With 20 years of experience in cycling across a wide range of roles, our new general manager Ro De Jonckere has worked with teams such as Quickstep – in its various guises – and the Qhubeka programs, and knows exactly what it takes to run a bike team in Europe.
Ro also spoke to VeloNew recently, with the trailblazer gearing up for a huge 2023.
Ahead of the action, we sat down with the Belgian to find out more about one of only a few female general managers in the sport.
The sport has become bigger and more professional. When I started out at Quick Step we had a general manager, an accountant and me. Also at races, you didn’t have a lot of staff but I have seen the progression and how roles have been added so the teams have become so much more professional and more international.
I got into cycling by coincidence. My father was the marketing director for Domo and at the time, Nico Mattan – 2005 Gent – Wevelgem winner – was our neighbor and was in contact with Patrick Lefevere to create the Domo – Farm Frites team – a precursor to Quick Step – and they needed someone for the office.
I had no clue about cycling. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a front and a back wheel but you grow into it very quickly. I studied languages and back then if you didn’t speak Spanish or Italian it was very hard to work in the sport.
The team is becoming greener. We are still in the early stages here but we are looking to reduce our footprint by updating our fleet with a new bus and by switching out our old cars. With all the improvements to vehicles, we are trying to minimize our impact and we have seen races like the Arctic Race of Norway also beginning to innovate with new solutions.
Nobody was talking about women’s cycling 20 years ago. Now we have all the big teams starting women’s squads which is so exciting for the evolution of the sport. For me, it’s really nice to have a women’s team. I try to go to the races now and then to see the staff and I visited many of the women’s races because it was new to me. A big evolution will come in the next few years, it’s growing very fast but you can see that there are still some differences in the professionalism between genders. Four years from now we will see more growth and have a much broader field of female cyclists.
I felt like I was part of history at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. I’ve been in Paris for the Tour almost every year since I started working but this year was very special as it was with our women’s team. It’s an amazing platform to create a love for women’s cycling.
Attending the Maryland Cycling Classic p/b UnitedHealthcare was so special. There were so many people and a lot of enthusiasm which was great to see because, in the end, we hope that US cycling will grow again. We had so many beautiful races in the US and they are all gone now. We can only hope that in time some of those events will come back onto the calendar because I think the globalization of cycling is an awesome thing.
I negotiated to buy a truck this year. I never thought I would be doing that. If you have good connections and know the right people that’s half of the job.
I have seen the power of the bike firsthand. At Qhubeka we handed over bikes to school children in South Africa and we could see that it can change their lives. That was a moment where I realized that sports can do so much and there is so much behind them that is much bigger than racing. Those are the moments that touch me the most when you can see what cycling can do for people in general.
There are similarities between controlling a horse and a bike team. I’m kind of a perfectionist and you have to be that if you want a cycling team to run smoothly and with dressage, it is the same thing. They are both all in the details and planning.
My horse is my therapist. Horse riding takes my mind off of everything else. You are working with a 500-kilo animal so you have to be really focussed on what you are doing and because of that, you don’t have time to think about anything else. When you are working in a job with long hours it’s really important to have something that will clear your mind.
Teaching a horse to dance takes a lot of patience. I do dressage on a regional level and it adds an element of competition and an extra drive. I bought my horse Dia Danciera at a young age and I’m trying to school her myself. Working together and learning new things gives you a really good feeling. With horse riding, you are never done. I go to my trainer every weekend and people are surprised that I’m still learning but there is always room to learn and that is something I love, you always have that challenge to improve.
Horses hold up a mirror. They are very sensitive, they sense your emotions, they hear your heartbeat and so when you are nervous or have had a bad day, cooperation will not work. She forces me to calm down because if I arrive at the stables stressed, she will also be stressed.
I love riding on the beach. It’s not just about dressage, I like to hang out in the woods and then go full gas on the beach. For her it is good for her mind as well so she is not always having to perform. I’m a nature person so being able to gallop is my favorite because it is a physical and mental workout.