Riding the dream
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A dirt track straddled by a stack of converted shipping containers sits in a small corner of Khayelitsha. It’s a place where every day about 100 riders from the surrounding community gather to talk shop and race bikes.
The Velokhaya Life Cycle Academy – or just Velokhaya to its members – was founded in 2003 and has become an outlet for children and young adults from disadvantaged communities to get on to road bikes, mountain bikes and BMXs to learn essential skills.
Last Monday afternoon, the academy’s sun-flooded grounds were buzzing with excitement. It was only two weeks until the big day and training opportunities were thinning out.
About 80 of the academy’s members will take part in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, setting off in a large peloton on Sunday. The event has become a highlight for the club’s members who race throughout the year in time trials, leagues and big events.
Leaning on his bike outside one of the academy’s offices, Shaun Doch, 20, says he is excited to be taking part.
“We ride as a team and it gives us a chance to learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I would like to speed ahead, but we need to help each other out and make sure the slower riders make it to the end with us.”
Doch always wanted to cycle, but it was only in 2008, once he had matriculated, that he found time to ride and join the academy. Five years later, this will be Doch’s third Cycle Tour.
The eager cyclist admits he looks forward to the suffering of climbing and that the big event never fails to deliver. “I really enjoyed Boyes Drive and I will miss it,” he says, laughing. “It’s always just the strongest riders left and we compete as we go up.”
Cycling started as a hobby but now it has escalated to something he desperately wants to develop. Doch says he can be found training almost every day – throwing himself at hills and straights. Part of what is driving him is the chance to become a seeded rider and join the academy’s racing elite.
“At the moment, because I ride with my team, I manage a five-hour time. But if I could speed ahead I would probably easily do it in under three-and-a-half hours,” he says.
Fellow rider Siphamandla Poto not only shares Doch’s love of climbs but actually laughs at some of the challenges he will be facing.
Chapman’s Peak is a joke,” says the confident cyclist. “It’s so easy.”
Poto says during training sessions he often rides from the township to Stellenbosch and back again. Even though he has been riding for only three years he is already looking to improve dramatically on his time of six hours.
But out of all the budding cyclists at the academy, nobody comes more recommended than 15-year-old Anita Zenani. Ever since she first got onto a BMX in 2010 she has been finishing in pole positions in time trials and showdowns on the dirt track. That year she finished sixth in the BMX World Championships in South Africa.
She took up road cycling for a change in scenery. And while she is a natural flying over dirt ramps and whizzing around corners, she says she’s always struggled in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour.
She says she felt deflated when she saw climbs like Boyes Drive and Suikerbossie. And if it were not for her team and the cool atmosphere of cheering crowds and music, she would never make it to the end. But while most of the academy is taking on the 109km route, some of the newer and younger members have settled on doing the junior event the day before. Thadolo Moletsoho, 11, says he is relieved to have another go on the 10km course.
The academy says its members’ biggest achievement has been becoming positive role models in their communities. The most prominent is Luthando Kaka, a graduate of the academy who became the first black South African cyclist to ride as a permanent member of a European team.He is part of Team Bonitas and rides in top global mountain biking events. This year supporters of the Pick n Pay LikeBike+ campaign can raise money for the academy on Pick n Pay’s Facebook page, where virtual currency “Velos” can be earned. The Velos will be converted to cash for Velokhaya.
Customers can also donate via their Smart Shopper card at the kiosk and through signing up to wear a LikeBike+ badge.