Interview: Joe Tavares – creating a pathway for African talents

We caught up with Joe Travares at Hawkstone Park to learn more about his vertical motocross training facility in France, how he is helping Southern African talent get to Europe and learn of his friendship with Aldon Baker in the States that will see him import Aldon’s new Alcavi bicycle to France.

First question, what are you doing at Hawkstone Park?!

As part of our training program we are here after spending some training time with the guys in Florida and we have started a new initiative to bring young Southern  African riders to race and train in Europe, we have brought one rider from South Africa and another from Zimbabwe and in addition to this we also have a program in place to  assist young talented kids who come from modest backgrounds who find it difficult or prohibitive to race in Europe.

We show them by working through our acadamy in France where we have a full vertical training facility and that’s essentially why we are here.

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How are they finding the experience, Hawkstone isn’t an easy track!

They are only really struggling with the cold and of course the length of the race and don’t forget they have just come from sunny Zimbabwe and South Africa (35C) so they are warmly wrapped up but besides the cold we all find the  venue just amazing.  Brighton Bako, the Father of rider, Emmanuel Bako, who represents Betterbrands Racing is actually part of the organising team for the summer series in Zimbabwe and his presence here  is  to invite some of the top International riders to the Summer Series towards the end of this year in Zimbabwe.  Betterbrands has played an integral part in bringing International riders to the Summer Series.  He recently had Shaun Simpson and Ramy Alvez from the USA at last years Sumer Series in Zimbabwe , so he is very keen to generate interest.  We are bringing another three or four young kids out to France this year to  compete in the new E series and the 85 and 125 EMX, so there is quite a lot happening.  Brighton and his team in Zimbabwe have been very involved with this exciting project.

Just talk about the two guys who are with you today…

Calum Marriot and Manu Bako have raced in South Africa since 50cc/65cc/85cc.  Manu Bako has been very successful having won the 85cc National title  in South Africa and many national titles in Zimbabwe. In SA he  is running top 3 in 125 and today in his first truly International race,  his laptimes were very respectable in the top ten on a stock bike but it’s getting used to these conditions that’s a challenge.  Bear in mind that they are essentially hard pack riders so the deep sand is challenging especially after the likes of Herlings, van Doninck, Febvre, Coldenhoff have turned the soil over!!!  But just imagine what it’s like for these young riders to be at the same venue and to rub shoulders with these top International riders.  I cannot thank Gary Ford enough for this opportunity! 

Callum Marriot, this is his third year with me in Europe and his learning curve has been steep! , limited equipment (2021 Husky with 40 hours on it). But in true Southern African spirit both Calum and Manu  have jumped in and they have enjoyed it thoroughly, a great experience, parents and loads of friends are here and we are looking forward to the next race.

South Africa have a great history, winning with Greg Albertyn, Grant Langtson, Tyla Rattray and few others, has that talent pool slowed, is that why you are trying to reignite it?

I don’t think it’s slowed, you have Camden Mc Lellan who is doing pretty well, Calvin Vlaanderen, who is up there with the top guys. It really started with my passion and being a big fan of Aldon Baker, trying to, not copy, but trying to work alongside him at what he is doing. Trying to provide a similar project in Europe and help Southern African riders to come through.  Part of this exercise was the introduction of 5 young 65cc and 85cc riders that we brought over from South Africa last 2022 season to take part in the full EMX 65/85 series.  It was a huge undertaking but I really think it was a great success to see these young riders take on the best in Europe and we got some good top five finishes and the experience gain was incalculable !!

We recently did a costing exercise and discovered that in South Africa, mainly due to the distance they travel. It costs roughly the same to race the Nationals in S. Africa as travelling to race in Europe with the many budget fares offered these days.,… it’s quite incredible. And the value for money, for example at Hawkstone they are not only racing against top riders and full gates but  they have warm-up practice, qualification and three races, that is 2.5 times the track time than a typical race in South Africa. In South Africa they would have a ten minute warm-up and qualifying combined and two 20 minute motos and that’s it.

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And there is higher competition as well..

Yeah, you can’t compare the level, intensity and plus the  full gates. Most of the money is centred in Johannesberg and you still sometimes get 25-40 guys on the 65cc – 85cc gate but, when you get to Capetown, Port Elizabeth and even the Nationals you get ten especially in the 250/450 classes, maybe 10-15 guys on the gate. Whereas In France at just a club race, there are 80 bikes on the line in almost every class and  you have to qualify.  Bear in mind that this is at club level and then you still have access to races at the regionals, Nationals and elite series. So the depth of riding just in France is phenomenal, then you still have England, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Italy so the depth of races is just incredible.

And that’s the plan then, to help create a channel for those talented rider to come through?

Exactly, yeah. Covid messed it up because we had just started this program pre-covid and had three good riders from South Africa  and post Covid we are trying to get it going again. The main thing is to provide a venue, we have a ranch-style home with training facilities like a gymnasium and riding tuition, on site turn tracks and access to at least 20 – 25  very good tracks close to the academy. The guys do yoga, cardio training, access to an osteopath, good nutrition, mental preparation etc etc  it’s a completely different aspect to what they did before. The big benefit is the amount of track time they can get with access to literally 100’s of tracks. We include training trips to Belgium, Holland, Italy and Spain every year as well.

You were over in Florida with Aldon Baker and you have talked about trying to replicate what he has done, what have you learnt from him and what is your relationship with him?

I’ve been to Aldon’s previously as you know, and he is just an incredible guy. You won’t meet anyone more honest and more dedicated in our sport.. He is a maverick and a visionary – To me what he is doing nobody else is doing or even coming close to.  He is honestly operating at another level !

The reason for this trip to meet with ALdon wasn’t so much the motocross, although we spent time at Baker’s Factory and met some of riders and Callum actually tested the Alcavi bicycle and went for a test ride with Aldon’s Alcavi bicycle brand. I am assisting Aldon and assisting him to launch the Alcarvi bicyle in France with a very well known Tour de France guy that we work with. That was actually one of reasons for the visit.

Aldon is looking to help me when I bring some very young kids from Southern Africa, to show them around his facility and just see what a proper venue looks like, what a hi-tech gymnasium looks like, it’s like NASA !!, and to see what they are doing and the high level they are doing it at and to possibly meet some of the riders, I am hoping that is going to come off as what an opportunity for these very young aspiring riders from Africa.

Actually whilst in Florida Calum also had a great opportunity for a  test ride with Neil Prince from the SC Sporthomes Husqvarna UK and a Quebec Honda Team as part of our training initiative for our young SA riders. 

Interview and images: Jonathan McCready