In 2014, just as ENVE was looking for a special team to sponsor, one with a true purpose beyond results, Team Dimension Data principle Doug Ryder asked his riders which wheels they wanted to ride the following season. ‘ENVE,’ they told him. It was a perfect match and a true partnership was born, one that transcends even the racing success and critical product development. Now, as the team embarks on a new challenge to place an African rider on the podium of the Tour de France by 2020, we take you inside the team throughout the winter to find out how they’re working towards that goal. Stay tuned for new stories every week.

Photographs by Scott Mitchell

“It isn’t just a name on the jersey, it’s really at the core of what the team is about,” Mark Cavendish told the audience at the start of Team Dimension Data’s annual Qhubeka bike distribution day. Later he added on Instagram: “When I’m asked about the charity, I always say I can talk as much as I can, but to be part of a handover of bikes to a community is what puts something deep inside your heart.”

This matters. In South Africa, 12m kids go to school and 3m of them have to walk for more than an hour per day. One million walk for more than two hours per day. It diminishes their study time and attendance, tires them out, and reduces their chances of graduating. Currently only 37% of kids graduate. “At that rate,” says Qhubeka founder Anthony Fitzhenry, “it’s thought that the country won’t improve and that poverty will remain.” So the 175 bikes being handed out today really matter, as does each of the 80,000 already provided and in use.

“The idea that a student with this mind could miss out on his education and career – no, that the world could miss out on his contribution – all for the want of a bicycle, is shocking”

This event is inspiring in more ways than expected, even beyond the touching experience of handing over a bike that will make a profound difference in a young person’s life. The ceremony begins with addresses from Qhubeka’s executive manager, local dignitaries, and senior representatives from the team’s major partners. Next is the school principal and, finally, two students, a boy and a girl.

After thanking everyone for making the day possible, the boy ends by saying, “You can if you want to. We can if we want to.” Shades of Mandela himself. It takes a second for the words to penetrate and then rapturous applause breaks out. He’s Afro-optimism personified. One day we might read about this day in his best-selling autobiography. The idea that a student with this mind could miss out on his education and career – no, that the world could miss out on his contribution – all for the want of a bicycle, is shocking.

And it is that simple. Mathematical literacy in South Africa is very poor even among students who do graduate successfully for the simple reason that maths is traditionally taught in the morning while the kids are fresh but those who can’t get to school on time miss the class. Qhubeka report a 20-30% improvement in on time attendance for students with bikes.

When the hand over begins, one by one, students walk out into the centre of the stadium with a team rider. Each student looks nervous to start with, then their step quickens as they get near to the bikes, invariably pulling half a stride clear of the athlete next to them. Then, time after time, as they get to the bikes and their own is wheeled forward slightly, suddenly distinct from the rest, their faces break into a huge grin.

“The sight and sound of 175 schoolchildren playing on bikes is a scene of pure joy”

I’m privileged to have the opportunity to hand over a bike myself. I meet Junaid and, in a week in which I was lucky enough to ride with great champions of our sport, including the best sprinter of all time, Junaid was perhaps the most inspiring person of them all.

He tells me he’s a rugby player, a full back. “I’m not so big but if anyone comes at me I’m going to tackle them because I believe I can,” he says with absolute conviction. I tell him that such belief is a powerful thing, and to hold onto it. “Yes,” he says. “My coaches tell me I can do anything I want to do. They say I’m strong and that I work hard, a lot of nice things. I would like to study business and then go to university to be a civil engineer, but my dream is to play for the Springboks and wear the green and gold jersey.”

Having heard the incredible story of the Springboks’ 1995 Rugby World Cup victory on a team visit to Robben Island from manager Morné du Plessis himself, I think he would be proud to hear Junaid’s dream. For Mandela, it’s no less than his own come true.

#Bicycleschangelives is the official tag of Qhubeka. It might read like hyperbole but the sight and sound of 175 schoolchildren playing on bikes proves it isn’t. It’s a scene of pure joy. Junaid captures the event’s significance: “For many here today, this is the moment of our lives.”

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