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Songo charity: From nothing to something

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Christoph Sauser shares his love of cycling.

Christoph Sauser shares his love of cycling. (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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A young boy watches the action.

A young boy watches the action. (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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A young boy rides

A young boy rides (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Bright red jerseys thanks to Specialized.

Bright red jerseys thanks to Specialized. (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Ready, set, go!

Ready, set, go! (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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This group benefits from the Songo.info charity.

This group benefits from the Songo.info charity. (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Specialized Factory Racing teammates Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser.

Specialized Factory Racing teammates Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser. (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Time for a break

Time for a break (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Local children in Kayamandi

Local children in Kayamandi (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Kayamandi in South Africa

Kayamandi in South Africa (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Smiles all around

Smiles all around (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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A young girl rides a BMX bike.

A young girl rides a BMX bike. (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Specialized provided some gear for the charity.

Specialized provided some gear for the charity. (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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This lucky kid gets a ride on the bars of World Champion Christoph Sauser.

This lucky kid gets a ride on the bars of World Champion Christoph Sauser. (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Riding a bicycle is like driving a Ferrari for these kids who have very few material possessions.

Riding a bicycle is like driving a Ferrari for these kids who have very few material possessions. (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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A group ride in South Africa

A group ride in South Africa (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)
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Christoph Sauser rides with the kids

Christoph Sauser rides with the kids (Image credit: Karin Schermbrucker and Gary Perkin)

South Africa and more directly Stellenbosch, a small town in the Winelands near Cape Town, has been my second home since winter training commenced there in 1997. Over the years, I have built a fond history with this town, making great training, memories and friends along the way. South Africa is a beautiful country, but also has disparities, with many poor people who lack the opportunities we sometimes take for granted, living there.

I first witnessed this upon visiting a township near Stellenbosch called Kayamandi. I saw a house, better described as a shack, where 25 people sleep inside in compartments. Everybody must be in their compartment by 10:00 pm, because the kids must sleep on the floor & nobody can go in or out once in position. This definitely struck a chord with me and made me appreciate what I have, but also, what others did not have.

It all started in 2008 with The Cape Epic, one of the world's largest mountain bike stage races and my hopeful entry into the race itself. With the goal of entering the race and in essence finding a partner, also came the story of riding for a charity, the creation of our own charity and the movement around bringing cycling to The Kayamandi Township in Stellenbosch. In Burry Stander, I found the perfect partner. He was then a GT team rider and is now my teammate at Specialized.

Starting your own charity is a challenge and one that proved tougher than I ever imagined, but having seen the poor kids' living conditions in Kayamandi, a fire burned deep inside me to make it work! I am always a positive thinker, and this helped me again, by coincidence or not, to find the very best people to get ideas and support in order to start this charity. At a dinner on a wine farm, I met Songo Fipaza and heard of the need for sport in the Kayamandi township of Stellenbosch. Songo mentioned that a BMX facility would bring so much to the underprivileged kids. With the name Songo, also came the name for the charity.

It may sound easy, but there were big steps we had to go through. Luckily, with the JAG foundation, a reputable South African Charity we found a good partner, who was already established with running a program in Kayamandi. Their infrastructure and manpower was and still is a great benefit, coupled with former South African mountain bike Olympian Erica Green, who helped so much with the building of the BMX track. She guided the diggers around perfectly.

Within four months from Songo's conception to implementation, we raised enough money to build a BMX Track and associated program, plus we received 50 BMX Bikes from Specialized. Not bad!

One year later in 2009, with the support of Specialized, we donated 25 mountain bikes, plus employed Mr.Songo full time. The kids now have the opportunity to ride BMX bikes, and mountain bikes, plus they have been traveling to races and other fun events. Think back to the 25 people all sleeping together in a shack. For one of these kids who were sleeping on the floor, riding their nice new bike is like owning a Ferrari.

We are a super slim organization, where all the donated money goes straight into the charity. At the moment times are tough, but I hope you, the cycling community, can help us to continue to put smiles on these kids' faces. Every little donation is more then welcome. So little can really make a change. For full information on how to donate please take the time to visit www.songo.info.

We have also created a cool movie on the project, which gives a great appreciation for what has been already achieved, plus coverage of the Songo teams during the Cape-Epic. You cannot miss out on watching them at http://songo.info/videos

Two weeks ago, I enjoyed a free racing weekend, which meant I wasn't just hanging out by the lake. I had an awesome freeride trip from Italy to home. I got to know a few brand new corners of the beautiful Alps, plus put many riding hours into my legs. More about this trip next time!.

It has been a big training block for me over the past two weeks with the (Swiss National Series) Racers Cup in Einsiedeln on top of it. I was very happy with my second place, although my first couple of laps, I went as slow as a snail. I think my head was also "hurting" from racing after that big training block, but then my race toughness and spirit took over.

Now I am more then ready to take it easy for a week until Swiss Champs in Chur. This city is located on the foothills of big mountains, where we have a triple (cross country, downhill, four cross) championship, which hasn't happened for many years. I am really looking forward to it!

Thanks for reading!

Christoph

[Editor's note:  The Swiss Championships took place over the weekend of July 4-5.  See Cyclingnews' coverage here.]

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Former mountain bike world champion Christoph Sauser has a lengthy palmares, including multiple Cape Epic victories. The Swiss rider is blogging for Cyclingnews from the South African stage race in 2017, providing insight into his experience and the race overall.