Many people who work each day in their careers quite possibly dream about cycling every day, and making it part of their daily life, but very few people actually sit up and make that change. One such person, who continuously thought about racing bicycles while he pursued a career in civil engineering, was Jan Withaar.
Withaar (34) had always wanted to race bicycles professionally but he never really had the support or the opportunity to do so. He set about studying civil engineering at Tuks and spent over a year in France focusing on skill and structural engineering. On his return to South Africa, Withaar worked on the Gautrain project.
Having ridden bicycles his whole life, he started racing a bit more seriously from 2007, but he flicked the switch after competing in the UCI Masters MTB World Championships, which was hosted in Pietermaritzburg in 2013. He raced in his age category, but he wanted to make the step up and race against the Elite riders.
“After the World Champs, I started working half days and then made a call to pack it all up,” he said. “I decided to dedicate my time to racing full time, and specifically on cross-country.”
The Sandton local explains that XCO tests more than just your physical ability with regard to pedalling. “The mental aspect is very big and it requires everything that you have for one-and-a-half hours. The technical strength required and the difference it can make to where you position in the race is very appealing.”
The road hasn't been easy for Withaar who has been constantly seeking answers on how to do things better, and what works and what doesn't work. “This whole process of becoming a full time athlete has required a lot of patience. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I ever realised it would be this difficult; patience in trusting the people that put their time and effort into you; patience in your own body to adapt to what you’re doing; patience with the psychological part, the mental approach and how to approach my daily sessions, which are always intense. How to deal with all of that makes it so tricky.”
Speaking about the local National MTB Cup Series, where Withaar now competes as an Elite rider and currently lies fourth after two races, he explains that earning UCI points in South African races helps him by giving him an international ranking.
“By doing well locally, you can build up a nice UCI points’ bank to be able to compete in World Cups overseas. Also, the effort that goes into making the Nationals as good as they are does afford us the opportunity to repeatedly practice the skills needed to race a XCO. Although our numbers might be smaller, we can focus on smaller things during the race and get them right here before racing on a bigger scale in Europe.”
With the third round of the National MTB Cup Series (which takes place at Happy Valley Conservancy in Bloemfontein, Saturday 6 May) looming, Withaar is looking forward to returning to a venue that holds fond memories for him. “Bloem was probably my first race last year where I started noticing a change in my racing. From there things started coming back together and I have good memories and a good feeling of the track. It is technically demanding, but I like that.”
Online entries are open, and riders can enter here: https://cyclingsa-events.co.za/app/. Pre-entries close on Tuesday 2 May. For more information, visit: https://www.cyclingsa.com/2017-sa- mtb-cup- series/.