Back from Belgium after Epic Success

Back from Belgium after Epic Success

Lucky Mlangeni and Tshepo Tlou are the latest young men to grab the chance offered by the Exxaro special jersey competition at the Absa Cape Epic to propel themselves towards a life they could scarcely imagine growing up in a historically disadvantaged community.

Mlangeni and Tlou both grew up in Mhluzi, outside Middleburg in Mpumalanga, and were bitten by the cycling bug in their early teens. Initially they made strides through the Amashovashova club and then through the Exxaro Academy when they reached their late teens. Since joining Exxaro Mlangeni has clocked up an impressive six Cape Epic finishes, including victory in the 2018 edition’s Exxaro category alongside Tlou, who has finished four Epics. The pair also came close to victory in the 2016 race, but missed out when Tlou withdrew while leading on Stage 5.

Through the trail blazing efforts of Phillimon Sebona and William Mokgopo, who are now racing as full-time cyclists there is a clear path from development rider, in the Exxaro competition, to a career in the sport. A major step along that path was provided to Mlangeni and Tlou when, as part of their Cape Epic category victory, they won a trip to Belgium’s Bakala Academy.

The Bakala Academy is situated in Belgium’s cycling heartland, Flanders, and was founded in conjunction with the University of Leuven. While the academy provides for athletes from a range of sports – including motorcross, football and swimming – their primary focus is cycling. At Bakala, Mlangeni and Tlou spent ten days learning about the latest developments in sport science, which could help them take the next step in their cycling careers.

“We got to experience how the pros live and train” Mlangeni said about his time at the Bakala Academy. “I learnt so much, but the biggest things were seeing how eating and nutrition can improve your performance; along with training better. There is a lot we can do to improve the way we train, especially for endurance, so I’m excited to use what I’ve learnt.”

The next step on their journey has already been facilitated by FNB Wines2Whales with their introduction of the Exxaro special jersey competition, at the iconic three day stage race. Taking place within the Shiraz race, which also hosts the elite men’s racing category, the Exxaro category will not only provide Mlangeni, Tlou and their rivals with the opportunity to win prize money – the victors will also be awarded an entry to the 2019 Swiss Epic.

Mlangeni and Tlou will not have it all their own way at Wines2Whales however; they will be up against their Cape Epic rivals Luyanda Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo, of the BMT Fairtree Academy. Having lost vital time to their Exxaro/PWC 1 rivals on the Prologue, Thobigunya and Mbobo started in the batch behind Mlangeni and Tlou for much of the Cape Epic, they were only able to better the category leaders on the final day when they started in the same group. At Wines2Whales, where the BMT Fairtree Academy riders know the trails, Thobigunya and Mbobo will be implementing the hard lessons they learnt at the Epic, as they seek to best Mlangeni and Tlou.

Mlangeni though is not overly concerned, and is confident he and Tlou will be jetting off to Switzerland next September. “They might be strong, but a lot of mountain biking depends on how smart you race” Mlangeni confided. The scene is set then for an exciting battle at Wines2Whales.

Exxaro MTB Academy

The driving force behind the development of historically disadvantaged mountain bikers in South Africa, Exxaro founded their academy in August 2011. The idea came to CEO Sipho Nkosi, while riding the 2011 Absa Cape Epic – during which he and five other riders representing the resource company raised R1.5 million for charity.

Since the inception of the Exxaro special jersey in the 2012 Cape Epic four Exxaro sponsored teams have won the competition. Two riders have gone on to become full time cyclists and one of the inaugural winners, Sipho Madolo, has moved into the role of sport programme coordinator at songo.info.