JANKA KESEG ŠTEVKOVÁ: A role model for many young talents, women and mothers

JANKA KESEG ŠTEVKOVÁ: A role model for many young talents, women and mothers

Janka won her first domestic championship in 1998 and a few years later she appeared at the Summer Olympics in Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and London (2012). She also competed six times in the Cape Epic race, in which this year she finished 7th with her partner Martina Krahulcova. They became the first ever all-Slovak duo to compete in this prestigious race.

Janka, will you tell us your secret? How come you're still better than many young girls?

Genetic predisposition may not be decisive, talent alone is not enough. It is a combination of the right sufficient training, talent, physical predisposition, mental well-being and conditions.

It is important to know your feelings and reactions, work on what you are not good at and develop what you are good at. Follow trends and set yourself up for effective training.Set realistic goals. I was able to do that and that's why I'm able to compete even a generation younger.

Last weekend I was pleased with my second place on the criterium in Trnava in the Slovak Cup road race. I don't race on narrow tyres that often anymore. The last time I did the criterium was two years ago.

If I had been successful in this race as a 20 year old, I would have been labelled a great talent and promising without hesitation. At 48, it's looked at differently. Results are judged differently at a young age, valued more and given more value. The sporting environment perceives you by how you place in your last race. For the general sports public, winning a local race where the TV comes on is often a greater achievement than a seventh place finish from an international event.

I have respect and reverence for every competitor. I do not underestimate or overestimate an opponent who is weaker, younger or, on the contrary, stronger or older. I try to give my best performance. If I win, it's an extra bonus. Winning is not easy. I also have to have a dose of sporting luck. To complete the race without crashes and technical problems.

What's your motivation?

Cycling is my lifestyle, an active use of my free time. It is part of my daily routine. I train in nature, which recharges me with its energy. I admire its beauty from my bike in every season. I observe how places change throughout the year. I enjoy the silence or the birds singing. I meet the animals. It's relaxing alongside other everyday activities. A time and space where I focus on my feelings, thoughts and performance

If I am fit and healthy, I will race as long as it brings me joy and fun.
You have to enjoy cycling to be able to do it at least as well as I do in these conditions. And I just enjoy it.

Cape Epic is also known for its difficulty. How long did you and Martina prepare for this race?

I prepared for Cape Epic this year in my home conditions. Extreme cold and big snowfall was not here this year. That's why it was possible to ride here during the winter months.

In January, Martina and I had a short training camp in Lanzarote, where we also raced. When it rained or snowed, Martina went to the mountains to skialp or cross-country ski and she had also training camp in Turkey for 10 days.

How do you get along as a couple? What is your greatest strength?

When we ride together, we don't notice the 21 year difference at all. We understand each other very well. Age is not that much of a barrier in sport if you have the performance. We made a balanced pair. We have combined our young rambunctiousness with my experience. That's our strength. The fact that we know each other is a small advantage. You have to be in sync and properly tolerant of each other. The Epic will test your physical and mental strength. You have to ride sensibly, avoid unnecessary mistakes, punctures or technical problems.

What does a day as a Cape Epic racer look like?

Cape Epic takes place in March. In South Africa, summer is ending and the days are shorter. You wake up at half past five, breakfast follows, prepare your drinking regime and track bibs for the stage, move to the start. Warm-up is still in the half-light, the start is about half an hour after sunrise. The main programme of the day, the race, follows. At the finish we then have a few words with the other riders about the experience of the ride. We will share with Tomáš information about the stage, about feelings and about the condition of the bikes. There will be refreshments waiting for us, a meal after the finish. The bikes will be taken away for washing. They are taken care of by the official service or your mechanic. Then transfer to accommodation, dinner, rest, preparation for the next day. Suddenly time goes faster than ever.

Our Cape Epic team is a three-man team. We divide the tasks within the team.
Martina and I were in charge of the main task, to see the race through to the end with the best possible result. Tomáš Legnavský took care of the formalities around. Planning, logistics and services directly at the race. Mutual help is the basis of team success.

Are you planning to go to South Africa again next year and fight for top 5?

I'm a realist. I'm 48 years old and family finances can't cover an event like this every year. I plan to perform at domestic events. They are logistically and financially more affordable.

In 2022, Martina and I formed the first female Slovak duo to start the Cape Epic in the Elite Women category. We finished the race in sixth place. In 2023, we improved our placing, finishing fifth. This year we finished in 7th place. Of course, if the finances are there, we would like to compete at the Cape Epic for a better placing.

This year you had to finance the race largely by yourselves. How financially demanding is such a race?

The direct costs of these races are easy to add up. They consist of airfare , 6 nights in a tent with full board is included in the entry fee. Accommodation, food, car rental is at a similar price level as in Slovakia. It depends on how long you are going there for, what standard of accommodation you want.

The final total amount for the participation of the team in the Elite race at Cape Epic is incalculable. Imagine you want to play in the main event at the Australian Open in tennis. It wouldn't just cost a trip to Australia and a coach's fee. You will have to work on yourself for several years, investing time and money long term to get to the level you need, to gain experience. That's something you need to be aware of every race you start.

The 2024 edition was in our control. Although we approached many companies, the financial support did not come to us and we did not find a main partner for the race. We kept last year's logo on the jerseys out of gratitude. Thanks to the material sponsors. Finding advertising partners and sponsors is not easy.
For the rest of the season we want to reach out to other companies. Hopefully we will find someone who is interested and brave enough to support Slovak women in sport and present themselves here and abroad at the Epic mtb series sporting events we are planning to participate in.

A lot has changed since your success in 1998. How do you perceive the changes in the media coverage of sport and sponsorship?

Basically everything has changed. The photos from that period, and the cyclists themselves, look somehow different than the current ones. Both the cycling equipment and the provision of the races have shifted over this period. At the first Cape Epic in 2004, riders handed in their watches for data processing and then received the outputs by email in the evening. Today they have them on their mobile phones after crossing the finish line. We did the first Epic on aluminum bikes with only front suspension and smaller 26 inch wheels. We now have full suspension bikes on larger wheels. Carbon has displaced aluminum as a material. There's already a lot of electrics on today's race bikes, it's used in shifting and telescopic seatpost control.The sport aspect itself has also undergone a big evolution.

The races have become shorter, the technical difficulty of the courses has increased and thus the attractiveness for spectators and riders has grown. In the early days, good fitness was enough for success, but today it is not so easy. You need to be able to control the bike well in different conditions.

Media coverage of the Cape Epic is worldwide, with live broadcasts, as well as of the cross-country World Cup mountain bike races.

We also know that you are a mom. Has motherhood had a big impact on your career?

A minor curiosity is that 30 days after giving birth I won a race in Slovakia.
Eight months after giving birth, I triumphed at a well-attended Czech Cup cross-country race in Teplice.

The 2014 season was fantastic. Twelfth place at the European Championships in St. Wendel, Germany, and twenty-third place at the World Championships in Hafjell, Norway, are my highs so far from the top events of the European and World Cross Country Championships.

How hard is it to combine work, sport and personal life?

Cycling is a time and money consuming sport. It takes a strong background, perseverance. It is not so much a question of age, but rather of conditions, which have been absent in Slovakia for a long time.

As a female cyclist from Slovakia, I deal with elementary conditions and answers to questions like: will I have time to train? How and for what will I get to the race? Will I be able to spend the money I have saved on training and materials? What happens if I break my frame or wheels? And so on.

Empathy, professionalism, objectivity and self-reflection are absent in Slovak cycling. I also encounter envy and backstabbing. Cycling has historically been considered a man's sport, prejudices persist to this day. Older sporting age, being female, having a child, these are barriers in cycling.

In the past, I believed that results and performance were the key to better conditions. Today, I know that you need to do mostly politics and be "backwards" or have an extreme number of followers on an instragram profile to have sponsors and funding for the sport. It's a modern trend.

What would you say to your younger self?

Only now do I realise what I have achieved. What I have struggled with in Slovak cycling. I regret that I was never a professional athlete. To put it lightly, "I have results and titles, others have conditions. ' And I would work more on that. I also tried to get into the state senior center, but to no avail.

I actively fought it at first, wasting a lot of time that I won't get back. I wouldn't do that again.

Those who help me and are around cycling know how much time and effort you have to put into it,to be successful at least like me. Women's cycling in the world is at a high level.

Thank you for the interview Janko and we wish you a lot of success in life and on the bike.

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