South African BMX superstar Sifiso Nhlapo has confirmed that he will jet back for the SA National BMX Championships which form part of Pietermaritzburg's exciting new CSA KZN All Africa Challenge that takes place from 25 to 30 April.
Nhlapo made the final round of the BMX at the Beijing Olympics, but crashed in the medal-deciding race. The following year he crashed in training and suffered a broken neck. After 10 months on the sidelines he returned to training and captured a silver medal at the 2010 UCI BMX World Championships in Pietermaritzburg.
Only Nhlapo and women's rider Teagan O'Keeffe, who has been training at the UCI's World Cycling Centre in Switzerland, are in line to qualify for the Olympics. They need semi-final placings at the World Championships in Birmingham in May if they want to book their places for London.
With Nhlapo desperately trying to regain full fitness and find the form which sent him to the top just a couple of years ago, he, along with many other up and coming local riders, will be hungry for a strong performance at Alexandra Park in the KZN capital.
"We're very excited to have Sifiso (Nhlapo) back for the nationals," Cycling South Africa's national director of BMX, Margot Gerber, said in a statement. "The likes of Kyle Dodd and Dean Holdstock, who have also been going well recently, will also be there so we're really holding thumbs for a great event."
"We've moved away from our previous system of three events each with two legs, which you are able to earn points from, to a once-off championship event which falls into line with what the UCI is trying to get everyone to do," added Eugene Eggar, Cycling South Africa's national BMX track coordinator.
CSA KZN All Africa Challenge
The CSA KZN All Africa Challenge features the disciplines of track, mountain biking and BMX, and the BMX community, particularly, is hopeful the event will provide their sport with a big boost.
"The track is undergoing a huge rehabilitation at the moment and our aim is that once we've had the Nationals there, then the Maritzburg BMX club will take over the management of the track," said KZN BMX commissioner Jason Nichol.
"This will be a big step forward for BMX in the region because even though Pietermaritzburg has become the cycling capital of South Africa, BMX numbers in the region are still quite low.
'Grow the sport'
"Hopefully the new track at Alexandra Park, which is central and visible to the community, will really help grow the sport, especially amongst the local community members," he added.
Since the city staged a round of the UCI BMX Supercross last year, some needed changes have been made, which has pleased Eggar.
"Things have been going really well and it's going to be absolutely awesome!" he reckoned. "From the babies right through to the elite, it really will be a great weekend for BMX in South Africa.
"The Supercross guys are the top of the top in the world, so we've had to step things down a bit for our Nationals.
"We've taken out the berm jump and made one or two other small changes, but we've put in a six-metres start hill, which is the biggest size allowed at this level, so this track definitely isn't one which just anyone would manage," he added.
"This is not just a Grand National Series event, this is the SA National Champs, so the rider who crosses the line first on Sunday will be crowned SA Champ for 2012 and will be given the number one board for the next year, and some of the guys will really want to do well ahead of the World Champs in Birmingham in September this year," said Nichol.
The SA National BMX Championships form part of the CSA KZN All Africa Challenge and take place at Alexandra Park from 27 to 29 April.