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Future stars head for Europe

Cycling South Africa’s long-term high-performance plan, formulated with the aim of preparing the country’s most talented young cyclists to be able to win World Championship and Olympic medals within the next six years, has taken another important step this week when a National Junior Men’s Road team was named to compete in Europe.

Six riders have been selected by Cycling South Africa (CSA) to compete in national team colours at a variety of International Cycling Union (UCI) calendar events in Europe between May and August 2010. They are: Bradley Mitchell, Devlin White, Emile Jacobs, James Fourie, Jayde Julius and Louis Meintjes.

ÔÇ£What’s important to note is that four of the six riders are in their first of two years in the Junior (17-18 years) category. This is relevant because we are preparing these first-year juniors for next year by exposing them to the conditions and standards of international racing now,ÔÇØ explained Hendrik Lemmer, Chairman of the CSA Road Commission.

ÔÇ£A year at this stage of a young athlete’s life is a long time and they can make big physical and emotional developments in that time,ÔÇØ added Lemmer. ÔÇ£Bradley Mitchell and Louis Meintjes are the two second-year juniors on the team. Meintjes was part of the 2009 South African Junior Team that competed in Europe, so he won’t be faced with any surprises and will, along with Mitchell ÔÇô who has European racing experience ÔÇô be able to focus on achieving podium places.ÔÇØ

Although he’s a first-year junior, Julius isn’t new to European racing as he’s been based in Belgium since last year, while White, Jacobs and Fourie, although all locally based, have all met the appropriate high standards to secure the attention and confidence of the selectors.

According to Lemmer, CSA’s long-term plan is to ensure that South Africa has medal contenders at the biggest international events within the next five or six years.

ÔÇ£For the Olympic Games, SASCOC requires road cyclists to be eligible for selection according to their world ranking. But in order to score enough points on the UCI world rankings, riders have to compete regularly in international events like the Tour de France and other significant stage- and one-day races. And the best way for them to do that is to be racing in the sport’s highest league, the ProTour,ÔÇØ explained Lemmer.

ÔÇ£By exposing our riders at a junior level to international racing in Europe, we’re increasing the pool of potential South African riders from which future ProTour team selections will be made. Of course at the same time, we’re also working on upgrading local races and establishing new events that match those in Europe, where the distances are usually longer and the courses tougher. But that will still take a few years. In the meantime, our best option is to send our riders abroad to compete.ÔÇØ

In the past, riders have had to find their own funding to base themselves in Europe, but this year, CSA will be subsidising each rider’s costs to the amount of R10000.

ÔÇ£In future, we’d like to be able to offer much higher subsidies to national teams or even full cost coverage, but that requires sponsorship and we’re busy working on that,ÔÇØ said Barry Mocke, CSA’s new CEO.┬á ÔÇ£This is a start though and it’s through licensing fees of South African cyclists in general that we have been able to make this subsidy available.ÔÇØ

In addition to this subsidy, CSA will be covering the costs for the team at UCI Nations Cup events, which are the Junior version ProTour events, as well as the costs for the World Championships, should any riders qualify.

CSA will use this team as the basis for its selections for the Junior World Championships in Italy in August.

ÔÇ£Any of the South Africans that finish on a podium in a UCI category 1 Junior event will immediately be considered for selection to the World Championships. Last year our national junior team made a big impact in Europe and the Class of 2010 has some big shoes to fill. But I believe they’re capable of some great results,ÔÇØ said Lemmer.

South African Junior Road Team 2010:
Bradley Mitchell (second year juniors), Devlin White, Emile Jacobs, James Fourie, Jayde Julies, Louis Meintjes (second year juniors).  Manager: Barry Austin; Assistant Team Manager: Jill Bezuidenhout.