Nicholas Dlamini, the 25-year-old cyclist from Capricorn informal settlement near Muizenberg in Cape Town, this week became one of only 3 elite South African cyclists to be selected to participate in the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
Dlamini will join Team SA when the Tokyo Olympics takes place from 23 July to 8 July 2021 and will represent the country in the Men’s 234-kilometre-long Road Race.
“I’ve had this dream to get to the Olympics for a long time and made Tokyo my goal. I put everything into focusing on achieving that.
“Growing up I was fortunate to have good role models to guide me and show me the way forward, and I hope that my story is a reference of hope for anyone working towards their personal goals and that it boosts and encourages them to work really hard and dream big,” says Dlamini.
Dlamini began his journey toward professional cycling at Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy in Khayalitsha in 2009 when he was 14 years old. The academy offered the opportunity for Dlamini t race competitively.
Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy was established in 2003 with the aim of encouraging young people in townships to participate in an after-school cycling programme as an alternative recreational outlet. Pick n Pay has been its primary sponsor since inception.
“We are exceedingly proud of Nicholas on his achievement and wish him everything of the best in Tokyo. We will be following his Olympics journey very closely. His is a story of hope and evidence that dreams can come true with determination and hard work. I am equally proud of the team at Velokhaya who are providing opportunities so many more to realise their dreams,” says Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, director of transformation at Pick n Pay.
Cycling each day from Capricorn to Khayelitsha to train with his teammates, Dlamini showed a natural talent for cycling early on.
“Nicholas was a boy with drive and determination you don’t often come across and we decided quite early on to focus on his talent and to groom him,” said Sipho Mona-Lekona, General Manager and Team Manager at Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy.
“When you cycle, you get the chance to see places and things you never got to as a youngster growing up in a small township. We didn’t have a car growing up, so as a small boy I was very curious and wanted to experience more, and cycling provided that opportunity for me.
“I have a strong mindset and always do everything I can to win. I work consistently on being good at everything that I do and I’m not happy until I achieve what I set out to do,” says Dlamini.
Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy today has more than 121 children between the ages of 8 and 28 who participate cycling programme, which involves daily training of between 10 and 16 hours a week depending on the age group.
Mona-Lekona, whose uncle introduced hm to the world of cycling, helped to establish the first black professional cycling team in 2006, which became a feeder to top team in the country and around the world.
“We had a vision to take our youth off the streets and onto bicycles, and it’s made a world of difference in their lives,” says Mona-Lekona.
Although it began as a cycling academy Velokhaya today provides over 135 children with a complete educational support programme, including an Informational Technology leadership for pro-team cyclists, as well as maths and science, life skills training, and an online video mentoring facility.
Pick n Pay has helped grow the centre through support and funding over the years. In 2019, the retailer helped launch a daily feeding scheme at the centre, which supports more than 200 children.
During his early years with Velokhaya, Dlamini participated in several competitive cycling events, earning podium finishes and first place wins, including while representing the Western Province at the age of 17.
It wasn’t long after that professional cycling teams in the country began taking notice of the young Dlamini and he was poached by one of the premier sponsored competitive teams following 5 years with Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy.
“Even as a junior rider, Nicholas excelled in his category with very few matching his aptitude. We worked on honing his skill to make sure that he was able to transcend to the elite levels and are very proud of what he has achieved,” said Mona-Lekona.
Dlamini was snapped up by former SA cyclist icon, Douglas Ryder and his Team Qhubeka Assoc., a UCI WorldTeam cycling team based in South Africa. UCI WorldTeam is the term used by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) to name a cycling team of the highest category in professional road cycling.
Starting out in Team Qhubeka’s B-team, Nicholas outshone his peers to reach the A-team and compete at a top tier level winning prestigious titles.
“Not everyone makes it to the A-team. Nicholas did the Australian Tour Down Under and won the prestigious ‘King of the Mountains’ jersey and claimed another a few months later during a road race in England,” said Mona-Lekona.