Future Star

Exxaro Jersey Highlights

The addition of an Exxaro Jersey competition within Wines2Whales has provided hints of who to watch five months later at the Absa Cape Epic. Though the 2023 Exxaro champions in the Classic status Epic Series event are likely to challenge beyond the competition specifically for riders from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. This is especially true for Damon Terblanche, who has the look of an athlete who could follow in the footsteps of Sipho Madolo, Phillimon Sebona and William Mokgopo…

At 22 years old, Terblanche is only six years into his cycling career. Yet, he has already won the Exxaro and Amateur Jerseys, alongside his Fairtree DP World Cannondale teammate Kusaselihle Ngidi, at the 2023 Wines2Whales Shiraz event. This victory marked Terblanche as a rider to watch. It was the Knysna cycling community’s support for the young man from Dam se Bos which highlighted his strengths as a human, off the bike, and showcased why he will go.

After a disastrous Dr Evil Classic, where he and Zeandro Jordaan endured two days of punctures and running bikes to the finish, in 2022 Terblanche was gifted a brand-new bike at the Lions Karoo to Coast. Fellow Knysna resident, Ryan Habib had won a bike in a social media competition but elected to give his prize to Terblanche.

“I made the decision during the race; it was something that I wanted to do and it really wasn't a difficult decision to make. My bike was also bought as a gift for me, so I just wanted to pay it forward. I probably have 'too much bike' for my ability, and then you get Damon [Terblanche] who has absolutely amazing ability but not necessarily the bike to match it. So, I wanted to give him a bike that could match his incredible ability, and help him develop even further," Habib explained at the time.

Since then Terblanche has gone on to represent South Africa at the African Continental Championships, where he placed fifth in the XCO race, in the Under 23 competition, and join the Fairtree DP World Cannondale team. The Stellenbosch based development squad won the Exxaro competition, at the Absa Cape Epic, in 2021 and are eager to regain that title with Terblanche and Ngidi in 2024. Three months out from the twentieth edition of the Untamed African Mountain Bike race we chatted to Terblanche about his cycling career thus far…

Absa Cape Epic: Tell us about how you got into cycling.

Damon Terblanche: I was introduced to cycling by a friend when I was 16 years old. I fell in love with the freedom that riding a bicycle gave me. I fell in love with the sport and the lessons it taught me, so I kept on riding.

ACE: The Knysna Sport Academy clearly played a big role in your development as a young rider. Tell us about your time at the academy, what you learnt there and how they aided your personal and cycling development?

DT: The Knysna Sport Academy did a lot for me and I'm truly grateful for that. The Sport Academy’s programme keeps youngsters occupied and off the streets during the afternoons. Kids can come to the Academy, borrow bikes, train as a group in the afternoons. If there are local bike races on weekends, the Academy identifies riders that can participate in the races.

This gave me purpose to train, and to stay off the streets and out of trouble. After I finished matric, the sport school appointed me as a cycling coach, and I also assist as a cricket coach at some of the local schools in Knysna.

If it was not for the Academy and cycling, I don't know where I would have ended up in life, but I can promise you it would not have been in a great place. The Academy became like my home away from home and the people there, are like my second family. They always try to help us where they can. Since Covid, the Academy is struggling financially, but the Knysna community are trying their best to keep it open but! I hope and pray that the Sport School will stay open for the ‘next me’ who will achieve even greater things in life.

ACE: Since joining Absolute Motion in 2020 you've gone from strength to strength, what have you learnt there and how has that set you up for the next phase of your career?

DT: This is a bit like a fairytale… During COVID, when there was no school sport and no organised activities at the Knysna Sport Academy, I started riding with the Absolute Motion Club in Knysna. That is how I met my coach.

Later that year, during the Lions Karoo2Coast race, one of the local teachers in Knysna, Mr Ryan Habib won a SCOTT bicycle at the Lucky Draw. Mr Habib donated the brand-new bicycle to me! For the first time ever, I had my very own bike to train and race on! Absolute Motion is even insuring the bike for me!

At Absolute Motion I learnt a lot about structured training and recovery. I learnt that you cannot always train ‘hard. One should train ‘smart’. I learned how to train, recover, how to fuel your body,

and most importantly, to have fun even when you’re racing. I learned about sportsmanship, to respect your competition, to respect your bike.

My coach then nominated me to be included in the Eden High Performance Academy of Sport. Through the Eden Academy I had access to some mental performance coaching, helping me to up my mental game, and assisting me to access strength and condition training too. To be honest I believe that I have the greatest coach in the world she is not just a coach for me she is also like a mother that always believes in me when I doubt myself, and I know she always prays for me.

ACE: In 2023 you raced SA and the African Continental Champs, how did those experiences motivate you, or point out where you need to put in more work?

DT: To be honest, I didn’t believe that I earned my place to be there, so I had no choice than to give my best, and a little extra! I’m grateful for Eden Cycling Association that nominated me to attend a UCI Africa Training Camp the week before AFCON. I’m grateful for Cycling South Africa, who offered this opportunity to me. The fact that I could attend the UCI training camp, made that I had the opportunity to familiarise myself with the track and the conditions the week before the race, so that I was not so much intimidated by the technical features on the XCO track.

During the race, it was so hard, I wanted to give up after the first three laps because everything was in pain, but had to make my mother, my coach Marike Vreken, my family, and the boys at the Academy proud. I had to make all of them proud. Giving up, wasn’t an option.

I pushed through the pain, and finished in fifth place at my first Afcon Championship and I'm super motivated for the next one. I’m always working hard and trust my coach, and I believe that she knows best and that she will get me in the best shape on race day. If I then don’t do to well, it’s on me, and I need to find the problem, fix it, and if I can’t, I ask for help, and focus on the next race. My approach is to not fuss about the past, learn from it, put it behind me, and to focus on the next challenge.

ACE: You joined up with the Fairtree DP World Cannondale Team ahead of Wines2Whales. How did that come about?

DT: After AFCON, Fairtree approached me and invited me to join their team, to help them win the Exxaro Jersey at W2W. At first, I was doubtful, because I was not very familiar with stage racing. But I spoke to my coach, and she said I must jump at the opportunity, and she changed the focus of my training to prepare for stage racing.

I’m really grateful for this fantastic opportunity with the Fairtree DP World Cannondale team, as it is opening new doors and new opportunities for me. I’m grateful for the professionalism of the team, and the fantastic support on and off the bike. I’m getting to know new friends, with similar goals. All in all, it’s a great positive environment where we strive to become better versions of ourselves.

ACE: Tell us about your Wines2Whales experience, was it a surprise to with both the Amateur and the Exxaro jerseys, and to finish 16th overall ahead of three Elite Teams?

DT: It was indeed a surprise, because I was not feeling myself at W2W. I was strong, but because I struggled to eat breakfast so early in the morning, my body was not as strong as I wanted it to be, but I nevertheless enjoyed every kilometre of the race. Winning the jerseys was just an added bonus for me. As long as I can race and test my boundaries, I’m happy.

ACE: What is your goal for the 2024 ABSA Cape Epic?

DT: It will be my first Epic. Our focus is not the Exxaro jersey, but I want to gain as much experience as possible, and enjoy each and every moment that the Epic throws at us.

ACE: What have you decided about the STADIO or Curro bursaries, are you studying anything, or giving them to a family member?

DT: I haven’t decided yet. I’m interested in doing a sports management course.

ACE: How has cycling changed your life and what do you think racing the Absa Cape Epic will do to continue that positive journey.

DT: Yes, cycling changed my life for the better, no doubt about that! But you need to be open to accept the challenges and curve balls that cycling throws at you. I can now be a role model in my community, showing the youngsters in my community that there is more to life than drugs and alcohol. If one is prepared to work hard, one can do something meaningful with your life, and inspire others too. It will be fantastic if I could bring the Exxaro jersey home to Knysna, and in so doing set an example and exhibit a beacon of hope for other youngsters in my community.

Knysna Sport Academy

The Knysna Sport Academy has helped hundreds of children from the impoverished communities in and around Knysna find positives in life through sport. If you would like to help them help the next generation of children follow in Damon Terblanche’s footsteps or pursue sporting goals off the bike follow them on Facebook: Knysna Sport Academy. From there you can reach out to make a donation or volunteer your time.