MTB’s future stars bring the heat in Howick

Mandela MTB Dash, Howick

While the big names duke it out for glory at the Mandela Day MTB Dash in Howick on August 24, they will be well advised to glance over their shoulders and look out for a new force that is growing in KwaZulu-Natal cycling.

In the MTB Dash in 2018, Cape-based Matthys Beukes and Candice Lill were the men’s and women’s winners of the 42km race that starts and finishes at the Mandela Capture Site just outside Howick. In the year since their respective victories, the two big-star riders have gone on to record some major results against international competition.

Beukes beat a strong field that included World and European Champions to win a stage of the Absa Cape Epic, and Lill this weekend finished in the top 15 of a World Cup event after an impressive season that looks sure to be setting her up for a place at the Tokyo Olympics.

Success stories

Moving ever-closer to competing for race honours are a crop of future champions, who are being “grown” in one of the genuine success stories of South African sports development.

The KZN Cycling Development programme was launched in 2017 and at the Mandela Day MTB Dash that year the fledgling programme was shown off to the public with hundreds of young cyclists showing their newly-learned skills in short development races at the start/finish area.

Mandela Day MTB Dash. About 50 development riders will be competing in the main races in the 2019 events

Bongani Majali follows Bayanda Ndlovu down a technical section. Picture: Tim Whitfield/Sports Wrighte

Among the riders then taking their first pedal strokes in competitive cycling, has emerged a sprinkling of riders who will be hoping to feature near the front of the elite 42km race this year.

Thousands of riders

In just two years, KZN Cycling’s development programme has proved a phenomenal success with thousands of riders being exposed to cycling across the province. In July alone 75 cycling clinics attracted 3 597 riders to coaching courses across all districts in the province. The clinics cover all facets of the sport: road, mountain bike, BMX and track.

One of the aims has been to identify young riders who have the potential to compete at the highest levels, and already some riders from the regional development programme have taken part in high performance training initiatives and are producing impressive results.

In recent months Lihle Ngidi picked up a few top 10 finishes in the elite men’s races at the provincial cross country series, won the recent Noble Race overall in the iLembe District and was third junior at the provincial championships; Anele Khoza and Lerato Mokhela ended second and third in the youth girls category of the opening leg of the Spur Series; and large groups of riders took part in provincial and national championship events in MTB, road and track.

Holistic approach

The development programme is, however, not simply a short-term project to develop fast cyclists. A holistic approach to the initiative ensures a long-term future for current and future riders by developing a sustainable support structure.

The project is broken into 11 districts in KwaZulu-Natal with a district officer in each region. The programme also appoints and trains support staff that includes managers, development officers, administrative assistants and, crucially, bike mechanics.

MTB downhill. Mandela Day Dash

Unathi Nxumalo leads a string of rivals through a tricky section of single track.
Picture: Tim Whitfield/Sports Wrighte

In an arrangement with the Rotary Clubs of Hillcrest and Empangeni, KZN Cycling has recently been distributing bikes to young girls in the different regions for them to use as transport and training. Rotary clubs in the US have donated the bikes which will help get more young girls involved in the sport going forward.

At the Mandela Day MTB Dash later this month there will be about 50 riders from the programme taking part in the two main races over 42km and 21km. They are from the uMgungundlovu, eThekwini, iLembe, Ugu, Amajuba and uThukela regions. There will also be more than 200 riders competing in the Short Course Development Races.

Riders to honour Mandela in Midlands race

The annual Mandela Day MTB Dash is always a significant day for Alec Lenferna, CEO of KZN Cycling, and his staff. Lenferna has been the driving force behind the development programme and will take personal delight seeing the young riders taking part in the various MTB Dash races for the third year.

“The MTB event on the Saturday has a pure racing component with the 42km and 21km races,” said Lenferna this week. “And it is personally satisfying to see riders from the ongoing development programme moving up to take part in the elite racing.

Learning experience

“There will be about 50 riders from our higher performance training programme competing in the main races. For many of these youngsters it is all part of the learning experience, and the challenges will stand them in good stead as they progress into the elite levels of racing.”

Online pre-entries for the MTB Dash close on Tuesday, August 23, although late entries will be taken on the day. Race registration and late entries will be taken at Greg Minnaar Cycles on Friday, August 23, from 1pm to 5pm and at the race venue on August 24, from 6am to 7.30am. More information on the various Mandela Day Marathon events can be found at http://mandeladm.org.za