11 June 2009
South Africa is beginning to make its presence felt in the international cycling scene.
The country is enjoying increasing support as a venue for top international events. And, while the depth to compete consistently for world titles has yet to emerge, a number of South African cyclists have excelled on the global stage in recent years.
The latest of these is South African junior road cycling champion Christopher Jennings, who became the first South African male junior to win a top-graded International Cycling Union (ICU) race on the weekend.
Competing in the Tour de Pays Vaud in Switzerland, a five-stage tour with a 2.1 grading – the highest UCI grading for a junior category stage race – Jennings took victory on the 111-kilometre final stage in two hours, 52 minutes and 31 seconds, and finished eighth overall in the General Classification.
“This is a fantastic achievement, not only for Jennings but also for South African cycling,” said Cycling South Africa president Greg Till.
“We have begun to place huge emphasis on creating future world-beating champions from our talented junior and under-23 riders, and this victory proves that it is possible to win major races overseas,” Till said.
“I’m convinced this is the just start of a special era for South African road cycling.”
Tour de France
In road cycling, sprinter Robbie Hunter of Team Barloworld became the first South African to win a stage of the Tour de France in 2007, finishing second in the sprinters’ competition in the world’s most famous race. Hunter has notched up 39 career victories since turning professional.
Another man to keep an eye on is Hunter’s Team Barloworld teammate, John-Lee Augustyn, who has shown remarkable maturity for a 22-year-old.
Augustyn grabbed the attention of the cycling world in 2008 when, on stage 16 of the Tour de France, he crested the Col de la Bonette, the highest climb in the Tour, in first place. Shortly afterwards he misjudged a corner and flew off his bike and over the edge of the shale mountainside.
After sliding 30 metres down, he finally managed to stop. After scrambling up to the road, he was able to finish the stage on a new bike.
On the women’s side, Cherise Taylor has shown that she could go far on the road. She placed second in the Junior World Championships road race in 2007, and won the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour in 2008. She is still a teenager.
Mountain bike world champions
In mountain biking, Greg Minnaar is a three-time Downhill world champion. He is the current title-holder and started this season’s racing with a sensational win on home soil in Pietermaritzburg.
Cross Country mountain biking star Burry Stander is the world under-23 champion, and finished third in Pietermaritzburg in the open competition.
Sifiso Nhlapo is one of the world’s top BMX racers. He demonstrated his ability in 2008 when he placed third in the World Championships in Taiyuan, China. Nhlapo currently tops the 2009 UCI BMX rankings in Europe, and is ranked ninth in the world.
Besides South African cyclists making their mark on the international scene, South Africa is also enjoying increasing support as a venue for top international events.
In 2008, Cape Town hosted the UCI Junior World Championships. A year earlier, it successfully hosted the UCI B World Championships.
In mountain biking, the most watched event in the world is the Absa Cape Epic, which draws many of the world’s leading cyclists.
Earlier this year, Pietermaritzburg hosted the first event of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. Although there were a few minor problems, such as running out of tickets such was the outstanding level of public support, the UCI praised the event.
Treble Entertainment, the organisers, were also approached by the UCI to bid for the 2013 Mountain Bike World Championships.
In August, Pietermaritzburg will be the venue for the UCI BMX World Cup. Next year, in 2010, it will host the UCI BMX World Championships.
Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material