Luyanda Thobigunya has started two FNB Wines2Whales races in the Exxaro Jersey competition and has won both. The BMT Fairtree rider has proved unbeatable, winning six stages with two different partners in the process. In 2019, he defended his title alongside Lorenzo le Roux, beating the Exxaro/PwC1 team of Lucky Mlangeni and Anrique Davids.
Along with the prize money, awarded by the competition’s title sponsors Exxaro, the winning team members will each receive a bursary to a Curro School of their choice. As the bursary covers education from Grade 1 to Grade 12, Thobigunya and Le Roux will each be able to nominate a young family member to take up the bursary. Valued at 1.2 Million Rand each, the prizes will change the life of a young person, from a historically disadvantaged community, in a way which cycling has been able to improve the lives of the BMT Fairtree team.
“It’s an incredible prize” a clearly emotional Le Roux enthused. “My twins turn six next year, so they are nearly ready for Grade 1. I will have to speak to some people and see what we can do. Otherwise, I have an impossibly difficult choice on my hands.”
Thobigunya meanwhile did not indicate who he would gift the scholarship to. He is a man of few words who prefers to let his riding do the talking. “It was easy” he said, after the victory sealing race through the third and final stage of FNB Wines2Whales. “One of the Exxaro/PwC1 riders crashed early in the stage, so we knew we just had to keep ahead of them and get safely to the finish line.”
The undisputed powerhouse of the team drove himself and Le Roux to an impressive twelfth overall. A result made more impressive by the fact that the BMT Fairtree team spent the second half of Stages 2 and 3 riding within themselves to conserve their Exxaro Jersey lead. One has to wonder how well they would perform if they had chosen to race for the overall general classification rather. The result is a six-position improvement on Thobigunya and Baphelele Mbobo’s eighteenth in 2018.
“Luyanda is power” praised BMT Fairtree Academy founder Chris Norton. “I wish I could see him in action on a road team. I think he would amaze people with how strong he is. His climbing, in particular, is exceptional” Norton revealed, explaining why Thobigunya found defending his Exxaro Jersey so easy.
“We have to thank Exxaro, FNB Wines2Whales and Curro for the opportunity” Le Roux thanked, as the realisation of victory sunk in. “We also have to thank Chris Norton for being such a great mentor, for believing in us and helping us every step of the way. And of course; thank-you too to Stephen Brown, of Fairtree Capital, for sponsoring us throughout the year and to Trek South Africa for our bikes” the more talkative member of the team concluded.
Exxaro/PwC1’s Mlangeni and Davids joined BMT Fairtree on the final Exxaro Jersey podium, in Onrus. Their Exxaro Mountain Biking Academy stablemates, Thabiso Rengane and Khutso Tlou overcame a difficult first stage with strong performances on Stage 2 and 3 to secure third place in the competition.
In total, twelve teams contested the Exxaro Jersey during the 2019 FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz event. Seven of those teams finished in the Top Fifty, overall, in a highly competitive field. While Mlangeni and Davids joined Thobigunya and Le Roux in the Top Twenty. Former Exxaro Jersey rider Sithembiso Masango, meanwhile joined Oliver Munnik in the sub-veteran age group, racing to a category podium place for team Land Rover 7.
The future of the Exxaro Jersey competition is thus brighter than ever, with young riders developing through the Spur School’s Mountain Biking League every year. With the manageable step into stage racing provided by the FNB Wines2Whales, it is only a matter of time before the next Phillimon Sebona emerges to ascend into the elite ranks. That rider could well be Luyanda Thobigunya.
Results: FNB Wines2Whales Shiraz
Exxaro Jersey General Classification after Stage 3:
- BMT Fairtree: Luyanda Thobigunya & Lorenzo le Roux (08:30:58)
- Exxaro/PwC1: Lucky Mlangeni & Anrique Davids (08:45:04)
- Exxaro/RMB1: Thabiso Rengane & Khutso Tlou (08:55:21)
- FNB Change a Life 1: Bongumusa Zikhali & Sipho Kupiso (09:00:38)
- FXTM-VELOKHAYA 2: Loyiso Fulu & Mthetheleli Boya (09:09:00)
- FNB Change a Life 4: Nkululeko Pewa & Nhlanhla Mthembu (09:29:06)
- Exxaro / Pepto: Mphodisa Sebopa & Anele Mtalana (09:37:02)
- Kinetic Racing Snakes: Chris Engel & Denver Isaacs (10:48:58)
- songo.info: Sipho Futhela & Ntlantla Nonkasa (11:47:50)
- Roderick MYW 3: Roderick Price & D’Angelo Mouries (12:42:09)
- Exxaro/PwC2: Keneth Kabelo Tshukukudu & Andisiwe Skeyi (12:59:01 | Mixed Team)
- Jamian MYW2: Jamian Soldaat & Lu-Wayne Khani (15:35:33)