Cape Town - Interest in cycling has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years as more cyclists turn professional and as a number of young people in the townships have taken to the sport.
Cycling academies, assisted by big corporates, have empowered many youngsters from historically disadvantaged communities. This has, in turn, seen the face of this elite sport transform.
Bonga Ngqobane, co-founder of Khayelitsha-based Bonga.Org Cycling Academy, said there was a need for young people to be given the opportunity to become involved in the sport.
“It is important for them to find out if they really want to be professional or just take up the sport as a hobby,” Ngqobane said.
In 2014, Ngqobane (25) competed in the Absa Cape Epic, where he finished 198th out of 1 200 cyclists.
“It was a great achievement for someone who hadn’t participated in such big events and for someone with no proper training,” said Ngqobane.
Since co-founding the academy with his two friends, brothers Lubabalo (24) and Khanyiso Bongweni (26), in his parent’s garage in 2014, private organisation Answer Series has partnered with them.
However, Ngqobane said his club had not received any support for events they had staged over the past three years.
His dream is to see cycling introduced in township schools because he believes cycling is an important physical exercise and a sport that is crucial for pupils to learn.
Soweto Rocks Mountain Bike Academy is also on the rise.
Busi Msimango, co-founder of the academy, said cycling may not have been viewed as a career choice by many township residents in the past, despite it always having been part of township life.
“Cycling has always been part of my life. I used to ride 20km with my father every Saturday, which made me bond with it,” she said.
Her partner, Buhle Madlala, said they had brought cycling closer to people who would normally not be able to travel long distances to participate in big events.
One of the aims of the Soweto-based club is to uncover hidden talent.
“When they participate in our events and win, they gain points that can help them participate in provincial and, eventually, international events such as the Olympics,” said Msimango.
In August, they hosted an event that had 40 participants and had planned to host a bigger one this past week, where 100 bikers were expected to race, but it had to be postponed due to rainy conditions.
Two products of Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy, another Khayelitsha-based academy, Thulasizwe Mxenge (23) and Mthetheleli Boya (24), will be among the thousands of cyclists who will participate in the Absa Cape Epic later this month.
The event takes place from March 19 to 26.
Apart from the main prize for winning the Epic, there is also a prize for the first African rider younger than 26 – the Exxaro Development Jersey competition – which carries prize money of R50 000, which will go towards education as well as a trip to Belgium.
Velokhaya board member Luthando Kaka said the academy was one of the oldest cycling academies in South Africa – it launched in 2003.
At a national indaba in Durban last year, Cycling SA general manager Mike Bradley said the organisation had identified 32 academies across the country that were situated in townships and rural areas.
The aim was to help develop cyclists and provide them with the necessary resources, he said.
Responding to Ngqobane’s complaint that the clubs did not get much support at national level, Bradley said the national organisation did provide support, but that it also lacked sufficient resources.