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From the streets to the trails of the Cape Epic

2016-11-29

Christoph Sauser is known around the world for his mountain biking feats. He has won just about anything worth winning, including five editions of the Absa Cape Epic.

But there is a corner of this country where he is revered for something very different.

In 2008 Sauser established the songo.info charity in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch. This followed a meeting with local community leader Songo Fipaza, a fellow cyclist with a passion for improving the lives of children in the township.

Kayamandi is a place where alcohol and drug abuse is widespread, crime is rampant, and teenage pregnancy a major problem. Sauser lives and trains in Stellenbosch for large chunks of the year.

By 2009 songo.info was up and running with a clubhouse and a BMX cycle track. The clubhouse has since become a refuge for local children, where they come to do homework and to ride bikes.

Sauser used his muscle to get sponsors to back the charity and locals say it has made a marked difference in the lives of the children. Sauser and Fipaza set out to build a place where “children are protected and have a safe place to grow and develop” and they appear to have achieved that.

The emphasis on cycling at songo.info has also unearthed some great talent, a few of whom might one day be able to make a living from the sport. One of them, Sipho Madolo, has already represented South Africa in the marathon world championships and has become a Cape Epic regular.

Now four other youngsters from songo.info will be taking part in the Untamed African MTB Race in 2017: Siyabulela Tutu and Thando Klaas will be racing together, as will Lwazi Ntshakaza and Theophillus Ngubane.

Klaas has competed the Epic before - in 2011 - but the others are novices.

They will be there courtesy of a decision by the Cape Epic to give entries for the Exxaro Special Jersey race – for riders under 26-years-old from disadvantaged backgrounds – to extra teams.

“The Absa Cape Epic is the only race that has a category dedicated to development teams and with this initiative we want to celebrate our next generation of star riders,” said Absa Cape Epic CEO Lynn Naudé.  “We hope this will also accelerate the introduction of mountain biking into new communities.”

Here the songo.info riders talk about the challenge that lies ahead for them:

Siyabulela Tutu

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: where did you grow up and go to school?
My Name is Siyabulela Tutu. I’m 24-years-old and was born and raised in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch, but my family originally came from the Eastern Cape. I’ve been riding for songo.info since 2008 when I started mountain biking. I went to Makupula High School in Kayamandi and now have a full time Job.

How did you get into mountain biking?
I started at songo.info in BMX in 2008 then started mountain biking two years later as one of my friends was doing it and I wanted to try it too.

What major mountain biking events have you taken part in?
I did a major event in Colombia that is called the Legend of Dorado this year with Sipho Madolo. The race is a seven-day stage race crossing Colombia and we were very lucky to get the trip and entry sponsored. It was fun but very tough.

How many hours a day are you spending in the saddle training for the Absa Cape Epic and are you on a training programme?
I spend a maximum of three hours a day and then longer rides on Saturday and Sunday. I don’t have specific training plans – I just ride as much as I can, but will start my training programme soon.

What are your thoughts on the 2017 route?
I am excited about it. I can’t wait to get a real challenge.

Are you nervous about taking on the Absa Cape Epic?
I am a bit nervous but I can’t turn back I have to be there. I believe this will be a difficult Epic because of hills and flat roads.

What are your ambitions for the race?
I am willing to go get the Exxaro jersey. I believe if I achieve that it will show my commitment to the people and the race.

What has songo.info meant to you?
songo.info means a lot to me. I have grown (because of) the organisation. Because of the organisation I now have chances to go to other places and show the skills I have. The kids in Kayamandi are off the street, and they now have the chances to change their lives for the better and for the community.

Which mountain bikers inspire you, and why?
Christoph Sauser and Paulo Montoya are my best. Every time we race together they encourage me to keep going, even if want to quit. I want to be like them.

Which sportsperson do you most admire?
Globally I admire Lionel Messi, I believe he is the most skillful sportsperson In the world. 

Thando Klaas

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: where did you grow up and go to school?
My Name is Thando Klaas and I grew up in Eastern Cape and went to School in Mthatha at Mtebele Secondary School.

How did you get into mountain biking?
I started mountain biking in 2009 at songo.info and I have been riding since then and that’s how I started.

What major mountain biking events have you taken part in?
There are so many mountain biking events I have taken part in, including the 2011 Cape Epic, the joBerg2c and a lot of one-day races.

How many hours a day are you spending in the saddle training for the Absa Cape Epic and are you on a training programme?
I usually spend two-and-a-half to three hours a day and then longer rides on the weekends. I am just starting a training programme now.

What are your thoughts on the 2017 route?
The route for the 2017 Cape Epic it will be hard, but I know what to expect and I think am ready for the challenge.

Are you nervous about taking on the Absa Cape Epic?
It will be my second time competing at the Epic, so I am not that scared.

What are your ambitions for the race?
I want to race to be the Exxaro jersey winner.

What has songo.info meant to you?
songo.info means a lot to me. They kept me from doing wrong things in the township and keep me busy.

Which mountain bikers inspire you, and why?
Christoph Sauser and Sipho Madolo, because they do their best when they are racing.

Which sportsperson do you most admire?
Jaro (Kulhavy). 

Lwazi Ntshakaza

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: where did you grow up and go to school?
My name is Lwazi and I grew up in Kayamandi Stellenbosch. I went to Makupula high school in Kayamandi and did my matric last year.

How did you get into mountain biking?
I started mountain biking four years ago. It wasn’t something I thought I would enjoy very much but the races inspired me to keep up and take the races seriously. As time went by there was some improvement  and it actually changed my life by keeping me busy and healthy.

What major mountain biking events have you taken part in?
There are so many mountain bike races I have taken part in. I have done a lot of marathon races but not a stage race and this will be my first stage race ever.

How many hours a day are you spending in the saddle training for the Absa Cape Epic and are you on a training programme?
I usually spend more than three hours a day and do some longer rides, but I’m not yet on a training programme. Sipho says I have to show the commitment and hard work before he can plan training for us.

What are your thoughts on the 2017 route?
The way I compare my riding style and the route for 2017 I think it will be suitable for me: whether it will be climbing or flat I will be ready for it

Are you nervous about taking on the Absa Cape Epic?
No, because the way I compare my fitness and how much I will train in December and January with the Epic route … I will survive.

What are your ambitions for the race?
Obviously the Exxaro jersey

What has songo.info meant to you?
Songo.info means so much to me because I grew up riding bikes and if it was not for them I don’t know what I would be doing. It is helpful to the community because it is introducing the kids and young adults into the sport and support them in education.

Which mountain bikers inspire you, and why?
Christoph Sauser, because he is the best mountain biker of all times which is something I dream about.

Which sportsperson do you most admire?
Nino Schurter 

Theophillus Ngubane

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: where did you grow up and go to school?
My name is Theophillus Ngubane from Kayamandi in Stellenbosch, and I am currently 21 years of age. I fell in love with extreme sports from a very young age and that is how I ended up falling in love with bicycles – from racing BMX to downhill mountain biking and now marathon mountain biking. I love art and design, any form of creativity and would love to be given the platform to do so too in the near future. I daydream most of the time and I think that’s one of the reasons why I do what I do on a daily bases. I am currently studying Architectural Technology at Inscape Design College, and love what I do. I believe one should grow and learn and experience new things in life to reach their true potential and it should be backed up by hard work, dedication and most importantly passion.

How did you get into mountain biking?
I lived in Johannesburg with my mother for a few years and did skateboarding for most of the time I was there. I had to move back to Stellenbosch and the skating scene back then was not as big as in Johannesburg, so I had to find alternative sports to fill the void. Luckily my uncle Ndiphe Ngubane was the BMX coach at songo.info. He pretty much got me into cycling, and the rest is history.

What major mountain biking events have you taken part in?
I was lucky enough to represent my country at the 2013 UCI Downhill World Champs. I learnt a lot in the week that I spent at world champs, but I think what I really took away from that experience is that people like myself have a responsibility to make what was possible for me a reality for kids from places like where I grew up. I think it’s shocking that there is not more than a handful of coloured riders in South Africa doing downhill, and feel that there is more to be done in terms of promoting the sport in townships. I pray and hope that I will live to see more African downhill riders representing the country in the near future.

How many hours a day are you spending in the saddle training for the Absa Cape Epic and are you on a training programme?
I normally spend an hour or two on the bike then an hour on the trainer at home. No I don’t have a training programme just yet.

What are your thoughts on the 2017 route?
The course looks hard and rough and with a lot of climbing to it, but with the right mental strength and training it is very much doable.

Are you nervous about taking on the Absa Cape Epic?
I think every rider is nervous about racing the Cape Epic, and yes I am too. It is new to me and it’s a new racing scene that I am not used to. I come from a BMX and downhill racing background, and it takes a little getting used to, to sitting for hours on a saddle. But to be honest I think I’m more nervous about wearing tights.

What are your ambitions for the race?
To be honest this is going to be my first stage race. I normally don’t spend more than three hours on my bike so this is all new to me, but I think that my head is in the right space to compete and to finish.

What has songo.info meant to you?
I think songo.info and cycling have taught me to chase what I want no matter what, and if it is hard it means you need to work harder to overcome it.

Which mountain bikers inspire you, and why?
(Australian downhiller) Sam Hill, Siphiso Nhlapo (not a MTBer, but played a huge role in getting me hyped about cycling), South African downhill racers, (US downhiller) Eliot Jackson, little pinner Troy Brosnan (an Australian downhiller) and Christoph Sauser. These people inspire me because they either taught me or inspired and kept me riding my bike. I think that all the people give me hope about how great and successful you can be in cycling, and how you can change peoples lives at the same time. And I think that is what makes them great in my eyes.

Which sportsperson do you most admire?
I think I admire all sports people, but the person I admire the most doesn’t even ride bikes. I have to list this special person who is so dearly close to heart: Thokozile Hazel Ngubane. This strong lady backed the hell out me at a time when she lost her father and still managed to talk me back into this sport when I was about to leave it. My mum had to leave to go to work in Joburg just to put me in good schools where English was a primary language: I didn’t understand it at first but looking back now I am where I am through communication. So that is who I admire, Thoko Ngubane. 

* Sauser’s palmares – his list of cycling achievements – include three marathon world championships, one cross country world championship, two World Cup cross country series overall wins, 14 World Cup individual event wins and a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games. And, of course, an unmatched record in the Absa Cape Epic, the world’s foremost mountain bike stage race.

 

 

  

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