Venter & Janse van Rensburg shift focus to MTB racing from 2020

by Sean Badenhorst, TREAD Mag

Between them, they’ve completed 13 Grand Tours and each won the South African Elite men’s road race title. Now, Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Jaco Venter will turn their attention to mountain bike racing and it’s difficult not to believe their prospects of success are looking good.

If you scroll down the final results of the 2007 Absa Cape Epic, you’ll see, in 54th position, two 19-year-olds, Jaco Venter and Jacques Janse van Rensburg. In an event where the minimum age is 18, they’re among the youngest to finish the mountain bike race ‘that measures all’.

In the past 12 years since then, Venter and Janse van Rensburg have pursued careers as professional bicycle racers, but their focus in the past six years shifted to the road, predominantly abroad, and their stage races became Grand Tours.

What’s a Grand Tour? Heard of the Tour de France? The Giro d’ Italia? La Vuelta a Espana? Those are Grand Tours. Those are pro road racing’s pinnacle stage races. That’s where two of South Africa’s top cyclists have been plying their trade for the better part of the past decade, riding for Team Dimension Data (and before that Team MTN Qhubeka). Venter has completed 7 Grand Tours (2017 Tour de France, 2016 & 2018 Giro d’Italia, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 La Vuelta); while Janse Van Rensburg has completed 6 Grand Tours (2015 Tour de France, 2017 & 2018 Giro d’Italia, 2014, 2016 & 2017 La Vuelta).

Photo: Team Dimension Data

The life of a professional domestique is one of perpetual sacrifice. Always riding in the support of the team’s leader, who is usually a gifted sprinter or climber or tour rider. For domestiques there’s no guaranteed glory, and there’s many an unwritten story. They’re the ones covering or making the early breaks. They’re the ones shielding teammates from the wind and dropping back to fetch fresh bottles. They’re the ones that get caught and spat out of the back of a charging peloton in the latter part of a race. They’re the ones that occasionally – very occasionally – stay away to contest for a stage win.

It’s such a different life to that of a pro mountain bike racer, whose every race is a time trial, whose watts output is not for a team leader or a teammate, but for himself. For Janse van Rensburg and Venter, who are only 32, this will be their focus from 2020 and beyond. Neither is new to mountain bike racing. In fact, both shone offroad before they were signed to Doug Ryder’s pro road team.

Venter’s early mountain bike career as a teen saw him racing XCO and Downhill and he won a couple of South African XCO titles as a teenager.

“I’ll never forget those early days of racing. I remember battling it out at races for podium places with guys like Burry Stander and John Lee Augustyn and many others that went on to have successful bike racing careers,” says Venter.

“Another mountain bike racing highlight was doing my first Absa Cape Epic with Jacques in 2007 and my second, with Adrien Niyonshuti in 2010 (they finished 21st overall with two stage top-10 finishes).”

Absa Cape Epic 2010 – Jaco and Adrien Niyonshuti pictured with Nino Schurter, Thomas Frischknecht and Florian Vogel.

“I’m looking forward to the change. I always wanted to get back to mountain bike racing. I’m sure my endurance from the road will be an advantage; I’m used to three weeks of suffering in a Grand Tour, but I know the Absa Cape Epic is a different story, so I can’t wait to race it again. I’ll need to work on my upper body and core strength, but I’m confident in making the transition,” added Venter.

Besides being a regular podium finisher in the SA National XCM Series in 2011 and 2012, Janse van Rensburg’s Absa Cape Epic highlight was wearing the African Team leader’s jersey for a day when partnered with Rwanda’s Adrien Niyonshuti at the 2012 edition. The pair had three top-10 stage finishes, but illness forced Janse van Rensburg to quit the race after Stage 4.

Absa Cape Epic 2012 – Jacques and Adrien Niyonshuti with Christoph Sauser.

“I feel excited and ready for the new challenge. Although it’s not completely new to me, the mountain bike scene has changed quite a bit since I last raced in the National XCM Series and the Absa Cape Epic,” said Janse van Rensburg.

“Fitness wise I’m in a good space at the moment and looking to build a very strong level for next year. The fun part of my training will be fine tuning my technical skills.” added Janse van Rensburg.

Photo: Team Dimension Data

“Jaco and Jacques are loyal, committed pro riders and have both played an integral role in our team’s success and growth over the past few years. They’re also unselfish guys and are going to carry their support of Qhubeka across to their new team, which is amazing!” said Douglas Ryder, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka Team Principal. “It was a pleasure to have Jacques and Jaco in our ranks. They are still both quite young and I believe they will find success in their next chapter of bike racing for certain. I wish them the very best,” he added.

Photo: Team Dimension Data

Janse van Rensburg and Venter will be racing as teammates at the following events in 2020:

The team have secured a bike and apparel sponsor as well as other partners and are now searching for a title sponsor.

If you are interested in partnering with Jacques and Jaco, the team can be contacted via email on kandice@firstmovesport.com or 082 745 4678.