Beneath the humble and gentle nature of Sithembiso Masanga (31) lies the wild spirit of one of the toughest cyclists in South Africa. It is not surprising that he has been mentored since 2013 by one of South Africa’s most hard-core mountainbikers and all-round adventurer (not to mention 7 time Dusi canoe marathon winner), Martin Dreyer.
Martin founded the RMB Change a Life Mountain Bike academy in 2013 in the Valley of 1000 Hills in rural KZN and handpicks the local talented riders to form part of his academy, Sithembiso being one of the shining stars.
We caught up with Martin and Sithembiso to learn more of this hugely under-rated South African gem.
Martin, what makes Sithembiso special? He is just different to any other cyclist I know. He has got this wild restlessness. He can really just ride his bike to the limit, the entire day. And why does he do this? Just because he can…just because he enjoys it. He is incredibly strong and his pure muscle power is unbelievable. He is unique. He is driven to push his body and redefine his boundaries like no other.
Place of residence: Swayimana, rural KZN (with his dad)
Birth place: Swayimana
Relationship status: He has a girlfriend and is a father of a 6 year old son
Training hours per week: 20- 30hours (3-6 hours a day, 6 days a week)
Career highlights: Winning the Munga development category 3 times (2016-2018), Attended World XC champs (Australia) and Marathon Champs (Germany) in 2017.Sthembiso Masango became the first black rider to be awarded KwaZulu-Natal colours for mountain biking in 2014.
Racing credentials: 4thin Joburg2C in 2015. 56thin Cape Epic GC 2019 top 50 in 2018 and 57thin 2017. 7thSouth African National Championships – XCO 2017 – 7th. 7THin the 2018 African xco (Egypt). Top 5 Joburg2C.
Bike: Cannondale Scalpel 4 (been racing it since 2015) I was fortunate enough that RMB provided this to me, but I’m looking hard for a new sponsor.
What convinced you to approach him to come try out for your academy? At the race where I spotted him first, eight out of ten of the guys who were part of my academy, actually beat him. However at the end Sithembiso was standing there, with his “skedonk” of a bike, fully kitted up, so proud to have competed. I went over to chat to him and found out he still had to cycle 30km home that afternoon. He showed pure passion, he was willing to put in a huge effort to partake in the sport that he has a deep love for. You cannot do anything else but to help assist such a person.
He has come on in leaps and bounds since then. Yes, he has grown as a cyclist and become very disciplined. However he is still has a wild, free spirit, which actually showcases his talent and I give him that freedom too. This year on the Friday before the Cape Epic for example, when most people were tapering and putting their feet up – Sithembiso went on a 200km solo mountainbike ride for fun! [Editor: He still finished just outside top 50 in the overall GC, and as part of the top-finishing black team]. On other days, I meet him at 13h00 for lunch in Pietermaritzburg after he has done 100km+ and then hear from him at 22h00 at night when he is home after a 200km+ ride.
That’s remarkable, any other stories like that?Well, we want our cyclists in the academy to push their boundaries and redefine their limits. One of our regular rides is a tough 3 hour ride in the Valley with lots of climbing, where we just go out very hard. So, one day at the start Sithembiso gets off his bike, smiles at me with a glint in his eyes and says “watch this Mr Mart”. He then proceeds to take off his saddle and puts in under a bush – and just go off riding this hard loop standing up the entire ride. Why? Because he wants to be stronger …and because he can.
Where do you rate him as a cyclist?I think he is South Africa’s most versatile mountain biker. Just look at his CV. 3 time Munga Development Winner, then goes on and represents SA in Germany in the World Marathon Champs and in the same year to Australia to compete in the XCO World Champs. His Epic, Joburg2C and Wines2Whales results are also really impressive. I really do hope he can be discovered by a pro team, which can take him to the next step in his career. In my view, he is still untapped as to his real potential.
Over to you Sithembiso – that was an incredible introduction, but tell us a bit about where you grew up and when your love for cycling started? I grew up in a rural area in KZN called Swayimana. When I was young I only played football and did running, the cycling only started later in 2010. I was a farmworker and I used to cycle to get to work. When I was cycling home I would see other road cyclists in groups cycling by. When I saw them my heart just got happy and I wanted to do it too.
…and then how did you get into the racing scene? I was working on the farm and I saw people busy building a trail, and I asked my boss “what is this?” and he told me it is for a local mountain bike race coming through the farm, the Wartberg Classic. He said that if I want to I must do the race. On the Saturday, I arrived at the race, but as I didn’t know anything about cycling I arrived with my road bike. It was also the only bicycle I had and I wanted to do the race, so I had no choice.
You pitched up at your first mountain bike race with a road bike!? How did that go? (laughs)…unfortunately I got punctures on both wheels and was stuck somewhere in the middle of the race. When the sweeper came by, Mr Guy Miles, he helped me patch up the bike and I managed to finish the race.
Amazing story, so how did it progress from there?Mr Miles took my number and told me that maybe he can help me in future. I went back to working on the farm, but 6 months later he phoned me and told me he got me a bike, as he saw how passionate I was about cycling.
And the bike?It was a Haro. I loved the bike.
Great story, but things really start to progress once you joined RMB Change a Life?Mr Miles continued to take me to races, but then fell ill and couldn’t anymore. I continued to pay for myself to go to races and then at the Tour de Krantz in 2013, Mr Mart spotted me and that is when I started really developing as a cyclist.
How has it been under the guidance of Martin? He is uplifting me. He taught me everything about cycling that I know – how to train, how to eat, how to think. He is very important to me and helped me so much. I can only appreciate him.
How does your training look like? Thanks to RMB Change a life I get a monthly stipend since 2013. This allows me to train 6 days a week. I generally do 3 – 3 ½ hours a day with some days even 6 hours or more. On Wednesdays, I also do running, jumps and stretches.
Do you train with the team or alone? I generally just train alone. There’s not a lot of guys that want to train so much as me and spend such long hours in the saddle, but I just love being on the bike and enjoy it so much.
If it wasn’t for cycling where would you be?I can’t even say, cycling just means too much to me. It has changed my life completely. I would have never had the experiences that I can have now if it wasn’t for cycling.
What are some of the cycling highlights? Winning the Munga development category for 3 years in a row. I am very proud to have come 7thin the African XCO mountain bike championships in Egypt in 2018 . Going overseas and representing South Africa in places such as Germany, Australia and Egypt has been so nice. Growing up in rural Swayimana, I didn’t even thing of going outside the province would be possible and cycling has given this to me.
So, tell us about the Munga – this is one tough race? Yes, its very tough. In my last race, I only slept two hours in almost 70 hours of racing. The tougher the race the better for me. I think my body is just enjoying the hard stuff.
What is your recipe for success? I train a lot and just enjoy being on the bike; but when you are doing cycling, you learn to be very disciplined and that helps with your entire life, even if you talk about relationships, everything. I have learned to be a successful cyclist in races like the Munga you have to fix your mind and concentrate your mind, that is when you get the great achievements.
You have achieved a lot, are there still any cycling goals? Yes, I really want to be part of a professional team and then my goal is to become the South African champ!
At Ride2Live we meet a lot of impressive development riders, however in the words of Martin “Sithembiso is unique, he is special”. We really do hope that he achieves his goals and become SA’s first black mountainbike champ. It is also incredible to see Martin, who have played such a key role in his development, encouraging Sithembiso to further his cycling career and spread his wings! Behind you all the way Sithembiso.