It’s all downhill from here

Jamie Penfold, 16, who rides for Tygerberg MTB, negotiates a ramp at the XCO race at Bloemendal.

Unlike road cycling where you can sometimes enjoy a chat with a fellow cyclist while cruising the smoothly engineered lanes , mountain biking can be a lonely activity.

This sport takes you off the tarred, level roads and into the rough; Uphills, downhills, pools of mud, ditches and dongas, add some low hanging branches and many surprise obstacles. This is the sport of mountain biking and it is Jamie Penfold’s happy place.

The 16-year old student hails from Durbanville, a suburb blessed to be situated adjacent to several farms as well as long stretches of quiet, tarred roads.

If you’re a cyclist, this northern suburb neighbourhood with its straight as well as winding, level, uphill or downhill roads is heaven on two wheels.

Jamie remembers riding with his father when he was a toddler. “My father did a bit of riding, but the seed was planted when I was only 3-years old,” he said.

The seed germinated when he watched the Tour de France and London Olympic Games and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Jamie, who is in Grade 10 at Paul Roos Gymnasium, now rides for the Tygerberg Mountain Bike (MTB) Club. Trainer John Wakefield prescribed a rigorous training schedule that sees him out on the road or off-road five to seven days a week.

“I take the schoolbus to Stellenbosch so I only get home around 4pm every day. This leaves me with only about 2 hours to train, so I make the most of the time,” he said.

Thankfully for him and his clubmates, they have permission from the local farmers to access the off-road routes without having to cycle very far from home.

The surrounding Fisantekraal and Philadelphia area has many large wine estates like Diemersdal and Meerendal where the gravel roads criss-crossing the farms and vineyards provide excellent off-road rides.

If he needs to do some speed-work, Jamie would have his pick of any of the M13, M48, M58 or R302 roads which are well-surfaced and relatively quieter than any of the suburban roads closer to his home.

Jamie, who cites endurance as one of his strengths, is fast making a name for himself on the MTB scene.

His more noteworthy achievements to date include: winning in the sub-junior category in 2015 and in the Youth Men A category in 2016 at the Spur Schools MTB National Finals.

He also achieved top honours at the 2017 SA Marathon Champs Youth Men category, while he won the 2017 Western Cape XCO champs.

With the season approaching the end in about two months’ time, he still has his sights set on qualifying at the 2017 Spur Schools MTB National Finals and winning at the 2018 SA Junior XCO Championships, which will qualify him to race at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics.

Jamie has some good advice for aspiring riders. “You have to love the race, MTB is about hard work and consistently pushing yourself to achieve more, you have to believe in your abilities and train hard to achieve your goals,” he said.

“You also have to have a strong support team. My family continues to encourage my passion, while I have a strong technical and coaching team who inspires me to do better.”

With a role-model like four time Tour de France winner Sir Chris Froome, it is no surprise that Jamie has his sights set on riding the iconic race himself one day.

“While the Tour de France remains the ultimate goal, I will have to compete in international races in order to accumulate the required UCI (the cycling world body) points. In the meantime, I enjoy racing locally in order to learn as much as I can and become the best MTB rider that I can be,” said Jamie.