Nic Dlamini is back after the break

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In the final days of 2019, NTT’s Nic Dlamini set off for a training ride in Cape Town, rode through the suburbs and climbed into Table Mountain National Park. It had been a long season for the young South African, beginning with the first race of the year at the Tour Down Under, ending with the last at the Tour of Guangxi, and accented by his first Grand Tour in the middle.

Under the off-season summer sun, Dlamini rode through the Silvermine area of the park on what would turn out to be his last ride of the year.

What happened next ricocheted around the world. Dlamini was forcibly stopped by park rangers due to alleged non-payment of an entry fee. In the scuffle that ensued, his arm was twisted violently behind his back by a ranger. Dlamini’s left humerus audibly, sickeningly, snapped. As the rangers tried to stop a passing witness from filming the encounter, the young rider was bundled into the back of a van. Dlamini finished 2019 with his broken arm in a sling, trying to make sense of how an encounter so mundane could end up sidelining an entire career.

After a weak initial statement from the management of the National Park – which included the surprising claim that the altercation “caus[ed] the suspect to injure himself” – the rangers involved were placed on leave while an internal investigation was conducted. Eight months later, according to South African media, that investigation remains in progress.

Meanwhile, international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright is working with Dlamini on a legal case which is still in motion. “There has been some progress with the legal case, but I can’t really say much,” Dlamini told the Daily Maverick this month. “My lawyers are working on it and there has been a lot of communication back and forth.”

In the months since the incident, the world has changed and Nic Dlamini has had a longer off-season than he’d expected. He’s undergone surgery on his broken arm, and extensive physiotherapy, and he’s worked on healing the mental scars from the “extremely upsetting” encounter. Now in new colours – he last raced in the white of Dimension Data, which has changed to the blue of NTT – Dlamini is finally ready.

His 2020 schedule was originally slated to begin with the Czech Tour in a fortnight, but due to an injury in the team, Dlamini will be lining up tomorrow on the start line of the Vuelta a Burgos instead. It will be his first race since Guangxi last year, a lot of pain ago and half a world away.

“I haven’t pinned on a number in about 10 months, if not more, and so I’m very excited and nervous,” Dlamini said. “I’ve done all the preparation and I’m feeling really good. I’m really looking forward to the race, to be on the start line and having a number on my back. That’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Dlamini has been in the WorldTour since 2018, but the Vuelta a Burgos has a special place in his heart. “Burgos is a really nice race – it was actually my very first race as a stagiaire so it’s nice to be heading back,” he said.

His NTT squad, meanwhile, is riding a wave of resurgence after a couple of lackluster seasons. The team hasn’t found results easy to come by in its time in the WorldTour, but signs look more positive in 2020.

At this year’s Virtual Tour de France, NTT was dominant to win the general classification – the team’s first yellow jersey, of a sort – but it’s not just on Zwift that the riders are finding a new level. In the real world, the team has already clocked up almost as many wins in the limited race days of 2020 as it did in the entirety of either the 2019 or 2018 seasons.

NTT will be hoping to carry that form into the resumed season, and will start in Burgos with a well-rounded line-up including Louis Meintjes, Giacomo Nizzolo (two wins so far this year), Ben O’Connor, and Ben Dyball in his first race in the WorldTour.

With them there on the startline will be Nic Dlamini – a rider who at 24 years of age was catapulted into the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and is now back after the break.

“We’ve got a strong line up and obviously getting a late call up to this race is really cool,” Dlamini said. “Being able to start racing even earlier than originally planned is a good thing for me, as I can get my head into it much quicker and earlier.

“I am so happy to be back racing.”

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