Robyn de Groot’s smile as she climbed to the top step of the Durban Amashova Classic podium on Sunday, was one of joy and relief. Joy at having won one of South Africa’s biggest road cycling races for the first time, and relief that she’d recovered fully from a crash seven months ago.
De Groot was the worst injured rider on 11 March at the 2012 Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in the dramatic, much replayed-on-youtube crash just metres from the finish line in the Elite women and veteran men’s pack.
At first she was diagnosed with two broken ribs, but that was later confirmed to be five. Initially the pain and eventually the discomfort kept her off the bike for six weeks and when she did try and return to racing in Europe, she was unable to ride over any rough surfaces without discomfort.
“I came back to South Africa for more rehab treatment – physiotherapy, massage and core strength training. It was very frustrating and I thought my chances of Olympic selection were gone,” recalls De Groot.
“So I focussed on riding a good race at the Tour de Free State at the end of May. Our team rode well and that helped South Africa move up in the nations rankings and secure an important third rider qualification for the Olympics.”
De Groot was selected for the London Games, but admits that the selection controversy surrounding the women’s road team wasn’t ideal and added emotional frustration to the mix.
“It was a tough time mentally for all of us in the national squad and my crash at such a bad time in the Olympic road race (just before the race-deciding attacks were launched) didn’t help either.”
But on Sunday the 29-year-old Johannesburg-based rider used her experience to time her race-winning move perfectly and in the process released months of pent up frustration to claim the Amashova victory for the first time.
“We always race for the team to win. I’m not the best sprinter so was a bit surprised. I simply launched a counter attack after we caught Ashleigh Blackwell (Toyota CSA Academy) a few hundred metres from the finish line and just held my pace, which was enough to keep me ahead of the others who were waiting to sprint.
“I guess my experience is what made me instinctively counter attack when I saw everyone else scrambling to find some kind of composure after Ashleigh had been caught. Her attack about a kilometre from the finish was a bit of a surprise because everyone was getting ready for a bunch sprint,” said De Groot.
Former South African road champion, Marissa Stander finished second, just ahead of current South African champion, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, De Groot’s Momentum Toyota teammate.
“Our team has had an amazing year, but it’s been a year of ups and downs for me personally. I started really well with a win in January at The Fast One and it’s good to get another win now. It’s not only a morale booster for me, but proof that perseverance and staying focussed eventually pays off,” smiled De Groot.