Former professional mountain biker Timo Cooper began his comeback after a four-year “retirement” when he joined the Darkhorse Wheels Pro Cycling team in June last year, only for it to be cut short by the coronavirus epidemic last month.
But, nothing daunted, he says he is aiming for another successful comeback when the lockdown is over.
“I will definitely return to racing,” said the 28-year-old, who won the Summer Fast One at the beginning of the year.
Cooper hung up his pro wheels at the age of 24 after the 2015 Cape Epic, but returned to competitive racing as a stagiaire with Darkhorse last year.
“I’ve set out a few lofty goals for myself with the team. I’ve also put in a lot of work and it is paying off more and more every month,” said Cooper.
The Wellington local added that he enjoyed good results last year and early this year, but his successful season had to be put on hold due to Covid-19.
“The effect the virus is having on racing is massive. I’m not sure when we’ll even be allowed to race again.
“I do think the current situation was the best possible call and we as South African cyclists might even be able to race before the other countries if the lockdown works as planned.
“Professional riders rely on that racing feeling to keep them going and to motivate them to train. There will be a lot of indoor cycling for a few weeks whilst the motivation is still high.”
Cooper started cycling at the age of 17. According to him he was not good at ball sports so naturally started running and then cycling.
“I went for one ride with friends with a very old mountain bike and that was it. I was never a sportsman at school, only when I discovered cycling, [then] it quickly become a passion of mine.
“I started doing well in races six months after my first ride. My parents supported the dream from there and invested a lot of time and money that I’m super thankful for and always will be.”
He feels he has matured a lot as a rider down the years.
“I had the privilege of riding with a few cycling legends. This taught me a lot about the sport, how to do things better, what not to do and, most of all, to always have fun.
“Physically, I’ve spent more time in the gym during this past year and it is helping a lot. I don’t have a lot of time to train during the week. Gym and clever training helps a lot.”
He added that racing in SA had evolved a lot over the years.
“SA used to be all about the long endurance races. These races were not very technical, just very long with a winning time of close to five hours.
“These days racing is fast and short, no more than three hours and much more technical than previous years. I do think it is for the better; definitely more exciting.”
During his mountain bike career he has also had to overcome some setbacks.
“Everyone who rides and races a mountain bike must have had a few crashes during the years.
“During the Cape Pioneer Trek in 2011 I picked up some sort of virus. I pulled out of the race during stage four and from there things went very bad.
“Two weeks later I started getting very bad pains in all my joints form the hip down. The doctors diagnosed me with arthritis.
“I could not walk for about seven weeks and only spent time indoors, in bed or on the couch. Cycling was not even on my mind. I just wanted to get better.”
He said this went on for about three months and he went to a few different doctors and only one could figure it out and help him to get better.
“That was not a great time for me at all.”
These obstacles and hard times taught him some lessons though, both personally and career-wise.
“Cycling is and will always be a massive part of my life.
“The biggest lesson it has taught me is that what you put in is what you get out, especially in mountain biking. There is no way to hide in this sport – if you do not put in the work for the race you will not get the result you wanted.
“Cycling has also taught me that discipline is very important in training and everyday life.”
Cooper said there had been many highs during his career for which he was grateful.
“The best moment for me must be racing the Cape Epic with Stefan Sahm from Team Bulls in 2015. I learnt a lot from him during that time that I’m very thankful for.”
Looking ahead, his goal is to show younger riders that you do not have to stop everything if you want to race your bike.
“I have a full-time job, a baby on the way (very excited about it), I am a coach and much more. I make time to train and get the results I want.
“Cycling is an awesome sport. Be thankful for the opportunity to be able to ride your bike. Enjoy it and the results will come.”