Dennis van Niekerk – The Interview
Dennis Van Niekerk is a professional cyclist from South Africa now in his 4th year with MTN Qhubeka who are in the second year as a pro continental team (Africas first) and last year won Milan San Remo with Ciolek. MTN Qhubeka has an interesting project behind it along with running a professional team it also promotes the donation of old bicycles to be used by the people of Africa in every day life.
The team has also helped promote African cycling and amongst its ranks are several South Africans and Eritrean’s , a Rwandian, an Algerian along with some German and other riders. Dennis Van Niekerk is one of the many African riders who have been given a chance to step up thanks to the team and its kind sponsors.
At nearly 30 Dennis would say he still has some big years ahead as a late comer to professional cycling he was hoping 2013 would have been a good year for him but he has some major setbacks along the way. His best results are a 4th and 9th in the Tour of Langkawi (2012 and 2011)
Dennis is approachable, his general niceness comes across in the several bits I found on him in preparing for our interview. Even in his emails tennis will drop in a haha here and their as he giggles at some of the questions and sees the humour. At 15 he took up cycling his first bikes a mountain bike it would be a while before the road bike became king for him.
Before Dennis signed up with MTN he could only ride part time, he struggled to balance working with getting enough training in. 5am wake ups were not uncommon and trainer sessions were for more than the winter as he tried to get in more training after work. But his commitment as a result can not be questioned.
When Dennis finally got a deal with MTN some weight came off his shoulders but he also realised that he had finally got what he had craved for so long the big breakthrough, more time to train but he knew he would have to work even harder to make sure he took this chance and gave it his all. Before MTN Dennis got to only spend small amounts of time racing in Europe or Asia to gain exposure and results. A passion for cycling drove him.
In 2013 Dennis rode the Tour of Langkawi for the 3rd year in a row. With strong past results he would have been hopeful of at least a top 3 on the race but it didn’t go to plan for him. “I was in 5th on GC before Ghenting stage. But the night before I had a really bad stomach bug” ill as a dog Dennis was always going to struggle on the next stage and lose his strong GC positioning. “On Ghenting I was just out of power and couldn’t ride with the front guys on the climb”. But worse would come in 2013 for a rider out of luck it seems.
Riding the Volta Portugal Dennis crashed badly. He slammed hard and broke two vertebrae in his back. Recovery was not easy but Dennis did not let it get him down and he continues to do what he has to for dealing with it. Getting his overall core strength back to what it was has been an ongoing battle as for period of time Dennis had been inactive lying on his back during his recovery.
This year Dennis changes his focus he will ride much of the European season and as we spoke was finding somewhere in Italy to base himself during the racing season. He will be looking for some results their and really he should be peaking much later in the year this time round. Dennis may be away from home in Italy but he says along with generous time off from racing that allows him to return home for 2-3weeks at a time, Dennis also reckons Italy isn’t too different from home, bar the language difference.