On the first stage of her first Absa Cape Epic Rozalia Kubyana was in tears. Kilometre after kilometre of soft, deep sand had forced riders off their bikes and on to their feet, making for one of the toughest ever days in the 12 years of the event.
But she and American partner Alisha Myers slogged through the notorious “sea sand” Stage 1 of the 2013 Absa Cape Epic, getting home three minutes before the maximum stage time.
Six days later there were more tears as they rode triumphantly into Somerset West to become the first pair of black women to finish the world’s premier mountain bike stage race.
Kubyana has since become an inspiration to women mountain bikers from all walks of life and in 2015 earned her Amabubesi (“Pride of Lions”) Finishers’ Club status by conquering the race for the third time.
This achievement is something she had dreamed about: “It was an incredibly amazing feeling … I really cannot explain it, but I just couldn’t stop smiling knowing that I conquered all the challenges,” she recalled this week.
That Stage 1 in her first event was “my toughest moment … I had to push my bike for 10 kilometres in the sand, and then making the maximum stage time by three minutes”.
And her favourite memory? “All my Epics have significant memories. The first one for going there and not knowing what to expect and yet finishing it successfully,” she recalls. “The second one for having to play the role of a leader because it was my partner Shalotte Mojela’s first big race and I had the experience of how tough it is. And the third one being challenged to compete against top mixed team riders with Justice Makhale (they finished 10th in the category).”
But above all Kubyana is proud about her role in taking the sport to a new community. A friend wrote on her Facebook page recently that there were “not a lot of black ladies doing what you do” and that she was inspiring other women.
“I feel very honoured and blessed knowing that I inspire all those black women riders into becoming better riders. It makes me proud,” she said.
Her journey from newbie to Epic inspiration started a decade ago. “I have been mountain biking for 10 years now. I started in the township of Diepsloot (north of Johannesburg) but at that time it was only a hobby,” said Kubyana, 22. “As time went by I developed a much bigger interest and started training hard and later I started racing cross country for the Diepsloot MTB Academy.”
In 2012 she joined the Exxaro MTB Academy programme, which “played a major role into my cycling career because it developed me into becoming an Epic rider, doing multi-stage races and cross country racing. It has been my support system.”
Absa Cape Epic Marketing and Communications manager Sarah Haigh paid tribute to Kubyana: “She’s been an inspiration and we hope to see more and more women from disadvantaged backgrounds coming into our sport as a consequence.”
* The 2016 Absa Cape Epic stage race takes place from 13 to 20 March and the much anticipated route will be announced at the official route launch gala dinner on 14 October 2015. The 2016 race will host the 100th stage in the history of the event on Tuesday 15 March.