Nicholas Dlamini. Picture: SUPPLIED
Nicholas Dlamini. Picture: SUPPLIED

Nicholas Dlamini may never forget Kersbrook Road through the delightfully named nature reserve of Humbug Scrub outside Adelaide, South Australia, after he sprinted up it to become the first black South African to wear a leader’s jersey at a World Tour race on Tuesday.

Dlamini, who has moved up to Team Dimension Data’s World Tour squad for 2018, out-powered Australians Will Clarke (EF Education First) and Scott Bowden (UniSA) to take the points at the King of the Mountains hot spot on the 145km first stage of the Tour Down Under.

The stage was won by German sprinter Andre Greipel.

It is a long way from the humble beginnings of Capricorn township in Cape Town to Humbug Scrub. For Dlamini, who still shares a house there with his mother and siblings, the journey to riding on cycling’s grand stage has been one that has had its moments of joy and hardship, but that has never lacked in focus.

"This is the highest level of the sport so I am really excited to be wearing a leader’s jersey in my first race. I hope for more of the same during the rest of the season," said Dlamini.

He had got into a very early break with Clarke and Bowden, which had been allowed its head by a peloton content to set things up for an eventual bunch sprint in Lyndoch.

The 22-year-old Dlamini, who has shown his climbing legs on the roads of the Western Cape and in 2017’s under-23 Giro Ciclistico d’Italia, known as the Baby Giro d’Italia, where he won the King of the Mountains jersey, confirmed the plan had been for him to challenge for the jersey on Tuesday.

"The day started off really well with a relaxed start because the peloton just let us go when we attacked.

"There was one experienced rider in the move, Will Clarke, so I had to keep an eye on him, but he was actually a really good guy to ride alongside.

"In our tactical meeting ahead of the stage, the plan was always for me to make the break and take the mountains jersey. In that type of situation, I have the best kick in the team so I am happy it all went according to plan," said Dlamini, who tried to stay away in the break with Clarke, but they were eventually hauled in by the peloton.

Dlamini earned the respect of Irish legend Stephen Roche, one of just two men to have won the Triple Crown of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and World Championships in one year, during the Cape Rouleur race in the Western Cape in 2013.

Roche said he had been startled to see the form of the then 18-year-old Dlamini, riding on a heavy-framed bike and challenging the likes of Karl Platt, five-time winner of the Absa Cape Epic, for the overall lead.

Dlamini had been given a bursary to attend Steenberg High School in Cape Town because of his running.

He turned to cycling and his affinity for the sport was immediately apparent.

Dlamini is not sure whether he will hold on to the jersey. Team Dimension Data have other plans for the Tour Down Under with new signing Tom-Jelte Slagter of the Netherlands, looking to repeat his overall victory here from 2013.

"We’ll have to see what happens about keeping the jersey but it is great to have it for now."

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