When the cycling bug finally bit, it transformed Joanna van de Winkel‘s life – and she hasn’t looked back since.
Coming from a “very non-sporty” family, Van de Winkel said she grew up doing very little sport.
The 37-year-old said she only started cycling in her late 20s, but the sport soon became an integral part of her life.
And with her husband also a cyclist and her two young sons showing a keen interest in the sport, cycling is now very much a family affair.
“Sport changed my life,” said Van de Winkel.
“It helped me deal with stress and gave me an outlet for my determination and passion. It has given me some experiences and life lessons that I’ll never forget.
“I’m a believer in the power of positive thinking and attitude in life being a key to success.”
Van de Winkel said she had been through extreme highs and lows in her life. She had grown mentally stronger through cycling, especially the year she gave up her job, 2012, to pursue her dreams of racing professionally in Europe and to compete in Worlds and the Olympics.
“For the four years I cycled in a pro team previously [from 2009 to 2012], there was a lot more investment put into women’s cycling.
“There were private sponsorships as well as from CSA [Cycling South Africa]. There were more women’s teams and the teams were bigger than they are today.
“I had the opportunity to race, fully sponsored, in the UCI Belgium-based Lotto-Belisol team. I competed in most of the big UCI races, tours and World Cups around Europe, UK and Africa.”
She said that investment, for her, was more than just about money. It was also a belief in them as cyclists and that they could achieve their goals.
“The women they invested in are still going strong today and a lot of them have put back into the sport as we feel it is only fair after all they put into developing us.
“This being said, I am worried about this ‘self-funded’ model that CSA currently have in place not having the same effect.
“If people put in a lot of their own personal investment to get the points or goals the country is seeking, but they do not get selected or meet their personal goals, there is more at stake.
“There is also the added stress of finding finances and poor management at events, so riders cannot fully concentrate and focus on the event or race.”
A developer team lead at WesBank, FirstRand, Van de Winkel said although she was not an extrovert she had been classified as a driver and leader in her job, which carried over into her cycling.
“I’m passionate about driving change, making things happen and working with people.
“I have very limited time with my work demands and my family. But I have actively been communicating with relevant people on how we can develop women’s cycling, give our women experience going into Worlds this year, better manage national events and just give more women the opportunities to reach their dreams.
“I’ve also tried to encourage and give support to other riders and share as much advice and experience as I can.”
She added that she was trying to put together a business case for some private funding for a national team to go to Europe before Worlds this year.
“CSA and Ciska [Austin] have put some plans together and there will be some backing from CSA on this initiative, which is great. They are trying to make improvements.
“The issue with the funding, as I understand it, and especially the money from Lotto which used to fund all our national trips and financially support us monthly while we raced in the EU previously, is that it goes completely to development at the moment.
“We are not classified as development. My take on this is that, although development is important for our country if there is no investment put into the riders at the top who are giving up everything to race for the country, who do those development riders aspire or look up to?”
The mother of two boys, aged three and five, said she often found herself telling them life lessons she had learnt from cycling.
“These include how to deal with losing, how to be positive, how to not give up, how to not be scared of failing and how to learn from failure.
“I tell them about the Giro in Italy and how I was so scared going so fast down the switchback mountains and how I learnt to stay calm and focused.
“I take Sam, the older one, on 5 to 10km rides around the neighbourhood and he tells me it’s his favourite thing to do because he loves exploring and seeing new things on his bike and one day when he is big he wants to race like me.”
Van de Winkel added that it was hard at times balancing work, cycling and family and she had to constantly remind herself of her priorities.
“Cycling does tend to take over your life if you let it. I’ve learnt to stay relaxed and not stress out if my kids keep me up all night before a big race or I have a big work deliverable and have to do a big training ride or race the next day.
“My husband also rides and while this is a good thing for us, because he understands the time and effort I put in and we largely train together, he has had to sacrifice his racing this year to help more with the kids because of my aspirations this year.”
She said her husband Tijl was hit by a car while riding last year and was hospitalised in ICU for three months, then had rehab for a further month.
“I had to cope by myself those months and be there to support him a large amount of last year as well as carry us financially because he is a contractor so wasn’t paid during this time.
“I think cycling kept me sane and helped me to clear my mind and deal with the stress. We coped and have come out stronger as a family.”
Van de Winkel, who placed third in last weekend’s 100 Cycle Challenge, said she saw herself as currently being in the second phase of her cycling career as she took four years off and did not think at the time that she would ever cycle competitively again.
“I started initially racing vets while I was still breastfeeding my younger child and joined my husband’s team at the time just so it didn’t cost me so much.
“Now I’m back with many big goals again. I think my outlook is a lot less self-centred this time though.
“My goals this year are to compete in the Africa Games, some EU tours and Worlds as well as impart as much experience as I can to other riders and help improve women’s cycling in SA.”