To make it to the very top of the sport, international exposure is key for any cyclist and the journey of South Africa’s Byron Munton is a case in point.
“In my opinion it’s not an option. If you want to pursue cycling as a career you have to race in Europe,” said Munton, who is currently riding for Gsport in Valencia, Spain.
“This is my third year racing in Europe and I’m still learning new things in every race I do.”
Munton, who spent 2017 in Belgium and 2018 in France thanks to the LeadOut programme and GaeaSports, said that after a good start to 2019 he was put into contact with cycling agency VeloFutur.
“They’ve helped many South Africans progress in their careers and were able to find a suitable spot in a team in Spain.”
The 20-year-old, who races locally for Alfa Bodyworks, started his season with victories in the Stellenbosch Cycle Tour and individual time-trial at the Western Cape road champs before going on to claim gold in the U23 individual time-trial at the national road champs in February.
He also won the Western Province Red Hill Road Race in April, his last event before leaving for Europe.
After receiving the opportunity to race in Spain, it was not a matter of deciding if he was going to accept it, but rather how quickly he was able to get there.
“Europe is where you grow as a rider and can get noticed by the right people, so the longer you are here the better.”
The Cape Town local said his objective was to make the most out of the opportunity.
“You can train yourself up to a certain point, but that will never be a substitute for the amount of experience you have.
“On the non-racing side, I want to try and grow my understanding of different cultures. Learning a new language is currently a top priority, especially when the teammate I live with doesn’t understand one word of English.”
At the beginning of the month he took part in the 150.5km Klasica Santikutz-Legazpi, his first race for Gsport.
“With not the greatest positioning into the climbs, I was left fighting to keep contact with the front group for most of the race. By the time we started the final ascent I only had enough to go over in the second group.
“In the end I finished 34th, one minute and 14 seconds behind the winner.”
Munton then competed in the four-stage Vuelta Bidesoa – a race for U23 riders – but had to abandon on the third day due to illness.
“It’s always disappointing, but health comes first. Although I only finished two stages I can still take a lot of positives away and will use this in the future.”
Compared to South Africa, Munton had to get used to bigger bunches, smaller roads and tougher competition.
“Back home the bunches are small enough that positioning is not as difficult. You have more space on the roads and half the number of people to get through.
“Also, everyone here wants to win or have their teammate win.”
He felt it was not necessarily the level of racing that needed to change locally, but rather the support for the riders.
“I mean, look at the riders that our country has in the WorldTour – we have some of the strongest ones out there.
“We just need more cyclists that have good support from their teams, as well as sponsors, and who are willing to dedicate themselves to cycling in return.”
Munton’s upcoming races are the Trofeo Santa Quiteria-Higueruela (starting tomorrow), GP Poncemur on May 25, Campeonato de la C.V. de CR (individual time-trial) on June 1 and the Volta a Castelló on June 13.
He will return to SA in October.