Towards A Brighter Future
The Exxaro Special Jersey Race has provided 79 teams with the opportunity to race the Absa Cape Epic, since its introduction in 2012. This has created the platform for riders to chase dreams of racing professionally but, more importantly, provided life-experiences money cannot buy.
Often, the success of development programmes is measured solely in terms of their elite athlete output. This neglects the reality that only a very few of a group of talented young athletes will ever make the transition to being a professional. In the UK’s football academy programme, for example, a 2021 report suggested that of the children who entered the academy system at the age of 9 only 0.5% ended up making a living from football.
With that sobering fact in mind, it is essential that the development programme teams which contest the Exxaro Special Jersey race focus their efforts as much on education and life-skills as they do on cycling. For every Phillimon Sebona, who backed up his Exxaro Special Jersey successes with a career as a professional rider for PYGA Euro Steel, and Jan Monsthioa who raced on the road as a pro, there are riders like Azukile Simayile, whose cycling career peaked when he hoisted the Lwandiso Njara designed trophy.
However, success need not be quantified solely by results on the bike, and that is perfectly fine.
While some riders may make the jump to racing as professionals after claiming the win in the Exxaro Special Jersey competition, the more likely outcome is that they will utilise the lessons learnt through the sport of cycling to carve out better lives for themselves than they otherwise may have.
Sport in general and the two-rider team dynamic of mountain bike stage racing teaches persistence, teamwork, patience, personal accountability and trust in the process of training. It is for this reason that the Exxaro Mountain Bike Academy, which initially focused on training riders to partake in the Absa Cape Epic for the mining conglomerate, has expanded to include a life-skills and educational programme, too with each rider having an individual development plan (IDP). Phillimon and Jan are both great examples, once again, as they are now mentors and coaches at Cycle2Ride, a Curro Holdings initiative. Double Exxaro Special Jersey winner, Tshepo Tlou also forms part of this expanded programme. As the manager of the Exxaro MTB Academy team his is an active mentorship role, while learning new skills himself too.
Lucky Mlangeni and Tshepo Tlou in the Exxaro Special Jersey during Stage 1 of the 2019 Absa Cape Epic
“The Exxaro Mountain Bike Academy teaches independence, resilience, consistency, integrity and fosters the creation of a caring community” Tlou explained. “We want graduates to be able to take responsibility for their futures, and also to support their teammates toward making positive choices. They also need to learn resilience, which is one of the key attributes that mountain biking teaches through set-backs like mechanicals and crashes, and that consistency pays off. The graduates should also display integrity. The old-fashioned code-of-conduct which governs good sportsmanship should extend beyond the bike and racing to all aspects of the graduates’ lives.”
Tlou’s graduates will undoubtedly be among the favourites for the 2021 Exxaro Special Jersey title. While success on the bike will define their Absa Cape Epic campaign, the lessons learnt through cycling will have greater impact on the rest of their lives. Each small lesson, compounding and combining to have a life-changing benefit; thanks to Exxaro and the development in mountain biking they have been sponsoring for the last 10 years.
The old-fashioned code-of-conduct which governs good sportsmanship should extend beyond the bike and racing to all aspects of the graduates’ lives.
During the 2019 Absa Cape Epic, the Exxaro Special Jersey traded hands a total of four times. Lucky Mlangeni and Tshepo Tlou were the final wearers at the finish in Val de Vie.