Graduates Go To Belgium’s Bakala Academy

Bakala Academy

The Bakala Academy, in Belgium, were science meets sport.

Zola Ngxakeni and Ntlantla Nonkasa won a trip to the Bakala Academy, at the University of Leuven, in Belgium as part of their Exxaro Jersey victory at the 2023 Absa Cape Epic. For nearly a decade each edition’s Exxaro category winners have visited the Bakala Academy, which also serves as the training base for Soudal Quick-Step, in the South African winter to undergo a battery of performance tests and to learn about the latest breakthroughs in sport science, which pertain to cycling training. Here are Zola and Ntlantla’s reports from their time in Belgium…

Zola Ngxakeni’s Report from the Bakala Academy 

Follow Zola on Instagram: @zngxakeni


Zola showing off his skills on the road bike.

The trip began with a new experience: applying for visas and travel insurance. It was a bit of a bureaucratic maze, but we eventually made our way through it. The next challenge was getting to the airport. As there was a taxi strike we had to dodge certain highways and hope for the best. But we arrived safely and checked our luggage in. 

After a long and exhausting flight, we landed safely in Dubai at 06h30. The terminal building is vast, but we were able to navigate it without any difficulty. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the time I saw a tourist wandering around the Dubai airport for hours, looking for his gate. He must have been thinking, “Where am I? What am I doing here? Is this real life?”

We had a two-hour layover in Dubai, which was just enough time to loosen up our jet legs by running from one bordering gate to another. Our next flight took another five hours, and then we finally arrived in Brussels. 

We were met at the airport by a nice gentleman who drove us to Leuven and the Bakala Academy. We got a warm welcome from the guys there, and after a long flight, they gave us some time to settle in and rest. The next day, we were on our bikes with a tour guide, exploring the beautiful city of Leuven. Every day, we had a tour guide that guided us around different routes through this very cycling friendly city. 

On Friday, we did one of the things I was looking forward to the most: the body composition and VO2 max test. The results were insightful and very specific. The people who were there were amazing. There was a significant language barrier, but we managed to communicate, and I was really happy with the results.


Click to take a look at Zola in action during a Bakala training session.

We got a day where we got to tour the city on our own. We got lost a few times, but eventually found our way back on the right track. The best experience was getting the opportunity to ride the Tour of Leuven (the 2021 road world championship route). It was super tough, and there were some famous climbs that we got to ride. 

Overall, this was the best trip. It was well organized and one of the best experiences I have ever had in my entire life. These are opportunities that you don’t get every day, and I want to send a massive thanks to all the people that made this trip possible. Words cannot express much, as there is so much I can say about the trip. Again, thank you so much for this opportunity! 

Click to see where Zola and Ntlantla went riding in Leuven.

Ntlantla Nonkasa’s Report from the Bakala Academy

Follow Ntlanta on Instagram: @ntlantlanonkasa


Ntlantla enjoying an ice-cream in the streets of Leuven.

On the 7th of August Zola and I visited a sports centre in Belgium called Balaka Academy. This was part of our Exxaro jersey competition prize as we are the 2023 category winners. 

We had connecting planes from Cape Town to Dubai and then from Dubai to Brussels Airport. The first flight was roughly 9 hours long, then we had a 2 hour lay-over Dubai. When we arrived in Brussels, we were picked up by a taxi and then taken to our accommodation for the week. There we were warmly welcomed and briefed what lay ahead. 

Bakala Academy

Bakala Academy performance testing time.

The next day we went to the Specialized Bicycles store to do a road bike setup as we would ride those throughout the week. They also organized three tour guides to guide us through the city. Our first tour guide took us to a loop of about 108km route around the city and also to an old cyclo-cross route.

After the ride, we walked to the Leuven city centre to experience some old town buildings and food. On Wednesday we had a body composition and VO2 max test in the sports lab. Later that day, the results of the tests were explained to us and we were given a better understanding of the theories behind the tests. On our second last day, we joined the road bike race called Tour of Leuven, which was the World Champs route two years ago.


Escalators to the next long walk across the airport.

Overall we had so much fun in Belgium and enjoyed every single moment of our trip. Thanks again to everyone who made it possible, especially Exxaro Resources, the Absa Cape Epic, Ninety One and Specialized Bicycles. 

Read more race reports from the programme here