South African mountain biking is currently riding on a high with the likes of Burry Stander (MR Price Specialized), Kevin Evans (MTN Energade) and the fresh prince of big air Greg Minnaar consistently performing on both the local and international scene.
Current under 23 world champ Burry Stander is setting the world alight carrying the South African flag and setting the bar for others to follow. His recent performance at the ABSA Cape Epic and his win at the Sea Otter proved his versatility and raw talent. The question everyone is asking though is what is being done to get other riders on his level and use his example to catapult South African Mountain Biking into the “big time”.
The unprecedented success fairytale Kevin Evans has been enjoying so far this year can also be attributed to the vision and efficacy of the MTN National Series. The Ultra Marathon platform helped provide local riders with a solid base for preparation on an international standard through proper sync with the international calendar. This is exactly where the “powers that be” in mountain biking are on to something and intend taking this even further.
The new management behind mountain biking have formed a new strategic committee consisting of influential race organizers, top professionals and key role players in the sport to represent the sport as a whole and formulate a strategic plan. Speaking to some of the professionals in the sport this move is a breath of fresh air. What makes this exciting is that for the first time this plan will be made public for all to see and measure it against the results. This also ensures that all aspects of the sport is covered and represented in decision making, according to Andrew Nicholson (the new Director of MTB for CyclingSA). He went on to say that guidance will be provided to quite literally all work in the same direction, from recreation all the way up to high performance.
Earlier this week saw the first meeting of this “brains trust” take place. The pessimists out there doomed the meeting saying you are placing rivals and even enemies in the same room it can only end badly. The result of the meeting was a consolidated pull in the same direction for the greater good of the sport with a clear implementation strategy. Nicholson went further to say “I have yet to find the bad guys in the sport, everyone here had every intention to work together and improve go to new heights”.
From an Olympic and naturally funding (marketable) perspective the high performance side of the sport needs to be world class. In simple terms we need to be medal contenders or don’t bother. The more riders we have achieving international success the more money will flow into the sport on all levels making it more visible to the general public at the same time. It is clear to see why this is so important.
The high performance aspect of the sport will looked after by proper planning of the calendar and guidance to race organizers to assist in achieving our goals as a nation on the international scene. This will be done in such a way as not to alienate the exponentially growing base of riders that enjoy our sport nor the organizers that make their living out of it.
Nicholson said “some of the other changes that you can expect will include regular newsletters will be sent in future to help generate awareness and build general interest. This will also greatly help keeping everyone informed as to exactly what is happening behind the scenes as well as keeping an eye on our top performers internationally as well.”
“The seeding and results systems is a big item on the agenda that is being addressed from top level. Another exciting development is the appointment of a full time general manager that will assist with the day to day operational tasks, also something we have not had in the past.”
Nicholson summed it up by saying “we will keep you posted with all the developments here so watch this space! We are here to better our sport so hang on to your seats and enjoy the ride”.