Menlo Park High School in Pretoria has an in-school mountain biking (MTB) team like no other. Hard to believe that their MTB journey started with just three riders in 2010. And today the school is the best and strongest League team in the Spur Schools MTB League. But what’s their recipe to success?
According to team manager, Lizelle van der Walt, the road’s been long; but dedication, commitment and hard work from kids, training staff and parents alike have contributed largely to the school’s success in the sport. It was roughly seven years ago when the sport team at Menlo Park High decided it was time to promote MTB as an official in-school sport, alongside the likes of rugby, cricket and hockey. After all, MTB was a growing phenomenon in the country and Menlo Park wanted to be a part of it.
“We started with just three riders. Today we have an MTB Academy and our team consists of 70 strong and very committed young boys and girls. Thanks to our training regime and good results to-date in the Spur Schools MTB League, we’ve accepted this accolade with great pride,” she says.
And with 493 schools participating in the Spur Schools MTB League, 10 500 entries and 46 regional events across nine provinces, the best and strongest league school accolade is a feather in the school’s cap. The League is said to be the biggest high school cycling programme in South Africa and the largest feeder system for mountain biking in the country. For the past three years, Menlo Park achieved top honours in the Gauteng and National finals.
Van der Walt says growing the sport is important and to succeed, development and support is crucial. Menlo Park’s method to achieving this is simple – it focusses much of its attention on developing its Grade 8 pupils every year to ensure they grow and thrive in the sport and encourage parents to build a strong support base at home for all riders.
“By grooming our Grade 8’s especially it ensures that we develop a sustainable interest in the sport at school, not all riders have cycling as their primary school sport. Support at home is as important and we are fortunate that our riders receive very strong support from parents,” she says.
But what about the training programme? Van der Walt says this is top priority, her school’s riders train throughout the year and training programmes vary. She says more advanced riders spend between 4-5 days on the bike, while beginners and intermediate riders train twice a week.
“If riders really want to do well in MTB, they should train hard and ensure they have a coach who offers continuous support and guidance, as well as one who is dedicated to sticking to the training programme as much as possible,” she says.
Van der Walt says members of team Menlo Park have performed outside the League as well, two of the school’s pupils – Chris and Ben du Plessis regularly participate in the XCO events in Europe, and Marco Moolman was recently invited to join a selection training camp for Novo Nordisk’s team in America. The Novo Nordisk team is made-up of riders suffering from diabetes and if Moolman is selected to join the team, their goal is to participate in the Tour de France in 2020.
“We are incredibly proud of all our riders, for working so hard and doing so well. Few people believe that we started out with just three kids on a bike in 2010. It’s taken perseverance to get here,” she says.