Africa’s cycling talents set up base at World Cycling Centre
Cyclists from the World Cycling Centre’s (WCC) African satellite in Potchefstroom, South Africa, are increasingly in demand from professional teams.
“The fight has started,” says the Director of the World Cycling Centre in Africa, Jean-Pierre Van Zyl. “I regularly have agents calling me. We can’t produce them (the athletes) quick enough. They are being taken by teams.”
And if the man who founded the WCC’s African satellite 10 years ago is delighted by the increasing recognition and success of his riders, he is under no illusions as to the enormity of the transition the athletes must make when they sign with a professional team.
“It’s a great part of our job to see our riders perform well and sign contracts. But I want to protect them. They need experience if they join a pro team. By coming to Switzerland they get used to the European culture, food, mentality and of course racing.”
The group of 14 currently at the WCC in Aigle, Switzerland, hail from Egypt, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania. They are training with the centre’s resident trainees, and above all racing.
“In Africa racing is quite scarce,” explains Van Zyl. Over here they have a schedule of racing every weekend, either in Switzerland or France.”
The young riders have more and more role models from the continent who have signed professional contracts. The most recent, who signed on July 1st, are Janvier Hadi (Rwanda) who joins UCI Continental team Garneau Québecor and South African Nicholas Dougall (MTN-Qhubeka). Meanwhile Bona Venture (Rwanda) has joined the feeder team for Team Europecar, Vendée U.
At MTN Qhubeka, Dougall joins another of Potchefstroom’s success stories Merhawi Kudus, who won “best young rider” at last month’s 2.1 event Route du Sud – la Dépêche du Midi. The Eritrean will be at the start of the UCI WorldTour’s Vuelta a España on August 23rd, his biggest challenge to date.
Aiming for professional contract
To ride in the UCI WorldTour for a professional team is also the aim of Tanzanian Richard Laizer, who has been based at the WCC’s African satellite since 2012 and is training in Switzerland for the second year running.
“It is good for us to train here,” says the 25-year-old athlete. “We have races every weekend and the competition is very tough. I like riding against strong riders who have more experience. It is difficult in Europe but we are used to it.”
On leaving the WCC in Aigle at the end of next month Laizer and some of his fellow athletes from Potchefstroom will head to Brazil for the Tour de Rio. Others have different objectives, such as Juniors Youssef Mohamed Eleiwa Helal and Mohamed Ayman Elsayed Imam, recently qualified to represent Egypt at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing (CHN).
The Egyptians are at the WCC in Switzerland with two of their country’s female riders Ebtissam Zayed Ahmed Mohamed and Menatalla Essam Ragab Morsy, who made waves with their 1st and 3rd places in the African Youth Games road race in Botswana.
Soon these riders will benefit from a second WCC satellite in Egypt, a project that has Government backing and financial support from the Ministry of Sport.
“The Government has been hugely supportive, and we will provide the tools, the staff and the training programmes,” say Jean-Pierre Van-Zyl. “There is a demand for another training centre in Africa and this fits in with our need to develop cycling in East Africa and the Middle East.”
Back row from left to right: Isiaka Cisse (Côte d’Ivoire), Ivan Venter (South Africa), Oliver Stapleton Cotton (South Africa), Jean Bosco Nsengimana (Rwanda) and Richard Laizer (Tanzania). Front row form left to right: Graeme Ockhuis (South Africa) and Costa Seibeb (Namibia).