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Robyn de Groot: Overcoming lockdown as a pro cyclist

Last month, dormakaba South Africa hosted a Webinar with six-time South African cross country marathon champion and team dormakaba cyclist Robyn de Groot during which she talked about the impact the hard lockdown had on her approach to training, her experiences at the World Championships in Turkey at the end of last year, and her thoughts about racing in the new normal.


Acclaimed radio sports presenter, Jeff Ayliffe, helped guide the conversation to provide viewers with a fascinating behind-the-scenes peak into the mind of one of South Africa’s top elite professional female cyclists.


“The hard lockdown affected every person in some way. Personally, I never thought that people would ever be confined to training at their homes. I was fortunate to buy a virtual trainer a day before the start of lockdown and it proved to be a lifesaver. But more than that, my coach Barry Austin helped me a lot,” she said.


De Groot’s approach to training had to be reinvented as it was not possible for her to do the same volume of work than in the pre-lockdown days. This meant doing powerful, short sessions, sometimes even twice a day plus gym work.


“In many respects the hard lockdown was easy with training going well. But when it got extended and I had to overcome the disappointment of dealing with unrealistic exercise times, that was the time I battled. There were two bad weeks when it came to motivation. However, I realised I had to turn things around and not be pulled down despite the difficult times. I listened to a lot of podcasts, spent many evenings around a fire, and needed to get creative and find new ways to grow and work on things I neglected. I was also blatantly honest with my coach who guided me to rekindle the desire to race,” added de Groot.


This meant she included more core and gym work in her programme, aspects she did not focus much on before. She also realised the value of yoga, meditation, and simply breathing that helped turn those bad weeks around and give her new perspective about herself.


The return to racing


“When racing resumed, it was a special moment. I have great respect to the organisers who were willing to go through all the motions of ensuring COVID-19 compliance. As professional cyclists, we also had renewed respect for our fellow competitors, and obviously were quite happy to see one another again. It was now about pushing yourself as hard as possible and simply trying to race to the best of your ability,” she said.


One of the things that de Groot and all the cyclists had to get used to was allocating additional time for screenings and remaining mindful of all the protocols that had been put in place.


“One underestimates the value of racing as a motivator. It gives us reason to train and wanting to better ourselves. Training is not always enjoyable especially when you must push yourself hard. Having a race as incentive means you have reason to dig deep and grow. But despite all the changes around events due to the pandemic, once your wheel is on the line, the racing is just as it always was.”


She admitted that it is still incredibly frustrating to train and plan for events that keep on getting moved out.


“No cyclist can be on form all year round. It is essential to time it. Professional racing is a scientific process, but one needs to accept the uncertainties and let go of the things outside one’s control. However, the pandemic has highlighted that without events, without sports, I do not have a career. This creates a lot of underlying stress, but I have been fortunate that dormakaba has kept me on board and committed to supporting me as a professional cyclist,” she added.


A Turkish delight?


De Groot had given up hopes of competing in Europe. But three weeks before the start of the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships in Turkey, the organisers invited her with partial expenses covered. With dormakaba covering the balance of the costs, it was a race against time to get ready.


“It certainly was a leap of faith and took a lot of organising, but it definitely was worth it. While I initially felt no pressure to perform given my lack of preparation, I am ambitious and wanted to see what I could achieve. And when other people heard I would race, there was additional pressure which I just had to take in my stride.”


De Groot flew in a week before the race to recce the course. Unfortunately, Sakarya (where the race took place) experienced a massive storm resulting in her only getting on the course two days before the race.


“Despite this, I was happy with how the race went and even felt disappointed because I knew the course suited me. Even so, I was happy with fourth place and I finished the race knowing I had given my all. I knew I could not have changed anything and that is something every athlete wants. Now, it is exciting to plan for races again and pushing yourself to the limit – something no professional sportsman or woman will ever take for granted again.”