Wed, Jan 31, 2024 12:08 PM

Young cyclist locks in Spanish opportunity


Peter Jones

By rights, at this time of year Lockie McNabb should be preparing for his final year at secondary school, aiming for good NCEA Level 3 marks with a view to future university study.

Instead, exams and school are firmly in the 17-year-old’s rear vison mirror as he mounts up for a Spanish cycling adventure.

Late last year, Lockie was named dux of Marlborough Boys’ College, the Year 12 pupil having gained higher marks overall in his subjects than any Year 13 student.

His rare achievement effectively allowed him to depart school 12 months earlier than his peers, giving him what he describes as a “free year”.

And what better way to spend that time than doing what he loves, riding a bicycle, on the other side of the world.

In mid-2024 Lockie will fly to Spain where he will ride for the Café Dromedario-Flotamet road cycling club, based in Durango, for three months. The 10-strong junior [under-19] team will race each weekend in the Basque area of Spain, plus tackle five big four-day stage events, which provide opportunities for promising riders to be seen by European teams.

In recent times Lockie’s cycling progress has matched his academic achievement.

He has excelled on both mountain and road bikes over the past few years.

He has raced on the national mountain biking scene for the past seven years, claiming the 2023 South Island under-20 cross country title.

Last year his attention turned firmly to road cycling. In October he competed in the Junior Tour of Southland, finishing seventh in general classification and third in the King of the Mountains category.

Three days later, he returned home for the secondary school mountain biking nationals. He finished fourth in the under-20 cross country and was part of the second-placed MBC relay team, later admitting the rigours of the Southland Tour had taken their toll.

However, by then the road cycling bug had well and truly bitten, good results in August’s Road Tour of Manawatu, coupled with his Southland Tour efforts, piquing his interest in the testing discipline.

Lockie is intrigued by the tactical side of road cycling. “I found it is quite a bit more intellectual, it is way more strategic than mountain biking and I enjoyed some success straight away.”

His Spanish move was prompted by a desire to further his road cycling ambitions.

Opportunities to make an impact on the road are limited in New Zealand, especially with the Black Spoke development team having folded. “The only opportunity was Australia or elsewhere and I couldn’t find an opportunity in Oz that would work,” Lockie explained.

Lockie McNabb has enjoyed plenty of success on the mountain biking circuit. Photo supplied.

Now, he is relishing the chance to test himself in the hugely-competitive Euro environment.

“It is crazy different racing there … the biggest race we get here is 40 people, at the nationals … over there 220 will show up at a Saturday club race. It’s a different calibre of racing there.

“It is all about seeing if I am actually good enough to continue with [a road cycling career].”

Initially signing on for three months, Lockie is able to extend his stay if things go well. “I would love to have an offer from a world Tour team. There are Tour de France Development teams who take on young riders, but the competition is intense.”

Lockie describes his forthcoming trip as “pursuing my life’s dream” but is well aware how tough it is to break through in the top echelon of road cycling.

He hasn’t set any hard and fast plans in place for Plan B but suggested university study was a likely option, “probably studying aeronautical engineering at Canterbury”.

However, a cycling/engineering cross-over is never far from his thoughts. “There are plenty of engineers in the pro teams … lots of maths and numbers that go into trying to make the fastest bike around.

“Aerodynamics is huge now, you have got to be the best of the best though – most of the people that are in the bike industry have done five or 10 years of aeronautical engineering. You don’t come straight out of uni and get hired by the best pro teams to design bikes.

“But I find it all fascinating … it all seems to make total sense physics-wise.”

Next up for the talented teen are February’s national under-19 mountain biking champs in Queenstown, followed by the under-19 road champs in Timaru, then April’s Oceania cycling champs in Australia – after which he sets off on his Euro excursion, a ‘gap year’ with a difference.

Lockie was quick to praise the Marlborough Mountain Bike Club and Cuddon Cycling Marlborough “for their constant support”.

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