From the shadows, riding into the limelight

While Robbie Hunter was first across the line at Sunday’s Pick n Pay Cape Argus cycle tour, the next face of South African cycling may well be the slightly obscured young development rider we saw flanking Hunter’s right at the finish.

If he had his way, Nolan Hoffman (22) would have been born with a bicycle between his legs. “I was always into cycling, from when I was very young … back then I had this really old bike, but I can’t say I knew what I was doing; I just liked riding.”

Hoffman says he grew up in “hard times” in the small Western Cape town of Franschhoek.
“It wasn’t easy, we always had ‘just enough’ you know?” At 16, his father bought him a new bike and he made a name for himself competing at a junior level in track races.

That’s where he was spotted by a member of the development committee at the cycling board. The young rider was flown to Johannesburg to join Team Excel, which later became Team Neotel.

“That was in 2004; from there on I just went from strength to strength.”

Hoffman is currently the under-23 South African road champion, top-ranked rider in track points and has a string of podium finishes to his name, most of them first places.

The broader cycling community is taking notice. Respected international cycling writer, Jean-François Quénet, who has tracked cycling events from Italy to Australia to Africa, said that “if there is a black sprinter in the Tour de France in the coming years, it might well be Nolan Hoffman”.

Hoffman admits, however, to coveting the Argus crown, which has twice narrowly eluded him.

“This is the second time I came second for the Argus; the first time was in 2006,” he says. “Both times I lost out to really good guys—but I’m knocking on that door. Sooner or later I’m going to take it. It’s my favourite race in South Africa.”

Hoffman is at once a taciturn and humble individual and a fiercely motivated athlete. He currently lives in the south of Johannesburg with the rest of team Neotel, to whom he attributes (most of) his success.

“There is that public perception that cycling is an individual sport, but I would say it’s 80% teamwork. You need strong riders to carry you up hills, draft you, keep the wind off you and challenge attacks from opposing teams. It’s actually pretty easy for me right up until the end.”

Hoffman trains for three hours a day, not including at least one five- to six-hour-long ride and two races per weekend. “I’d like to ride for as long as I can. Not a lot of people get to live their dreams. I’m just fortunate to do what I love and get an income from that.”

Beyond the passion, Hoffman has another reason to acieve success—his parents and siblings, who he still supports financially. “I feel it’s my responsibility toward them, for everything I’ve been given.”

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