Nic Dlamini will not be in the peloton when the 2021 Tour de France resumes on Tuesday. A crash left him chasing the race for most of Sunday’s stage to Tignes but he ultimately finished outside of the time limit and so was excluded from the race.
Yet Dlamini has already won his own personal Tour de France just by escaping from the Capricorn Park township of Cape Town, by turning professional with Qhubeka NextHash, and then by becoming the first Black South African to start cycling’s biggest race.
His Tour de France may be over for this year but he is just getting started as a professional rider and especially as a role model for other Black riders and those growing up in townships or facing huge challenges, who hope to find a way to improve their lives.
Dlamini was bitterly disappointed to finish outside of the time limit in Tignes. He could have climbed off during the mountain stage but he fought on and crossed the finish line an hour and a half after stage winner Ben O’Connor.
Race commissaries occasionally consider special circumstances and allow a rider to continue in a race despite finishing outside the time cut. But with Dlamini losing so much time, they had little choice but to list him as OTL (Outside Time Limit) in the official results.
"Yesterday was brutal; rain, cold and a crash just colluded to make it extra difficult on an already tough stage. Despite knowing I was out of the time limit, I was determined to finish the stage and honour the world’s most prestigious race," Dlamini said during the rest day, his story and his personal battle capturing massive admiration and attention.
"I knew the chances of making it were slim and I saw other guys getting into team cars but I wanted to keep going and make it to the finish. I’ve since asked myself why I didn’t climb into the car too but I wanted to respect my sport, honour my team and honour my dream of trying to finish the Tour. Not climbing into the team car will now always be one of the things I’ll be proud of."
Dlamini can be proud of a lot of his achievements. He is a superb role model and proud of his journey. Despite suffering on Sunday and now being out of the race, he focused on the good memories and the change he has inspired.
"It’s been an incredible two weeks and, considering where I come from and being the first Black South African, that has changed a lot of people’s lives in South Africa and inspired a lot of people in South Africa and even internationally," he said.
"I’m really happy to have this opportunity and I really hope it doesn’t stop here but that it can carry on inspiring a lot of young riders at home and in Africa to keep dreaming and not to hold back on those dreams.
"I was thinking about that yesterday as I pushed on. If you ride your bike for a greater purpose, you somehow find extra motivation in what you’re doing. That kept me going and got me to the finish."
Dlamini had received massive support from South Africa, even getting a motivating video call from the Springboks rugby captain Siya Kolisi before the start in Brest.
He was the only Black rider in this year’s Tour de France but readily spoke about racism in professional cycling and his own life during the first week of the race. He highlighted the need for diversity in the sport with maturity and leadership.
Last year, Kevin Reza of B&B Hotels rode the Tour de France and deplored the lack of solidarity in cycling in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement in an interview with Cyclingnews.
Reza, a native of Versailles, resident of the Vendée and son of Guadeloupean parents, helped spark a low-key stance against racism before the final stage of the 2020 Tour de France to Paris, with some riders writing ‘No to racism’ message on the COVID-19 face masks they wore before starting to race. However, the stance was considered far too little from a near totally white peloton.
Reza has announced he plans to retire at the end of the season but Dlamini is ready to continue his cause. Fortunately, he has the support of the likes of African-raised Chris Froome, Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, and others.
"Racism is something that is there and we'd like to do more to make sure there's no such thing as racism," Dlamini told Cyclingnews and several other media at the Tour de France before finishing out of the time limit on Sunday.
"From a personal perspective, I've been lucky not to experience any of it. We don’t tolerate racism in our team."
Finishing the job
He is doing his part by being a positive role model for people, who, like him, had to fight to emerge from the discrimination and poverty of the townships.
"There's been a lot of support back home and it's changed people's lives," he said of his presence at the Tour de France.
"It brought a lot of hope to youngsters back home. I hope it continues to inspire the kids in the townships to dream even bigger. There's always obstacles if you come from a township. Just being able to afford a bike is a problem because cycling is an expensive sport and there aren’t many sponsors.
"I think the Tour de France is the perfect platform to encourage a lot of kids in the townships that have similar backgrounds to me. That’s whether they’re doing sport, or academics. I hope it encourages them to work hard. I hope my legacy when I retire is that other kids get better opportunities than I had and go on to ride the Tour de France too."
Dlamini had avoided the big crashes in the early stages and was hoping to get into a breakaway, with the ultimate dream of winning a stage. He had hoped to ride into Paris on Mandela Day as the first Black South African to complete the Tour de France.
Reaching Paris is his new goal for 2022.
"Now I’m really excited to come back in the future," he said.
"I’ve got a real taste for the Tour de France, I really want to come back and finish off the job and inspire the people all over again."
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