• Nic Dlamini has become the first Black South African to compete in the Tour de France.
  • He’s overcome disadvantage and a serious injury to ride in the world’s top bike race.
  • And his team is helping improve mobility in Africa by giving away free bikes.

Nic Dlamini has just become the first Black South African to ride in the Tour de France. It’s quite an achievement for a young man who started life in one of Cape Town’s toughest neighbourhoods.

His selection as one of the eight riders in the South Africa-based Team Qhubeka NextHash came hot on the heels of being picked to represent his country in the Men’s Road Cycling events at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Nic Dlamini: Riding in the Tour de France is “a dream come true.”
Nic Dlamini: Riding in the Tour de France is 'a dream come true'. Image: TeamQhubeka

It’s all a far cry from his early days in the Vrygrond township (also known as Capricorn) in Cape Town. "Being selected to ride in my first Tour de France is an absolute dream come true for me," 25-year-old Dlimani told the BBC.

He first excelled at running but went on to train at cycling governing body the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom, South Africa. He turned professional with Team Qhubeka, which supports a charity of the same name that provides bikes to people in deprived parts of South Africa.

Bikes beat guns

"In the township itself, you'd be well known for owning a gun," Dlamini told AFP, reported by France24. "You'd be more respected for owning a gun or shooting someone. It's a place where doing the wrong things gets you up there.

"Growing up you'd see from a young age that the kids wanted to get involved in gangsterism because they see everyone looks up to the gangsters."

He told AFP his own sporting success has helped change attitudes: "When they announced the Olympics it started changing things, teenagers wanting to turn their lives around. It gave them hope that anything is possible. And when they announced the Tour it was even stronger," he added.

Career setback

His cycling career nearly came off the road last year after he suffered a broken arm while training in Table Mountain National Park.

The injury, and subsequent surgery and physiotherapy, meant he was unable to compete for the first half of 2020. But he made his comeback riding for his team in Spain’s Vuelta a Burgos race, after another team member was injured.

"Considering where I come from it would simply have been impossible for me to have the opportunity to ride at the Tour de France if it wasn't for Team Qhubeka-Assos," Dlaminin said in a BBC interview, referring to the team’s previous name.

"I think it speaks to what the team is about, the Ubuntu spirit [I am because we are], and how we change people's lives because it is honestly a very special moment: to come from a small township and then to go to the Tour de France," he added.

Built to last: the Qhubeka RBC bike.
Built to last: the Qhubeka RBC bike. Image: Qhubeka

Learn to earn a bike

Qhubeka builds its own cycle – the RBC bike – which people can “earn” through a series of programmes like its “learn to earn” scheme, where children receive a bike to help them get to school in return for committing to improve their school attendance.

Adults can earn Qhubeka bicycles by taking part in community activities like growing trees, recycling waste, volunteering with a community policing forum, or servicing bicycles.

Qhubeka also supplies bikes to health workers and first responders to help them reach patients faster. And there’s a scheme to promote cycling culture, which includes races and using bikes to get to other sporting activities. Over 100,000 Qhubeka bikes have been donated so far.

Dlamini told the BBC: “"I want to race the Tour to inspire more kids on Qhubeka bikes to follow in my footsteps and to experience the world like I have, for more kids in communities to put their hands up for bikes to work hard like I did, to dream big."