WHILE some of the country’s top riders are fighting for the prestigious Mandela Day Marathon MTB Dash title on the mountain biking trails around the Mandela Capture Site in Lions River on Saturday, the future of SA cycling will also be on display at the event.
In April 2017 the current KZN Cycling Development programme was launched with the support of the KZN Department of Sport and Recreation, and in just over a year the progress has been astonishing. Appropriately for an event honouring Nelson Mandela, the benefits of the programme will be on show at the MTB Dash where riders from the development initiative will be taking part in the main races as well as a series of eliminator-type events.
In the 16 months since the programme was launched there has been an noticeable benefit with a sprinkling of riders from the project achieving some surprising results in all facets of the sport â€“ track, mountain bike, BMX and road.
One of the aims of the plan has been to identify young riders with the potential of competing at the highest levels, and already some riders from the regional development programme have joined more experienced riders in the various high performance training initiatives.
Among the many highlights for the programme was eight riders who were selected for the KZN team to go to the national youth track cycling festival in Port Elizabeth in April this year where the U17 boys team pursuit team (James Swart, Tsepo Koloko, Unathi Nxumalo and Thanfolwethu Mfuthi) won gold medals and Thabiso Zindela won seven golds as he dominated the U15 boys category.
Other major achievments include 53 riders taking part in the KZN Road Championships; three riders in the top seven of the youth category at the KZN MTB Championships, including Mcendisi Mkhze who finished fourth on a very tough and technical course; and then this month Aphelele Idabeni earned a spot on the podium in the girls U14 category at the opening leg of the Spur KZN Schools MTB League while Kusaselihle Ngidi , who was previously with the Go Durban! programme, won the boys junior category in the first event and was third at the second leg.
The development programme is, however, not simply a short-term project to develop fast cyclists, and 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 eleven districts in KwaZulu-Natal with a district officer in each region. The programme also appoints and trains a support staff that includes managers, development officers, administrative assistants and, crucially, bike mechanics.
These staff members are tasked with running the programmes and clinics in the districts, with the assistance of the project co-ordinators, and ensuring the cycling message gets spread as far as possible, while also ensuring all equipment is properly maintained.
The programme makes sure the different hubs within each region are provided with storage facilities for equipment as well as trailers and transport to ensure riders can attend events outside their own regions.
The Mandela Day MTB Dash is a red letter day for Alec Lenferna, the COO of KZN Cycling, and his staff. He is the Race Director for Saturday’s event, but has also been the driving force behind the development programme and will take personal pleasure to see the young riders taking part in the various races.
“The MTB event on Saturday has a pure racing component with the 42km, 21km and 10km races,” said Lenferna this week. “But we have been able to link the event to our ongoing development programme.
“There will be 28 young riders from various districts that are now part of the higher performance training programme and they will be competing in the main races. For many of these youngsters, this will be the first opportunity they will have to race at this kind of level over the longer distances.
“It’s all part of the learning experience for them, and it’s these kind of challenges that will stand them in good stead as they start climbing up the participation ladders up to the elite levels of racing.
“But, over and above these three main races, KZN Cycling will also be staging a large development racing programme on the day with close to 200 kids taking part from seven different districts in KZN. These are kids that are already in the programme and are showing promise, but have not yet got the skills or experience to tackle 42km or 21km â€¦ but they certainly can race a bike.
“That racing programme will be based on the short-course cross country eliminator format. Of course the kids love to compete, but it will also allow for our development officers to start identifying youngsters that can join the high performance programme.”
Pre-entries for the MTB Dash close on Thursday, August 23, although late entries will be taken on the day if the entry limit has not been reached. There will be no registration on Friday.