Wright’s win in Australian colours makes one wonder
Cameron Wright still has traces of his South African accent, although it now has more of an Australian slur. He left the land of his birth at the age of 12 when his parents moved the family to Brisbane in 2012.
Seven days ago, aged just 17, he was crowned the junior world champion at the UCI world championships in Cairns. He won for Australia.
It shouldn’t sting to read that fact, but it does carry a sense of “dammit”. Could Wright have been SA’s new world champion if he had stayed? Would he have developed into the rider he is now?
In seventh place in the junior world championships was Matt Dinham, a South African now based in Sydney who grew up riding together with Wright. They idolised the late Burry Stander, who was killed when hit by a taxi while training in KwaZulu-Natal in January 2013.
The death of the country’s greatest mountain biker of his generation left a hole in South African cycling that has seemed insurmountable.
Stander won the under-23 world championships in Canberra in 2009. The win had a profound effect on Wright and Dinham, who continue to use the hashtag #iride4Burry as inspiration in their social media posts. Both have pictures of themselves posing with Stander at races. They wanted to be him.
Wright is now, perhaps, the closest to what Stander was.
“Deciding to move to Australia was probably the biggest decision for my family and it’s definitely paid off,” said Wright from Cairns earlier this week. “From only being able to keep up, coming here gave me that freedom to train by myself, to train harder and better.
“It was my first world championship, I wasn’t really expecting too much out of it. The initial goal was to go for top 10, but on the start loop, something clicked and it told me to go straightaway and it worked,” he said.
“Going into the second lap I realised I could become a firstyear junior world champ. It became more and more real as the laps went on.”
Wright’s citizenship was fast-tracked so he could ride for Australia in Cairns, but the South African in him lives on: he celebrated the superb silver medal won by Alan Hatherly for SA in the under-23 race and lamented the rear-wheel puncture that cost Pietermaritzburg’s downhill superstar, Greg Minnaar, a shot at winning a fourth world championship.
“I was stoked for Alan,” said Wright. “We were mates when I lived in SA. Having ridden with him back then, I was looking up to him, and I still look up to him today. Next year should be an interesting year for him.
“I know Greg personally, and he is a legend. Having support from him, seeing him at all the World Cups, he is a huge inspiration for me.”
The other sting is that these South African cyclists have to do it all themselves. Wright and his family felt they could not rely on Cycling SA for support in his development, and that may have played some small role in their decision to leave.
The South African team at the world championships paid their own way to Cairns. Cycling SA is cash-strapped.
Hatherly, Minnaar and the others in the South African team relied on sponsors and their own pockets to buy kit and flights and pay for mechanics and team support.
That South African cyclists manage to produce the results they do is down to their own fortitude and belief.
Wright comes back to SA to race and visit friends. He is Australian now, but this land sticks with you.
He has a dream of riding the Absa Cape Epic, the stage race that has the eyes of the world on it every March. Stander won it twice with Christoph Sauser of Switzerland. He remains the only South African to have stood on the winner’s spot. Wright wants to follow in Stander’s wheel tracks.
“I’m not quite the endurance rider yet, but as the years go on and I get more confidence, I will build my endurance and get to the Cape Epic, which is a race I would really love to do with my mate Matt Dinham.”