Johannesburg - When Nicholas Dlamini heard that he'd been nominated for a Laureus Sports Award, the 23-year-old burst into tears. It wasn't because he'd been nominated for the most prestigious award in sports, but rather from realising how far he had come since his days of struggling in the township of Capricorn Park, in Cape Town.
Dlamini spent most of his life there, an area riddled with crime, low education levels and alcohol and drug abuse problems.
He lived with his mother, his twin sister and two other siblings in a tiny shack. He was the family's breadwinner.
Dlamini had always dreamt of becoming a professional cyclist, but he could never afford it.
“It was really difficult trying to do something you love with no standard equipment at all,” said Dlamini.
“ Also, I didn't have enough food to be able to do good mileage on the bike, so it was a real struggle.”
Despite the challenges, Dlamini pedalled his way through many of the troubles life has thrown at him.
“It was hard not having the resources I needed to hone my skills, but it didn't stop me. I never stopped believing in myself. It has taken and still takes guts, but it's worth all the sweat and tears.”
Today, Dlamini is regarded as the next “big thing” to come out of Africa.
At age of 12, Dlamini got his first bike, started riding and he has not looked back.
For two years, he was part of Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka Continental, and in 2018 he stepped up and was recruited for the World Tour team to join the likes of Mark Cavendish, Daniel Teklehaimanot and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
In January this year, he became the first black South African to wear a leader's jersey at a World Tour race by donning the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. In September, he won the overall King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour of Britain.
This week Dlamini was rewarded for his hard work when he was nominated for a Laureus Sports Award.
The Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka rider was nominated for the November International Laureus Sporting Moment.
Dlamini said he was honoured to have made it as a nominee.
“It's a phenomenal feeling. Just being nominated is a really special feeling, but to win it would be out of this world,” he said.
While it's been an incredibly special year for Dlamini he feels he could still have done far better.
“I've had an outstanding year, but as cyclists, we never really get enough, we always want better results. In my case, I'm happy with my achievements, though I feel I can do better.”
Aside from winning races, Dlamini's exploits in the cycling world have also inspired the community of Capricorn Park.
“It's not just the younger generation that has been inspired, but even my friends I was in school with are inspired. They see that nothing's impossible because I did it in front of them. Now they're working twice as hard. Being a role model to kids from townships and basically leading by example has really been the greatest achievement of my career so far.”
Dlamini has now set his sights on competing at Tour de France.
“I'm heading in the right direction, and if everything goes according to plan I could do the tour soon, like in two years' time or something like that.”