Wright’s win in Aus­tralian colours makes one wonder

Business Day - - SPORT -

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.”

KEVIN McCAL­LUM

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