South Africa

CYCLING

Nic Dlamini back in the saddle for the Vuelta a Burgos in Spain

Pro South African cyclist Nic Dlamini. (Photo: supplied)
By Craig Ray
26 Jul 2020 0

Ten months since he last raced due to a combination of injury and the havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa’s great cycling hope, Nic Dlamini is back on the competitive saddle.

For 24-year-old Nic Dlamini, 2020 was supposed to be a breakthrough year – one where he would establish himself in the South African-owned NTT Pro Cycling team’s first choice lineup in the Grand Tours. He is finally going to enjoy that chance when he takes part in the Vuelta a Burgos in Spain which starts on Tuesday, 28 July.

Dlamini is part of a seven-man NTT team for the first post-lockdown race since the season was suspended in March 2020. The NTT team will be led by Italian Giacomo Nizzolo, a previous stage winner at the Tour Down Under and the prestigious Paris-Nice earlier in 2020. 

At the end of 2019, Dlamini was ready to kick on, having competed in the 2019 Vuelta Espana, one of cycling’s three major races alongside the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. 

On a training ride near Silver Mine in Cape Town in December 2019, Dlamini was assaulted by SA National Parks rangers. Their heavy-handed antics were caught on camera as they broke his arm when trying to force him into a vehicle. The details of why they were so aggressive remains part of an ongoing investigation. 

 

Dlamini, who has been at a camp in the team’s European training base in Lucca, Italy, is raring to compete after a frustrating time both on and off the bike. 

“There has been some progress with the legal case, but I can’t really say much,” Dlamini said. “My lawyers are working on it and there has been a lot of communication back and forth. 

“It’s been about 10 months since I rode a race so I’m excited and nervous. But I’m confident because I’ve done all the preparation, so I’m ready to get on the start line and have a number on my back.

“I was on track to start racing at the Czech Tour in two weeks’ time, so the call up to the team for this race was a nice surprise. It’s a good thing for me because I get my head into racing mode much quicker. Burgos is a nice race. I’ve actually had some good results there when I did it before. 

“The training camp was amazing and the entire team looked in terrific form, and was super motivated. We worked specifically on anaerobic capacity and I can confirm we are ready to step up to another level. The camp was really useful just before the season resumes because we hadn’t been in personal contact although we had been in touch through the team platforms. 

“At the camp, we were able to ride and suffer together and use each other’s strengths to motivate us. It also gave me the chance to meet some of the new staff I will be working with because I missed a few camps earlier in the year because of the broken arm. It was also a chance to meet Bjarne Riis [the team’s new general manager] and learn from him. He used his experience and taught us new tactics every day – even the senior guys in the team learned new things. The entire team is really hyped to get back into racing.” 

NTT go to extra doping lengths 

Pro South African cyclist Nic Dlamini. (Photo: supplied)

Riis, the 1996 Tour de France winner, was one of many riders from that era who later confessed to taking the drug EPO, which boosts oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the body. 

As a team manager, Riis has been successful and was in charge of the CSC team whose riders won the 2008 (Carlos Sastre) and 2010 (Andy Schleck) Tour de France titles. 

Despite Riis’ past links to doping, NTT owner and team principal Doug Ryder is confident that doping culture, which plagued cycling in the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century, has been reined in with the exposure of high-profile cheats such as Lance Armstrong.

“With the riders and budget we have, if doping were still rife in the sport, we would not be able to compete at the level we have and win the races we’ve won.” Ryder told the Maverick Sports Podcast earlier in 2020. 

“As a team, we pay several million rand of our own budget to Wada [the World Anti-Doping Agency] to test riders. Those tests are mainly done out of competition because the actual races have in-contest doping controls. 

“In addition, we do internal testing in our team and we also belong to the Movement for Professional Credible Cycling [MPCC], an organisation that takes doping control one level up by looking at corticosteroids [which assist with asthma and inflammation] and other things. There are a lot of teams who aren’t part of the MPCC. 

“And then the blood passport in the sport is still critical. If you want to dope now, you are going to have to dope 365 days a year because it records your traces and markers. If the authorities see that your levels start to go up in competition, it raises alarms. One they have flagged those anomalies, they will target a rider. It might take a year, but he will eventually make a mistake because the only way to then stay in the passport’s ‘range’ is to microdose continually. The rider will end up making a mistake. It’s just not worth it, in the sport anymore.” 

NTT one of the form teams of the year 

Before the suspension of the cycling calendar, NTT was one of the form teams on circuit, having been dominant at the Tour Down Under in Australia and claiming stage wins at classics such as Pari-Nice. 

Even during the Covid-19 lockdown, that dominance continued with NTT winning all the jerseys in the recently completed virtual Tour de France, which was raced over three weekends and included 22 World Tour cycling teams. It was a triumph for the team and a highly valuable marketing tool in difficult times for sponsors who have not received exposure during lockdown. 

“To win the first ever virtual Tour de France, the team was just exceptional,” Ryder said after the race. “This was an amazing opportunity for us to engage with people on a platform that is uniquely different, and I believe e-cycling racing is here to stay. We put a lot of effort into the event, as did NTT providing the data and analytics viewers could see on screen, so to win the first ever Le Tour Virtual is brilliant.”

Dlamini said that the team was confident that it could carry that “virtual” form into real racing while Riis was buoyant that Africa’s team was ready to compete in the real world again. 

“After the enforced break, our team training camp in Lucca was an excellent way to bring everything that we’ve been working on all together,” Riis said. 

“We had a very successful period of time spent together. Team spirit is very high, our preparation has been excellent and we all can’t wait to get back to racing now.” DM

 

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