11 Teams to compete for Exxaro Special Jersey

The 2022 Absa Cape Epic features numerous battles within the overall general classification tussle. While the NTT Masters, Grand Masters and Mixed category fights are sure to be tough, the Exxaro Jersey competition is arguably the most important. This is because the teams are racing for far more than prize money and bragging rights. They are engaging in an eight-day contest which could change their lives.

Along with a total of R100 000, paid out to the top three teams on the final Exxaro Jersey general classification standings, the 2022 race also boasts the prize of education and a trip to the Bakala Academy in Belgium. The winning team will, this year, share R50 000 along with the choice of a Curro bursary, which covers grades 1 to 12, or a STADIO tertiary education scholarship each. The second placed team will then receive the remaining Curro and STADIO bursaries. In addition to their cash and educational prizes, the winning Exxaro Jersey team will also win a trip to the heartland of cycling, Flanders. There they will spend a week in the Bakala Academy, the famed sports university utilised by Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team, for an intensive training camp where they will learn about sports’ psychology, physiology and undergo a battery of performance tests.

With prizes like these in store it is no surprise the Exxaro Jersey competition is expected to be fiercely contested once again. The favourites for the competition, according to three-time winner Phillimon Sebona, are the Exxaro Academy 1 team of Halalisani Njabulo Ndebele and Tlotlo Mohweledi Selala. “Tlotlo and Halalisani are very talented,” Sebona explained. “Tlotlo raced the UCI Marathon World Championships in Elba last year, and turns 21 this year. He has already learnt so much, and will continue to grow as a rider. Hala is 22, and has been working hard in the build-up to the 2022 race. I’m sure they’ll do very well.”

They will not have it their own way, however, which is often the way of things in the Exxaro Jersey race. Only in 2016 and 2018 has one team dominated proceedings. “The FNB Change a Life Academy teams, from KZN, will be very strong, and are still looking for their first Exxaro Jersey title,” Sebona pointed out. “Fairtree Imperial Cannondale have younger riders stepping into the shoes of the 2021 champions, Lorenzo [Leroux] and Luyanda [Thobigunya]. Thembela Lukalo and Kusaselihle Ngidi are hungry for success and have seen first-hand how winning the Exxaro Jerseys can change lives.”

“They and the songo.info team always have home-ground advantage,” he continued. “Unlike the Exxaro MTB Academy riders who have to travel down from Gauteng, the Fairtree and songo.info teams can train on the trails the Absa Cape Epic uses. That and the fact that they’re accustomed to the Western Cape climate play a big role in the race.”

In 2022 the Western Cape will be represented by not only Stellenbosch’s two cycling charities, but also by teams from Velokhaya, in Khayelitsha, and the McGregor Warriors. Mosuli Msusa and Junior Benya will be representing FXTM-Velokhaya Cycling. Their aim is to add to the single stage win their organisation has achieved thus far, by following up on Mthetheleli Boya and Loyiso Fulu’s 2019 stage win. Juane Vaaltyn and Mandall Matjan meanwhile will be making their Absa Cape Epic debuts as the McGregor Warriors take to the start line for the first time as one of the race’s development beneficiaries.

KwaZulu Nata will be represented by the FNB Change a Life 1 team of Nhlanhla Mthembu and Luvuyo Siyasi. While the competition’s title sponsors, Exxaro, will be sending an additional four teams down from Gauteng, along with the favourites Exxaro Academy 1. The Exxaro Academy is thus represented by five teams in total, with another falling outside the Exxaro Jersey age restrictions. Nkululeko Pewa, who is already 27 and thus ineligible for the competition will be racing alongside 19-year-old, Lindokuhle Ngubo, as Citi Change a Life 1. The experience of competing alongside a rider who has raced to a top 50 general classification position before will serve young Ngubo well in 2023 and beyond.

The Exxaro Academy teams to keep an eye on for 2022 though are the Exxaro Academy 2 team of Kabelo Kenneth Tshukudu and William Majapholo, as well as the Exxaro RMB 1, Exxaro RMB 2 and Exxaro Pepto squads. These teams are made up of Masixole Zondani and Alpheus Maduna; Refilwe Mogorosi and Koketso Kgosientsho; and Andisiwe Skeyi and Michael Tsela respectively. Avuyile Mhlahlo and Eduardo Engelbrecht, of Fairtree Imperial Cannondale 2, complete the 2022 Exxaro Jersey competition roster.

Mountain biking fans can follow the Exxaro Jersey teams’ progress in the overall race and in their race-within-a-race at cape-epic.com. The Live Broadcast starts at 11:00 on Sunday, 20 March, with the 2022 Absa Cape Epic Prologue at Lourensford Wine Estate.