Moving Up with Phillimon Sebona

Moving Up with Phillimon Sebona

Easter was early this year. Yes, the last weekend of March was indeed a long one and ideally placed for several mountain bikers. With the 2018 ABSA Cape Epic having concluded at Val de Vie on the previous Sunday, four days off from work would no doubt have been welcomed by most finishers. More time to sleep, catch up with family and household chores, not to mention the chance to just relax now that the Untamed African Stage Race had passed.

Not that this applied to everybody, though, least of all for one top finisher.

‘Sure, I would l love to chat, but can I call you back in a half-hour? I’m just finishing work.’

Phillimon Sebona definitely wasn’t putting his feet up over the long weekend. You see, Phillimon might be classified as a professional cyclist on various fact sheets, but the other fact is that he holds down a fulltime job. He’s just like the majority of Cape Epic participants and riders in general – somebody who loves cycling but also has to make ends meet.

‘I’m a very busy person,’ he said on Easter Monday shortly after clocking off for the day. ‘I ride to work and back everyday, which doubles as my training. In addition to my primary job as a salesman at Wolwespruit Bike Park, I also run my own chicken farm in my hometown, which is just outside Middelburg. Life is busy, but life is good!’

Botshabelo is a small town in Mpumalanga. Originally a mission station originating in the 1800s, it is steeped in Ndebele history and architecture. The town also has some notable citizens, such as the well-known artist Gerard Sekoto, who achieved considerable success in Europe. It is also the place that Team PYGA-Eurosteel professional rider Phillimon was born. And in a region renowned for producing great distance runners, why did he choose two-wheels as his preferred sport?

‘Cycling was a means for me to get to and from school,’ explains Phillimon. ‘It was 60km round trip everyday, which would have meant having to pay for a taxi. So getting a bike was my solution to that.’

Not that he just went out and bought a bicycle. A born entrepreneur, Phillimon started selling peanuts at his school to eventually raise the cash for his steed. That solid daily commute sowed the seed for the pro rider he is now, that and the fact that his brother Tuis was already an established road racing professional.

‘Tuis raced for quite a few teams, including HSBC and Team Excel,’ he says. ‘So road cycling was my first introduction to the sport. I can remember racing against the likes of Louis Meintjes, someone who I admire. I’m always following his career and love watching the way he races. He is so strategic.’

But Phillimon was on the cusp of finding his true cycling passion. An opportunity to become part of the Exxaro Mountain Bike Academy became available in 2011, and he relished the freedom and stimulation that the off-road discipline gave him. He was on the startline of the ABSA Cape Epic a year later and at the beginning of a journey that would prove both adventurous and testing.

‘I started racing the Cape Epic as a development rider,’ explains Phillimon. ‘The opportunities that Exxaro and later Diepsloot Mountain Bike Academy provided were amazing. And as the years went by (Phillimon is a seven-time Epic finisher), the gradual improvement I saw in my capabilities inspired me to mix it with top guys.’

Photo credit: Raynard Claasens

A mindset shift isn’t always easy to attain; sometimes it takes guts to truly move forward. And while Phillimon’s positive energy and zest for life is infectious, he also possesses a steely determination and desire, two attributes that are requisite for success. Not to mention the ability to roll with the punches along the way.

‘The beginning of 2017 was a difficult time for me,’ he says. ‘I had no sponsorship or race bike. My training had been going well but always on an old machine. To say things were up in the air would be correct.’

Enter Patrick Morewood. Owner of PYGA Industries, Patrick saw Phillimon’s potential and lent him a PYGA racing machine for the Cape Epic. And while Phillimon had to return the bike once the race was complete, it was the beginning of series of events that would eventually see him sign for Team PYGA-Eurosteel later that year.

‘So much good came out of the 2017 Cape Epic,’ explains Phillimon. ‘One of our shop’s customers donated a sum of money for kit and equipment, which I also used to enter (and win) the Sabie Experience. My results got better and better and eventually the call came to join Team PYGA-Eurosteel.’

Possibly the most pivotal thing for Phillimon last year was an opportunity to attend the Bakala Academy. An athletic performance centre situated in the heart of Belgium, athletes from a host of sports go there for physiological tests in the quest for peak performance.

‘Bakala was the best opportunity ever,’ enthuses Phillimon of his time spent in Leuven. ‘The testing their was really the key in taking my performance to the next level. For instance, my softer bone structure lends itself to more torque training. The result is that I’ve worked on increasing my lean muscle mass, which in itself has seen a marked performance gain.’

Results will show that Phillimon and young teammate Pieter Du Toit finished a highly creditable 26th overall at Cape Epic 2018. Racing in the UCI category for the first time, Phillimon knew that he had his work cut out for him. Dreaming of racing the world’s best is one thing – actually doing it is but another. But he took it all in his stride.

‘It was so good to actually be part of the racing,’ he says. ‘Mixing it up with the likes of Team Bulls and Centurion-Vaude showed me what is possible. You know, my older brother Andries asked me just before the Epic if I was scared of the European pro’s. I just laughed, and then he told me not be scared.’