Spur Schools Series – an inside look at the future
08 July 2016
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Gerald de Kock: The sound of generators, of music and a general vibe going on at a mountain bike race. It’s all synonymous with the sport of mountain biking, particularly at events. This event that we’re at this weekend is the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League.
This is a situation that really has taken mountain biking by storm around the country. All around the provinces thousands and thousands of children, it’s growing every year. They’re taking to the sport and they race cross country lap courses varying in distance and difficulty, depending on the age category of the riders. It’s amazing to see these youngsters tearing around the course and anxious parents watching them come through. Hello, are you waiting for your child?
Interviewee: My daughter, yes, Zoe, she’s cycling.
GDK: What age is she?
I: She’s 8.
GDK: Where is she at school?
I: She’s at Kenridge, it’s a very well supported sport and it’s great just to be out here, early morning, with your daughter. Just enjoying the festivities and just seeing them have fun.
GDK: It’s what it’s about isn’t it, having fun.
I: Definitely, that’s what it’s about, if they’re not having fun, they’re not going to be enjoying waking up in the cold, especially down here in the Cape.
GDK: Thanks very much for chatting. We’re going to go over to the registration area which is where it’s a hive of activity. There are pre-entries, people have pre-entered, how many people have pre-entered?
Nearly 1000 riders taking part
I: Just over 300.
GDK: That’s a pretty good number isn’t it?
I: Very good number.
GDK: You’re working here at the area where it’s not pre-entered. This is where people arrive on the start line and say oh, we want to race. How many do you reckon you’re going to get here?
I: Well, that pile over there is all the lates. We still need to count them and have a look, we’re aiming for about 550-600 in total. 550 would be a good number, we had about 400 last year, 450. So we’ve opened our online system, so that made a big difference for this year.
GDK: There’s a steady increase isn’t there, every Year?
I: Definitely, the interest is definitely growing. The guys are really taking to the sport and the schools are getting on board one by one, so that’s a big thing.
GDK: You’ve got more customers, it’s Michelle isn’t it?
GDK: Thanks very much for chatting.
The age categories
GDK: Michelle is a coordinator, sorting out the categories and the entries here. The categories start with sub-nippers, which is I think u7. Then nipper boys and girls, sprogs, sub junior boys and girls. A races, then the B races are the sub juniors, the youth. Then all the way through the youth girls, junior girls and the junior men starting later on in the afternoon. So it’s very exciting for the young riders to be riding. Hello young man, how are you?
GDK: What race are you riding?
I: Spur race.
GDK: What age group are you, what age are you?
GDK: What school are you at?
I: Home school.
GDK: Home schooled and what is it about mountain biking, do you practice a lot?
I: Yes, I’m not riding a lot with the Spur races.
GDK: But at home do you ride?
I: No, not at home.
GDK: Mum’s filling out the form here, sorry to interrupt you.
I: It’s fine.
GDK: He wants to come and ride doesn’t he?
I: Yes, he loves riding, we’re in a home school riding group, we practice at Meerendal and Bloemendal.
GDK: He’s tiny.
I: Yes, he’s short, but mighty.
GDK: We’ve come to the end of one of the races, hello, how was your race?
GDK: How many laps did you do?
GDK: Did you win?
GDK: What have you got there?
I: A medal.
GDK: Did you enjoy the race?
GDK: Great, well done, hello mum.
Enjoyable for both kids and parents
GDK: How was that?
I: It was fun, they enjoyed themselves.
GDK: It’s an interesting balance between the competitive thing and the enjoyment thing. At this stage it’s just all about fun and enjoyment isn’t it?
GDK: How old is he?
I: He is 7.
GDK: He does other sports and things?
I: He does, swimming, gymnastics, hockey, all sorts.
I: I like mountain biking.
GDK: Well, well done, good luck for the next one, keep going. So, more parents standing here, he looks exhausted.
I: No, I don’t think so, kids can go on and on can’t they? They look exhausted but then they’ll just go again.
GDK: We find that as parents, did they really give it everything? They don’t know yet.
I: No, they don’t know yet, but they had fun, that’s the most important thing.
GDK: Henry Burger is standing here, now you ride. Do our kids just follow us into this thing?
I: I think so, I think if the parents ride, it’s more natural for the kids to start riding with you. I think it’s a great sport for them. In the beginning when our little boy started off, he was not competitive at all. Even at the starts, he takes it easy. Then all of a sudden, it’s as if something kicks in and then he wants to pass everybody.
GDK: Het jy gewen?
GDK: Gaan jy volgende keer wen?
GDK: What did he do at the start?
I: I tried to get him to the front because I knew it was going to be chaos. But he’s a very polite and cautious child. I think he went from about position 10th to about the last position in the batch. He like lets everyone go and then he greets everyone along the way that he sees and he recognises. Then I’m like, go Rossouw, and then he starts going. It’s great fun.
GDK: We’re at the start line of one of the races, it’s the Sprog race and these are between the ages of 10 and 11. There about 40-50 girls about to set off here, some seriously keen racers and some just here for the fun. But it’s a great vibe for these young boys and girls to do four laps of the course here at the Spur race.
Always a good thing to have competition at this level, it’s the breeding ground, it’s the incubator if you like, for the next phase of our great cross country mountain bike racers. Another race completed here as they come streaming over the line, parents meeting them, how was your race?
I: It was good thank you.
GDK: Did you do as well as you were hoping to?
I: No, I had a bad start. But I think next time it’ll be better, I’ll improve a little bit.
GDK: Dad is standing along the track, do you hear him when he’s shouting to you?
I: Ja, not as loud as my mom!
GDK: Does it make you go faster?
I: It’s nice to have a little bit of support. It does make you want to go, hey dad, I can do this. It does get a little bit irritating after a while.
GDK: Dad, you can cut that out but it’s all fun.
I: Fantastic and a wonderful group of children who are here and parents who are supporting their kids and it’s lovely. You can see the kids that win, come last, it doesn’t matter, just having fun. It’s a great introduction to riding.
GDK: Another tired rider finishes today, how was your race?
I: It was good.
GDK: Where did you finish?
I: I don’t know.
GDK: Were you racing anyone in the race?
I: Yes, I was racing a guy with a bright yellow/greenish jacket. We were crossing each other each time. Then on the last lap he passed me and that was that.
GDK: What was your goal in this race?
I: Not to get lapped by Ali Koleski.
GDK: Did you achieve your goal?
I: I achieved it, yes, I achieved it very well.
A fun introduction to racing
GDK: Of course, as a race, it is timed and they get an official finish time, every lap is timed. So they know exactly how fast they went on each lap and who they beat and who they didn’t beat. It’s all more about the schools than the individuals of course. There’s one man who has been a driving force behind it and his name is Meurant Botha. Meurant is sitting at the timing console here, Meurant, what was the spark behind this?
I: It was jointly a Spur, they actually came to the table and said, do we want to do something in the high school space. Came and asked me for some ideas and I looked at what was going on around the country and saw that there were very successful local events already on the go. It was just a matter of, thanks to their funding, we could look at a national picture and build it out to be a national programme.
GDK: Are you getting buy-in from schools that you know of?
I: I think you can see how many schools are out here, with their school kit and especially your smaller schools. They can’t compete in rugby, in the big team sports. So on the one hand it’s very expensive, you’ve got to buy players it seems and to have a big, strong rugby programme. It’s a lot of work, not that cycling isn’t. But it allows for the kids that might not excel in rugby or the major team sports to do their bit there in the individual sport.
What to do with course design
GDK: Really, the course, the design of the course is also key as well, you can’t make them too hard, but they’ve got to have something in them.
I: I think it’s probably the most complaints we get is from the faster kids who want a tougher course, but this is grass roots stuff and from here the kids must progress to their provincial and national championship races. We’ll keep it flat, fast and furious at this level and rather get as many kids on the bikes as possible.
GDK: Right, we’re watching, what age group are we in now?
I: It’s now the sub juniors, they’re going onto the longer lap, our sub nippers and sprogs raced a shorter version of the course today. So these guys are doing about a 3km lap. I think they’re doing three laps of that, so it’ll take them about eight minutes a lap, about 25 minutes of racing.
GDK: There’s some serious talent here.
I: There’s some fast kids and especially you can see the depth of field now, how closely they start racing once they get into the bigger categories. Obviously what we’re finding is that a lot of youngsters that develop early, they tend to dominate early on. But from age 15/16, you really start to see where the real talent is.
GDK: How about the parents?
I: Parents are the real problem aren’t they? I thought a rugby parent was bad, a cycling parent is just the same.
GDK: They do a lot of the fetching and carrying, but they want some results from their young children here. But it is, ultimately, Meurant, about the schools isn’t it? Although it’s individual racing here.
I: I think that’s the nice thing about the format, is that every kid has his moment, but we’re tallying points for the schools. At the moment it’s a cumulative system, so the more kids the schools bring, the more points they generate.
You can see the Kenridge Primary Schools, they bring a lot of riders, a primary from Stellenbosch, they’ve also got a lot. Then the high schools; the Paul Roos, Parel Vallei, Montana, DF Malan, these schools, I just heard Stellenberg has 40 kids in their mountain bike club, so it’s really exploding.
GDK: Meurant Botha, thanks very much, from Dirtopia, the man who is the brains and the business behind this Spur’s High School League. It really is an incredible set up, it’s one of the best sporting development programmes you could wish to see. Kids from all walks of life come and race here and ride and enjoy it. It really is something very special and the future of mountain biking and they’re taking place all around the country.
This is just the Western Cape, but every province in the country has a series going and the winners of those, the High School winners head towards the final at Beckers School, up country in Gauteng at Magaliesberg, later in the year. Then it gets really serious. That’s our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast for today, hope you enjoyed it. Download once again, until then, cheers.