Shange’s epic ride to end with another Drak Descent
As hundreds of MTB fanatics converge on Underberg on the weekend of 30 and 31 January 2021 for the Euro Steel Drak Descent in partnership with FNB, few will notice the figure of Thubalethu Shange as he rides into the Southern Drakensberg town the day before race.
Hardly anyone will know that he has ridden 235 kilometre via Kokstad to get to the race, taking him 13 hours, simply because he doesn’t have the funds to afford to drive to the events he chooses.
His ideal event is tough. Like the notorious Munga and the Freedom Challenge that he has completed several times. But has he concedes with a smile, he doesn’t worry about adversity.
The 29 year old, who hails from the rural village of NdlovuZulu outside Port Shepstone candidly admits, “My whole life has been tough!”
“Covid has been tough for the whole country. But I was OK. I have always had to deal with a lack of resources to survive, so it was easier for me to cope.”
He admits to having chosen to be an ultra-rider, and wants to carve out a name for himself in the most extreme facet of the sport. That’s why riding 500 kilometres to and from Underberg for a two day race totalling 90 kilometres doesn’t faze him.
Having raced the Euro Steel Drak Descent in 2019 and 2020 he is determined to return.
“Why wouldn’t I want to come back? The single track is beautifully flowing. The technical terrain is not for the feint hearted. The people are so friendly. It is a life-changing event,” says Shange.
“It would be the perfect place for me to train because it has the altitude and would be a great training camp venue,” he added.
He has always struggled to fund his passion, Cadence Nutrition helps with his supplements and DCM help with racing kit, and then he relies on generous individuals to help cover his costs to get to races and maintain his equipment.
With a long tar road trip to the race to factor in, he rides the Drak Descent with a gravel bike setup, using semi-slick tyres and rigid forks.
“I really enjoy that,” he said. “I think the organisers should create a separate class for gravel bikes.”
And once the dust has settled on the two days of MTB action in the foothills of the Southern Drakensberg, the well-heeled riders will leave Underberg with their bikes strapped to their cars, while Shange sets off back to Port Shepstone on his bike with a trademark grin on his face.
“It has never been easy, but I like it that way,” says the South Coast stalwart.