MARTIN MUSUNKA, Solwezi
THE unique exposure to international treats means that the populations of Solwezi and Kalumbila may in a few years’ time stand out quite
distinctly from other rural dwellers of similar environs around Zambia.
For certain, international levels of school education have permeated these districts, what with the numerous well-funded programmes that have seen school children and their teachers exposed to new facilities and teaching methods.
The health care scenario has seen the introduction of projects that are transforming not only the physical well-being of those populations but the appreciation of quality medical care among them.
The agriculture trends in those districts have changed immensely, given the exposure of farmers and traditional rulers to environment-friendly techniques which have even taken some of them beyond the borders of Zambia to learn.
This time, an international cycling race roused the enthusiasm of the locals who on May 20 watched high level talent on display.
Top South African cyclist, Jason Meaton emerged number one in this year’s 140-kilometres Elite Men’s category with legendary Anriette Schoeman leading the women’s category which covered the same distance.
The residents were unheralded participants in a highly subscribed Mine2Mine international road race sponsored by Kansanshi Mining Plc.
Meaton was among other celebrated cyclists Jay Fisher and legend Anriette Schoeman. The competition saw other eminent cyclists Ryan Ellis rolling into the second slot with Agoster Jilowa claiming the third finish.
The annual event also observed by Cycling Association of Zambia (CAZ) president Peter Chintu who saw the determined competitors register their authority all the way to the finish point, having started off from Solwezi through Lumwana and calling it a day in Kalumbila.
In the 140-kilometres Elite Women event, Schoeman emerged tops, relegating Nora Richards into the second position while the third finisher was Stacey Hyslop.
Enjoying the home terrain, Ian Burger, son of Kansanshi Mining Plc assistant general manager Meiring Burger, emerged champion in the 80-kilometre race with second place going to Mathews Mazabuka and Clement Thomas taking third slot.
The 80-km women’s winner was Tenille Jevon who beat Lizelle Hudson and Fiona McDonald. The junior girls who rode their bikes skillfully saw Kirsten McDonald finishing as the winner and Anita Yama was second while Ruth Kambidima was the third.
The 2017 edition of the race got underway at 07.00 hours on that fine Saturday morning with more than 50 riders rolling through the main city market of Solwezi, and out onto the open road.
In the elite bunch, riders from Zambia’s top cycling team, First Quantum were the pace setters, and had the main peloton cruising along at around 40km/h.
“The Mine2Mine race takes riders 140km through the gently rolling terrain of Zambia’s lush North-Western Province. Low population density in that part of Zambia means quiet roads, and beautiful indigenous forest lining the road on most of the route. In spite of some slight undulations, the race is not hilly enough to break the field apart significantly, and often ends in a small bunch sprint,” Burger said in a statement.
As the road began to undulate, and the attacks began to fly off the front, the bunch slowly began to whittle down. First Quantum made use of their strength in numbers, sending riders off the front and then attacking again the moment each rider was caught.
The flat profile of the course made it unlikely that any of these attacks would survive to the finish, but the other teams, including the South Africans Jay Fisher and Jason Meaton, were forced to take up the chase.
To ensure a competitive pace, there was a Sprint section and a King of the Mountain section, both attracting prize money. Both these were taken at blistering speed by Jason Meaton.
After 90km of racing, which the lead bunch—now left with only 12 riders—covered in two hours 31 minutes, riders had to stop and jump into busses for a 20km portage over a rough section of road.
This stop inadvertently enabled riders to eat, drink, and talk tactics before resuming their race. In spite of the friendly, warm atmosphere that tends to surround Zambian racing, a certain tension could be felt, as the lead riders eyed each other.
After the portage, the riders had a strong tailwind and a flat road, which kept the speed high, and prevented any attacks from succeeding.
Solwezi local Daren Jevon, along with First Quantum rider Sydney Juma set the pace, while the rest of the lead group tried to keep their heart rates down in preparation for the sprint.
The final two kilometres of the course brought the riders into the newly-built town of Kalumbila. Several traffic circles on the route made for an exciting lead in to the finish, as sprinters and lead out men jostled and elbowed each other out for position.
Jay Fisher put the hammer down, dragging his sprinter, Jason Meaton out of the front of the bunch, while local pros Ryan Ellis and Agoster Jilowa fought their way through the pack.
Coming out of the final traffic circle, Meaton overtook his lead-out man, and sprinted for the line with Ryan Ellis and Agoster Jilowa in tow. They crossed the line in that order, with Anriette Schoeman taking the ladies’ win and fourth place overall.
They later ambled over for refreshments at Kalumbila Golf Club.
The sense of community remains intact in Zambian cycling, while in the rest of the world the sport becomes highly commercialised.
Over and above that, the minds of residents in Solwezi and Kalumbila, enthralled with a day of international cycling drama, are changing for the better. SUMA SYSTEMS