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Unsung heroes: Janneke Ensing on her love of food, becoming a nutritionist, retirement

The Dutchwoman called time on her 13-year cycling career in October and now wants to use her skills as a nutritionist to help Dutch children.

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This article is part of a series on VeloNews, highlighting some of the unsung heroes of the women’s peloton. 

When Janneke Ensing isn’t riding her bike, she can be found in the kitchen.

Ensing, who retired at the end of October following her 13-year career as a pro, would happily while away the hours by the oven when she was at home, trying out all manner of recipes.

Indeed, training and going to races were among the few things that would get her out of the kitchen and stop her from cooking.

“I love to be in the kitchen to make new stuff. Sometimes it’s really hard and sometimes it’s really good for me that I’m away. Otherwise, I stay in the kitchen the whole night. My boyfriend often says to me ‘come on, Janneke. Get out of the kitchen,’” she told VeloNews with a laugh.

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“Italian food is my favorite. I love pizza, but it’s not typical pizza. And then if I explain how I make pizza, it’s healthy. It’s more with quark and eggs and oats. I also like to make cakes and that kind of stuff, and I make homemade granola really often, and almond butter.”

Food, particularly healthy food, is a big passion for Ensing and she wants to get more involved in it now that she’s retired. During her career, Ensing delved into the world of nutrition and took it up as a study subject.

Her decision to learn about food and nutrition began as a desire to improve herself and her own diet, but she would now like to help other people, particularly children. She is concerned about growing levels of obesity in the Netherlands and would like to have a positive impact.

“First, I did the studies as a gym teacher and I had this feeling for I want to learn more about it,” she said. “If you know more about that I think you can get more from yourselves. I wanted to learn more about food, and then maybe I can make a step higher. That’s why I made the decision to learn it at school.

“It was more for myself at the time but, if you look around now, things are not going in a good way with the children. It’s really painful for me to see it also in the Netherlands. Children are becoming too fat and doing nothing. I want to support them and want to give you some advice on nutrition. I hope that I can do something.”

Saying goodbye

Like many Dutch cyclists in the pro peloton, Ensing began her sporting career as a speed skater. She discovered cycling due to using it as a training tool, but she wasn’t a fan of it at first.

Once she found racing, she was hooked by it, but it took a lot longer than she would have liked to make a full transition into cycling because of the sparse funds in the women’s side of the sport.

“In the summer they do also cycling for training and also running,” she said. “I was doing it for training and then some friends around me said, ‘Janneke why not do cycling.’ I didn’t like to do it as training but then I started doing races and it was nice. I love to do racing.

“I switched but it took some time. When I came into cycling, there was no money. I needed to still do speed skating to have some money. I think now it’s better because, for me, it took too long [to switch] to be able to have a longer career. In the end, I really like it because you have a lot of races and a lot of opportunities to have a nice result. If it’s not going well then the next weekend or the next day you have a chance.”

Ensing hung up her racing wheels after racing the Ronde van Drenthe with BikeExchange at the end of October, which had been postponed from March due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was a perfect closure for her career as the race passes through her hometown of Gieten and her family was able to attend.

While finishing off in Drenthe was a nice ending, it still didn’t make the process of calling time on her career easy for Ensing. With women’s cycling on the up, there was still a small temptation to push it on for at least one more year.

“When I heard Drenthe moved to the end of October, I thought this is perfect for me with it passing through my city. How nice is it to finish my almost 20 years highest level sports career like that in my hometown,” Ensing said. “For me, as we say in the Netherlands, the circle is round. Everything is good. For me, it’s perfect timing but it’s always hard to say goodbye. Sometimes I think I could do next year, there are more races coming up for the woman, and also really nice races. There’s always something you know.”

Whatever temptation Ensing had to carry on into 2022 and further, the thought of battling back from injuries — something that she has had to do a lot in recent years — made her decision far easier. The 2020 season was particularly tough for the Dutch woman, who rode just 12 race days due to injuries and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Being able to spend more time with her family and rediscovering the joy of a weekend has also helped make the transition easier.

“I want to do to joy, normal life. I’m 35 years old, and I want to have babies and yeah, there is more to life,” she said. “I want to spend more time with my family. This year I was more at home because of corona but this year I did a lot of races and camps and I really miss my family, and especially, my boyfriend but he’s also busier with his work and is also often away. I want to spend more time with him.”