South African mountain biking has been riding on a high with the likes of Burry Stander (MR Price Specialized), Kevin Evans (MTN Energade) and the fresh prince of big air, downhiller Greg Minnaar, consistently performing on both the local and international scenes.
Current under 23 World Champion Stander has been setting the world alight carrying the South African flag and putting the bar for others to follow. His performance at the Cape Epic in March and his win at the Sea Otter Classic in April proved his versatility and raw talent among elite racers worldwide.
The question some have been asking, however, 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 Evans has been enjoying so far this year can 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.
New management behind South African mountain biking has 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 to formulate a strategic plan. For the first time, a plan will be made public for all to see and to measure against results.
"This also ensures that all aspects of the sport are covered and represented in decision making," said Andrew Nicholson, the new Director of Mountain Biking for CyclingSA. Nicholson added that guidance will be provided to guide the recreation through high performance parts of the sport in the same direction.
The first meeting of the new "brain trust" of South African mountain biking met earlier this week. Even with some rivals and enemies in the same room, the result was a consolidated pull in the same direction for the greater good of the sport with a clear implementation strategy.
"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," said Nicholson.
From an Olympic perspective - one that is naturally funding (marketable) - the high performance side of the sport must be world class. In simple terms, nations must produce medal contenders. The more riders 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.
The high performance aspect of the sport in South Africa will looked after by calendar planning and race organizer guidance. The committee aims to accomplish this while not alienating neither the exponentially growing base of riders that enjoy the sport of mountain biking nor the organizers that make their living out of it.
"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," said Nicholson. "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 the new direction of mountain biking in South Africa by saying, "We will keep you posted with all the developments... . We are here to better our sport so hang on to your seats and enjoy the ride."
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