Nicholas Dlamini took another huge pedal stroke on his journey from a shack in a Cape Town township, to becoming the first black South African to ride in the Tour de France this week when he joined Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s World Tour team.
The dream that first took shape when he began riding just nine years ago has driven the 21-year-old, raised in the Capricorn settlement in Muizenburg. He is regarded as the next ‘big thing’ to come out of Africa, having earned high praise from cycling legend Steven Roche, among many others.
‘It’s really an amazing feeling to finally be part of our World Tour team,’ said Dlamini, who will be a stagiaire with the World Tour team until the end of the season, and will be a part of the squad for 2018. ‘I’ve always dreamed of being part of this team. Everything just feels unreal at the moment with all the good opportunities I’m getting.
‘I’d like to thank the Continental team for having my best interests at heart. It’s been really an incredible three years with them. I’m ready to take on the world now.’
Dlamini has made the most of his opportunities in his career thus far. As a 17-year old, he was challenging experienced professionals in the Cape Rouleur in the Western Cape. In June, he won the King of the Mountains category at the Under-23 Giro d’Italia, a first for an African. Dreams are built on reality, and Dlamini has shown he is the real thing.
‘This team was built on a dream, and to see a young rider like Nicholas, who came from limited means and opportunities to succeed and make it as a neo pro rider in Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka is truly special to witness,’ said Doug Ryder, team principal of Team Dimension Data. ‘Nic has big dreams and has worked so hard to realise his dreams, focusing first on getting through school and then on his passion of riding his bike.’
Team Dimension Data’s Bernie Eisel, one of the most experienced riders on the World Tour, believes Dlamini has all the attributes to be a complete rider. ‘I spent the last two winters with him in training and he is an absolute professional and has a stunning character,’ said Eisel. ‘He can climb well, but he is super-fast in a sprint too. With a bit of leadership from everyone else in the team, learning from our experience, Nic will shine in the coming years, I have no doubt. I can’t wait to race with him.
‘When you see where he comes from and understand his background, you begin to realise how much hard work it took for this young man to make it to the pros, and he did it all with a smile on his face.’
Dlamini has been supported by a series of mentors, from Sipho Mona of Velokhaya, the Khayelitsha cycling organisation, the JAG Foundation, Vanessa Sandes, the actress and model, and her husband Ryan, ultra-distance trail runner Sven Thiele of Hot Chillee Events, JP van Zyl of the UCI’s Africa development hub, Ben Swift, the British Olympian and world champion, Laureus Sport for Good organisation, and, through his foundation, by Elton John, the legendary pop singer.
Another observer full of praise was Roche, former Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and world champion: ‘I first met Nicolas in 2013 at the Cape Rouler event in SA, a 4-day Cycle with some top international cyclists and a few professionals. Each stage had a yellow section or race section of about 25km, where we all fought it out for the leader’s yellow jersey, a green points jersey and a polka-dot mountain jersey.
‘After day two, myself and Karl Platt (top professional mountain bike and road race cyclist) noticed that this young local cyclist was still in contention for the yellow leader’s jersey. I asked him his name and he politely answered Nicholas Dlamini. Asked him his age and he said almost 18. I asked him to repeat and he answered ‘almost 18 years old, sir’.
‘He was riding a very heavy bike, which he told me he had got on loan from a friend to ride the event. What impressed me most, was that he was everywhere, in the sprints, in the mountains, in the cross-winds fighting with hard, seasoned top cyclists and still fighting in the final sprint for the leader’s yellow jersey at the finish.
‘Nicholas had impressed everybody with his sense of tactics, his style, his attitude not being intimidated by the big older Pros, but always respecting them. Since 2013 I have followed Nicolas’ career and his success on and off the bike, and this young gentleman is a true champion in the making and an ambassador for his country.’
‘I am so proud of Nic,’ said JP van Zyl. ‘When I think of him and our time together, he was running a tight schedule between studying, training, learning to drive, and racing like a star and, most of all, I could always count on him as the best role model and ambassador for our team.’
‘Nic is incredibly fortunate to have the most amazing influencers and mentors in his life, but that talks to his character, his values, his bright, open and welcoming face that is always engaging,’ said Ryder.
‘It is so rewarding to see Nic graduate from our UCI continental development team into the 1st division of cycling. It shows how important the development programme of Team Dimension Data is, and why we race to mobilise more people on bicycles through the Qhubeka charity.
‘The charity is a hand-up programme, where bicycles are earned and not just handed out. We wish Nic all the best, as he embarks on the biggest challenge of his young sporting life.’
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