The Bakala Academy in Leuven, Belgium, has joined hands with the Cape Epic in the race’s bid to encourage and advance its development category.
The Exxaro Special Jersey is awarded to the top historically disadvantaged South African team where both riders are under the age of 26.
The jersey was introduced in 2012 and the Cape Epic has launched a number of initiatives in the past year to increase entries in this category and to encourage closer racing. The number of entries has more than doubled in 2017.
Absa Cape Epic chief executive officer Lynn Naudé said she was “delighted by the Bakala Academy’s generous contribution … this will give the Exxaro race a huge boost”.
The jersey winners will get to fly to Leuven in June and spend eight days at the academy doing testing and training. They will also get to interact and spend time with the Etixx Quick-Step professional cycling team, which is based in Belgium and uses the academy to improve its performance.
“Exxaro already give the winning team R50 000 to further their studies and this opportunity is the cherry on top of a great incentive for these young riders to do well,” said Naude.
“A stay at a world class academy will have massive benefit in terms of improving the cyclists’ performance as well as providing a memorable life experience for historically disadvantaged South Africans that they would otherwise not be able to experience,” said Naudé.
The Bakala Academy describes itself on its website as an “athletic performance centre” and a “research and testing centre of excellence”. It has a reputation as a world-class academy for research, innovation and education in sports.
It has three main initiatives: “Our Department of Research and Development is the core of the Academy and the place where all the innovations are being born. Our team works on developing innovative methods to enhance sport performance. The Education Centre will attract scholars with diverse backgrounds in the fields of sport and science. It provides a platform for the exchange of ideas and knowledge that will have a direct benefit to the sport development. And last, in our Athletic Performance Centre every athlete will find the right advice for his/her personal purposes.”
Naudé added: “The Absa Cape Epic is the only race that has a category dedicated to development teams and with these initiatives we want to celebrate our next generation of star riders. We hope this will also accelerate the introduction of mountain biking into new communities.”
In August last year the Absa Cape Epic announced that it would be growing the category beyond its existing base – many of which came from the Exxaro MTB Academy – to include participants from academies in Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape.
Naudé announced that the race had formalised an arrangement with the Diepsloot MTB Academy in Gauteng, the Change A Life Academy in KwaZulu Natal and Songo.Info from Stellenbosch in the Western Cape and each would receive two free team entries to the 2017, 2018 and 2019 races.
Another 10 entries were also made available to sponsors, charities or others who might want to enter a team in this category.
Bakala have agreed to host the Exxaro jersey winners for the next three years.