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Analysis: World Cycling Center builds champions in South Africa

  • By Gregor Brown
  • Published Nov. 27, 2012
JP Van Zyl, director of the UCI's World Cycling Center in South Africa, hugs riders after a Tour of Rwanda stage win. Photo: Gregor Brown | VeloNews.com

KIGALI, Rwanda (VN) — The future of cycling is brewing in South Africa at the UCI’s World Cycling Center. With focus on the Lance Armstrong doping scandal and allegations of corruption, to find that the governing body’s investment in Africa is paying off is refreshing news.

“This was all because of [UCI President] Pat McQuaid to be honest with you,” JP Van Zyl, the director of the cycling center, told VeloNews. “All of the bad publicity he gets at the moment… but we are here today because of what he did.”

Van Zyl saw his young diamonds in the rough, each 18 to 23 years old, nearly dominate the recent Tour of Rwanda. Merhawi Kudus, 18, from Eritrea, won a stage and nearly the overall classification. Meron Amanuel, 22, and also from Eritrea, won two stages. Prior to the race, the riders had just completed a three-month training camp in South Africa at the UCI-funded center.

Others have already gone through the program and on to success. Eritrean Daniel Teklehaymanot became the first black African to join a first division team, Orica-GreenEdge, and in August, the first to race a grand tour when he started the Vuelta a España. Rwandan Adrien Niyonshuti developed under Van Zyl’s eye and joined South Africa’s MTN-Qhubeka team. Next year, MTN will base itself in Italy and race some of Europe’s biggest races.

“The African center is the best and I grew up in that center,” Niyonshuti told VeloNews. “All the African riders are growing up there, with JP Van Zyl. Daniel Teklehaymanot, who’s riding for GreenEdge, [Eritrean] Natnael Berhane who will ride for Europcar, [Ethiopian] Tsgabu Grmay who is with me in MTN.”

South Africa’s Van Zyl raced on the track and briefly on the road. He won several medals in the 2001 continental championships, but the lack of competition got him thinking. After a proposal and talks, he convinced McQuaid to fund a center in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

The center receives $100,000 annually from the UCI and, next year, additional funds from MTN. Instead of three months, it will be able to host 12 to 13 riders for nearly 11 months in the 2013 season. The longer period allows Van Zyl to hire six staff members and to better prepare the riders for their next step: the UCI’s cycling center at its headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland.

Van Zyl explained, “They will be ready to go to a professional team, they will be able to record the training for the day, to have the feeling of the training, to follow a program, to go on the internet and give everything that is needed to progress to the coach.”

About five of his riders will graduate to the UCI’s Swiss center. Thanks to MTN’s funding, Van Zyl will travel with the other riders to train and race for six weeks next summer, basing with the pro team in Lucca, Italy.

With Teklehaymanot in the Vuelta, Berhane with Europcar, and Kudus nearly winning the Tour of Rwanda, Van Zyl’s work and the UCI’s funding is paying off and developing African champions.

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown

Bikes kept Gregor Brown out of trouble growing up in Oklahoma — BMX, freestyle and then watching Greg LeMond's Tour de France wins on CBS television's weekend highlights shows. The drama of the 1998 Tour, however, truly drew him into the fold. With a growing curiosity in European races and lifestyle, he followed his heart and established camp on Lake Como's shores in 2004. Brown has been following the Giro, the Tour and every major race in Europe since 2006. He will tell you it is about the "race within the race" – punching out the news and running to finish – but he loves a proper dinner, un piatto tipico ed un vino della zona.

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