You can’t keep Thula quiet
Over the last few years Thulasizwe Mxenge (25) has generally flown quietly under the radar of most mainstream media coverage, however the 25 year road cyclist certainly deserves his time in the spotlight.
As past winner of the Gauteng Junior Road champs (2011), finishing 3rdin the Tour of Durban (2014), stage winner of the Panorama Tour and the Tour de Windhoek in 2018, and winner of the Daily Despatch (2017) Thula has proven himself amongst South Africa’s best.
As a 15 year old he was happy just playing football in Dlamini, Soweto. In his spare time he used to hang out at Mbongeleni “Mavela” Radebe’s tuckshop and in order to earn some much needed extra cash, he assisted Mavela with errands from time to time on his old “black mamba” carrier bicycle. As “luck” would have it, Mavela was the leader of the Dlamini Wheelers Club.
One day, after spotting Thula’s strength on another stock collection ride, he said to Thula :“you are too good to just cycle for me at work, you need to come do a race with us”. Thula didn’t immediately believe in Mavela’s confidence in his talent, and also met some resistance from his grandfather (with whom he stayed with until last year): “I was very eager to start cycling but my grandfather didn’t like it and said that me and my brother can’t both cycle. One has one of us must play football and the other can do cycling.”
However, when another club member also invited him to do a race in Lenasia and offered to loan him a Mongoose mountain bike, he couldn’t resist destiny calling him. Obviously Thula duly won his first race!
After taking part in a number of races and some trials he was invited by Siphiwe Mhlakaza to join the Soweto-based Medscheme Development Cycling Team after Siphiwe saw Thula giving the roadies in his team a hard time on his mountain bike.
As a member of this development team his career took off and he quickly established himself as as a star in the junior category. Thula still looks back fondly at his time: “They gave me my first road bike, a Silverback. Once I joined them I had everything, a bike, a coach and good nutrition. I cycled with them for 5 years until they closed down and learned so much. I was also privileged to go overseas and race in Belgium and Switzerland with the team.”
From Medscheme he moved on to Velokhaya, who further with whom he also had an opportunity to go ride the London to Paris race (and won it). “To this day riding the London to Paris remains a highlight of my cycling career. Everything of that race was great…even going in the tunnel under the ocean was incredible”. Reflecting on the highs and lows of cycling Thula highlighted that “Ethoipia was definitely my toughest race..the riding was very aggressive and the altitude makes it difficult”. Thula is well travelled and have also cycled in Congo Brazzaville and Rwanda.
After Velokhaya he had a stint with RandWater (with whom he won the Daily Despatch) and Thula has now been riding for Proud Beginners’ Pro Team (PBC) for 3 years. “I’m very fortunate to be cycling full time as a professional for Proud Beginners”.
In case you are wondering Proud Beginners Cycling Club is not just a club for beginners. Established in 2016 the National Cycling Academy Forum (NCAF) affiliated, Midrand-based, club has in this short space of time come on in leaps and bounds. The club has now more than 70 official members (30 of which is Female), a successful development academy of 8 riders and then the “Elites”, of which Thula is the star. According to the club captain, George Masini, they are incredibly proud of their Elites (and obviously Thula) but “our greatest goal is to make a sustainable mark in the lives of young people through cycling and healthy living/lifestyle habits. We are a team with social charity programs that make for sustainable development in our society. We want to play a role, where through cycling, many communities can be fed, assisted and given an opportunity of freedom through riding a bike”.
Earlier in the year the PBC Pro Team partnered with Team Enza (captained by Nolan Hoffman and including experienced campaigners, Steven van Heerden and Dawid Maree), to form the Team Enza/PBC. Thokozani Mahlangu and Thula of PBC have integrated very well into this new team and the team has already won a couple of races through Nolan (Cycle4Cansa Road Classic) and Steven (Melrose Arch Criterium). According to Thula “We’ve learned so much form them, especially Nolan. It is great to have the full team racing.”
In the near future he has his sights set on a podium at the 94.7 Joburg Cycle Challenge: “I will aim for the podium. As I junior I did well with top 5 finishes and in recent I’ve not been able to take part due to calendar clashes – but this year we have a very strong team with Thokozani, Nolan (Hoffman), Dawid (Maree) and Steven van Heerden”. We still need to settle on the race tactics, but I believe in myself and I want to do well there”. We know that the 2019 Herald Cycle Tour winner Nolan Hoffman is also eyeing a win, and after picking up a win at the 2019 Tour of Durban, Steven van Heerden is also a contender. Thula thus has his work cut out!
Thula is a prime example of how cycling can positively impact young kids in townships around South Africa, both from a financial as well as psychological perspective : “Cycling means the world to me. I experienced so much through cycling that would never have been possible. Thanks to cycling I can do what I love for a living, meet new people and experience new things. Its simply amazing and I’m forever grateful.”
In wrapping up our conversation we turn to cycling development in South Africa: “My honest view is that I think its going great. There are a lot of teams now competing, also at continental level. We even have aims to become a Conti team ourselves. The youngsters are coming through and getting exposure. In the townships there are also some positives – even though they can always do with more sponsorships. My club PBC are trying to fund us by their own means and doing a good job, but they can always do more if they get more funding. When sponsorship was behind Medscheme, that programme really did well, so hopefully we can see something like that again. Elsewhere in the country I’m also excited to see what is happening at Velokhaya and Bonga. At PBC we also have a great development team of 6-7 riders, they train with us pros and are coming on very well. So yes, I’m very positive about the future”