanker who needs speed, explosiveness and great vision to think ahead.
"Exactly," Janse van Rensburg says with a laugh. "Any sprinter should be a flanker if they are a rugby player."
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Rupert Guinness first wrote on cycling at the 1984 Victorian road titles in Australia from the finish line on a blustery and cold hilltop with a few dozen supporters. But since 1987, he has covered 26 Tours de France, as well as numerous editions of the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana, classics, world track and road titles and other races around the world, plus four Olympic Games (1992, 2000, 2008, 2012). He lived in Belgium and France from 1987 to 1995 writing for Winning Magazine and VeloNews, but now lives in Sydney as a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media) and contributor to Cyclingnews and select publications.
An author of 13 books, most of them on cycling, he can be seen in a Hawaiian shirt enjoying a drop of French rosé between competing in Ironman triathlons.
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