Ask these four young cyclists who inspired them to take up cycling, and they will say it was their father. That inspiration sparked a passion that today sees them taking to the road for five to six hours, every day as professional cyclists.
JC Nel (25), Mitch Eliot (20), Neil Robinson (20) and Tristan van Niekerk (19) all ride for Team ProTouch, owned by ProTouch Sports. All of the riders including their team manager, Tony Harding come from and currently reside in the West Rand, most having grown up and gone to school in the area. But, what they also have in common is a burning desire to succeed as professional athletes and, to make it possible for others like them to also achieve their dreams.
While they are only in their late teens and early twenties, they display a maturity that belies their youth when they talk about how their teamwork, training and racing has instilled an appreciation for self-respect, loyalty and commitment. The bond between them goes way beyond the colours they share on their kit – they’re a family. They know one another like brothers, and their rigorous training regime, the highs and lows of winning and losing, creates a spirit and camaraderie to be envied.
Team ProTouch: Mitch Eliot, Janrich Kotze, Neil Robinson, Tristan Van Niekerk, Stephan Reyneke, Team Manager Tony Harding, Captain JC Nel and Maurice Möller at the 2016 Clover Tour.
JC, the team captain and the most experienced rider on the team says cycling is not just about physical fitness and stamina, it’s about life lessons. He says “Cycling has influenced my character and has even shaped how I deal with day-to-day situations”. It’s a sentiment echoed by his teammate Mitch, who is being groomed as an overall general classification rider, “Cycling has taught me how to be humble, to appreciate that you can’t always win, but know that if I work hard my time will come”.
Mitch Eliot and Neil Robinson, after their two stage wins at the 2016 Clover Tour.
They all have a standout undeniable talent, with a number of top ten finishes this year, including second place in the Individual Time Trial and Road Race at the 2016 Gauteng Championships, sixth place at the SA Championships as well as multiple stage wins, Best Young Rider and King of the Mountain jerseys at the 2016 Mpumalanga, Jock and Clover Tours.
Their commitment to the sport and their mental and emotional insight has them poised to springboard to the racing heights they dream of. Tristan, who is just nineteen, shares wise words and captures the determination of his teammates when he says that they won’t stop dreaming, even if those dreams seem way out of reach, “Anything is possible”.
While they each nurture the ambition to test their mettle on the international circuit, to do that, they understand that sponsorship is crucial. “The toughest competition for our young athletes is that of funding – there just isn’t enough sponsorship budget available to support these aspiring, or even professional, athletes” says Tony Harding, founder of ProTouch Sports.
Tony is well-known for having managed some of the best National, Olympic and Commonwealth Games teams – professional teams and individuals – who’ve raced in South Africa and abroad.
“We started ProTouch Sports to build an ecosystem that could support the development of these young athletes. Our riders get involved in managing brand activations for sponsors, promoting various cycling-related services offered by ProTouch such as bike set ups, bicycle insurance and bike transportation while also being exposed to the various day-to-day activities, that are involved in running an entrepreneurial business. The profits made from this is what helps to fund our team” adds Tony.
To assist other aspiring athletes like ours with the challenge of funding, in October ProTouch Sports launched a new crowdfunding site called ProQuest, which connects individuals and businesses, sponsors and fans, all at the touch of a button. “Athletes now have a way to raise much needed funds to achieve their sporting dreams by uploading campaigns and sharing these using their social media channels,” says Neil, who is currently raising funds for his team’s entry to the 2017 Tour of Good Hope.
ProTouch Sports will be promoting the site at this year’s Standard Bank Africa Cycle Fair at St Stithians College, 21 – 23 October 2016. Visit their stand and show your support for SA’s young talent at the ProQuest High School MTB Interprovincial race on Saturday 22 October 2016 from 7am as well as see Team ProTouch riders challenge other professional teams, clubs and schools in the Qhubeka Relay Challenge on Sunday 23 October from 2pm.
Tickets for the Standard Bank Africa Cycle Fair are just R75 for a day pass and R100 for a 3-day weekend pass, and kids under 18 enter free. Use the code PROTOUCH16 to take advantage of a two-for-the-price-of-1 offer. Visit www.africacyclefair.com for more information or book at Webtickets