The MTO Champions’ Race is vital to the charity’s calendar as Kathy Crabbe, songo.info’s General Manager, explains: “Mountain biking is traditionally a sport that is removed from impoverished communities, but with this event it brings the world’s best to our home in Kayamandi. It is a unique experience for the professional riders to race through the streets of Kayamandi but what makes it so special is that it draws the broader cycling community into the community which songo.info serves.”
songo.info started as an after-school sporting charity, offering BMX riding as a way of promoting a healthy and active lifestyle to the children of Kayamandi. But the programme soon expanded to include homework sessions before bike rides and with funding from the MTO Group, amongst others, in 2016 the education programme was expanded further. MTO’s contribution has made it possible for songo.info to appoint a full time education programme co-ordinator. With the increase in education specific donations to the charity this role is vital in facilitating the implementation of programmes like the Click Foundation’s Reading Eggs, Maths tutors, a tertiary scholars’ study and intern programme, holiday activity plans and educational outings.
But while education is without a doubt the key to helping to break the poverty cycle in Kayamandi; it is also essential that the children in the songo.info programme are afforded the opportunity to have fun, are encouraged to cultivate a healthy lifestyle and are provided with an outlet to express their competitive spirits. The MTO Champions’ Race does just that. It allows the children do what they love and race their bikes, with the support of their family and friends, but also to see their mountain biking heroes in the flesh.
There are four age-group races, two each for boys and girls, with under fourteen and under eighteen categories, as well as an elite women’s category and an invitation only men’s race. The age group and women’s races are open to the general public and the R200 entry fee goes to supporting songo.info’s charitable initiatives.
The elite men’s race is the main event of the MTO Champions’ Race and the line-up for 2017 is set to include 2012 Olympic Champion Jaroslav Kulhavý, songo.info co-founder and five time Absa Cape Epic winner Christoph Sauser, World Marathon Champion Alban Lakata, Absa Cape Epic winner Kristian Hynek, age-group world champions Sam Gaze and Simon Andreassen, and local hero Erik Kleinhans, amongst others. In keeping with the charitable spirit it has long been a tradition for many of the prize winners in the men’s and women’s races to donate their prizes back to songo.info.
All invited entrants to the MTO Champions’ Race will receive a month long permit to the fantastic MTO Trails in Jonkershoek. This permit will hopefully encourage the elite international riders to spend more time training in Stellenbosch in the build-up to the Absa Cape Epic. MTO and songo.info are confident that once they have experienced the riding on offer in Jonkershoek in particular and Stellenbosch in general they will be converted to career long summer visitors to the town.
For the MTO Group the MTO Champions’ Race is a unique opportunity to put their social and environmental sustainable ethos into practice. By contributing to supporting the education initiates of songo.info which aimes at uplifting the youth of Kayamandi, through the songo.info educational programme, they are investing in the social future of South Africa and via providing the children with the platform to ride their bicycles they are exposing them to and educating them on the fragile beauty of nature.
MTO Group CEO Lawrence Polkinghorne is looking forward to the MTO Champions’ Race. “The MTO Champions’ race for us is one of the highlights of our year. Where else do you get to mingle with the best MTB riders in world while enjoying the excitement and energy created from the unique atmosphere of racing through Kayamandi. We have seen wonderful benefits through supporting this program and remain focused on growing with song.info. MTO’s intention is ultimately to recognise, enable and employ talent, and engaging with our communities at an early age gives us massive advantage in being able to nurture our youth through sport and education programs. songo.info offer fantastic programmes and opportunities and we are obviously proud partners.” he said.
“As far as the racing is concerned, and although I might be a bit biased, I’ve got my money on Christoph Sauser pulling it off, he just gets stronger and stronger, no matter how old he is compared to some of the competition” Polkinhorne concluded.
The MTO Champions’ Race takes place on the 15th of March, at the songo.info clubhouse. The age group racing starts at 16:00, with the elite women racing at 17:30 and the elite men at 18:00. For more information please visit www.songo.info or www.mto.co.za.