Alec Lenferna talks KZN Cycling Development
In terms of geographical layout, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is a massive province. Not that this is not deterring cycling development, though. Alec Lenferna and his colleagues at KZN Cycling have really got their sleeves rolled up and in terms of initiating a multitude of development and upliftment projects throughout the Zulu Kingdom. Ride2Live caught up with Alec recently to find out more.
Alec, cycling development in KZN seems to be on the rise. Talk about the origins of the current KZN development plan.
Since 2009, we have been staging various top end events here in KZN and in Pietermaritzburg in particular with the assistance of the KZN Government who have provided the vast bulk of the funding. Pietermaritzburg has been the designated UCI Bike City for Africa since that time and we have staged six UCI World Championships, eleven UCI world cups and three Continental Championships in various disciplines as well as fourteen UCI 1.1 & 1.2 road races for men and women as well as a host of national championships. The focus of this event programme was very much on the top end events that allowed the best riders in the word and the country to compete, but even though development was not the core focus, funds were always made available to carry out development programmes through KZN Cycling over the years.
This focus changed at the start of the 2017/18 financial year when it was agreed with KZN Sport & Recreation that enough major events had been staged and that the focus should now be on development programmes and so since July 2017, this has been the project that has taken centre stage.
What would you say are the key challenges facing KZN Cycling in implementing this extensive development initiative?
There are a few. KZN is a massive province in terms of geographical layout as well as numbers of schools and kids. There are 11 districts in the province and we service all of them and so the transportation of staff and kids and equipment is a big challenge. Ironically, the success of the programme has been a challenge in itself in that as more schools see what is being done at venues in their district, they too are asking that we go to them and it is just physically impossible to get everywhere with the resources that we have. If we had double or triple the staff and bikes available, we would still only start scratching the surface for the potential kids to be involved. Also, for disciplines like BMX & track cycling, you need to be able to use the tracks and there are only two cycle tracks in KZN – one in Pietermartizburg and the other in Durban, and there are only four BMX tracks, with one in Pietermartizburg and the other three around Durban. Therefore, it is a bit limiting to expose all potential riders to these disciplines.
Several cycling hubs have been set up throughout the province. Talk about the function of these hubs as well as their current progress. Are some areas more difficult to establish such a framework?
The plan is to establish a cycling hub in each district which in effect becomes our partner in that district, as well as the area of operations for that district. To date, we have nine hubs set up with the Ugu & Amajuba districts being the two where we were unable to find suitable partners to set the hubs up this year. We are however working on this and we have now found venues for the hubs so all eleven districts will be up and running from this new financial year. We have provided each hub with storage facilities, bikes, spares, helmets and a bike trailer to transport the bikes and we also provide financial support to the hubs. This allows our development officers to go into each district and use this equipment to run clinics etc, and then the hubs also operate independently when we are not there and carry out their own activities ad get schools to bring kids to the hub to be able to use the equipment that is in place.
Cascades MTB Park is involved in various development initiatives. How influential is a well-known facility like Cascades in creating more awareness for cycling development? Are there any other such facilities following suit?
Cascades MTB Park was established in 2009 when we hosted the first UCI MTB World Cup and has been the venue for four MTB World Cups as well as three MTB World Championships over the years and has consistently ranked as one of the top three World Cup venues in the world. Apart from being a competition venue, it was set up as a legacy project allied to the programme and has continually been improved and worked on over the years. It is a venue that anyone is free to ride at, walk, run etc and with the pump track that is in place as well as the new skills park that we have built there sees a large number of young riders and learner riders being able to utilise it to hone their skills and it certainly plays a huge role in our MTB development plans.
More skills parks are set to be constructed over the next two years with the aim being that a skills park will be in place in each of the other ten districts throughout KZN. It should also be noted that the BMX track at Alexandra Park in Pietermaritzburg is another legacy project that emanated out of the events programme with the track being built by the UCI track builders after the 2010 UCI BMX World Championships using the sand that we had used to build the track at the Royal Show Grounds.
The creation of such elements is not always the biggest challenge – it is the ongoing maintenance of such venues that needs to be looked at and we have plans in place to ensure that what we put in place going forward, can stay in place as a top end venue.
Education is a key factor in any development program. How has KZN Cycling’s coaching workshops and related educational initiatives been received?
When we started the programme last year, it was decided to focus on the elements that we can control – i.e. running development clinics and allied competitions, high performance programmes and getting kids onto bikes. We are not an education programme, nor are we a feeding scheme which was an element that was expected of us when we started. We work primarily through schools and so the kids that are at the schools are those that we work with.
Travis Goveia, Sithembiso Masango and Manqoba Madida are three names that have benefited from KZN Cycling’s support. Tell us a little more about these three guys, their backgrounds and how they’ve grown as people thanks to the sport of cycling.
They are only three of a very long list of people that have been supported by the programme. Travis was able to attend the UCI Commissaires course in Cairo earlier in the year which can only benefit a wider range of people and Sithembiso is attending the UCI training camp ahead of the African Continental MTB Champs in preparation for this event. Manqoba was assisted in getting to the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland and this will stand him in good stead for the upcoming World Champs as well as the next Olympics.
However, the biggest group of people that have benefited from the programme – apart from those going through the development clinics and competition levels etc – are all those development riders that have been supported to be able to compete in events like the Amashova, Ladysmith and Newcastle road races, the various MTB events, the BMX nationals series, the Track Youth Festival in PE and events like the KZN Road Champs where 53 x development riders were supported with entry fees, equipment, transport etc. We are attempting to provide maximum support to as many people at all levels of the sport as possible.
With mountain biking continuing to flourish and many peoples first choice of two-wheeled sport, how have things been going development-wise with the other disciplines? Is there as much interest in road, track and BMX, or do you see mountain biking continuing to lead the way in developmental terms?
Our priority, once the kids have been through the various levels of the programme, is to identify those young riders with talent and to put them into higher performance programmes across all disciplines that suit them. We have set up a BMX high performance training group as well a track group that are working with exert coaches in these disciplines and we also have a MTB group that is being coached. The next phases of the programme will see more kids getting onto the road, so in essence, we are looking at the individual and what they are best suited to, as opposed to any one discipline.
In closing, there are several examples of individuals or groups collecting cycling kit and equipment for distribution amongst the more underprivileged communities. Does KZN Cycling have any such initiative of its own?
We have been collecting and distributing kit and equipment through various cycling clubs whose members have been very good in donating older materials to the programme and we have just initiated a programme through KZN MTB whereby a call has gone out for anyone with old 26” inch bikes or any others that they are no longer using to donate these to the programme so that we in turn can get these out to the various hubs and development cycling clubs throughout the province. Any equipment will be gladly accepted – we can certainly find new homes for these as the need out there is massive.