July 12, 2021
Cycling fans flicking through the official guide for this year’s Tour de France may well take a second look when they spot the town name “Nanango”.
Former Nanango resident Taj Jones is now riding with the elite Israel Start-Up Nation team in world cycling events.
And although he’s not hitting the pavements of France and Andorra this year alongside his teammates, the fact he was even in the mix for the elite race is testament to how far the the former Nanango Stags junior rugby league player has risen in the world sporting ranks.
Taj, who turns 21 this month, has signed a three-year contract with the elite Israeli team and has been been training since March in Spain after getting an exemption to leave Australia.
His proud father, Jason, told southburnett.com.au Taj was actually born in Nambour but grew up in Nanango.
About four years ago, the family shifted back to the Sunshine Coast so Taj could get some professional coaching to hone his skills.
He rode with the Nero team for 12 months before joining the elite Australian Cycling Academy (ACA) on the Sunshine Coast, a not-for-profit cycling development program founded by former professional cyclists.
ACA provided Taj with the opportunity to race internationally, in the United States and then at Langkawi in Malaysia.
His performance at the multi-stage Langkawi tour – one of the biggest cycling races in Asia – attracted attention and springboarded his professional career.
“You need a manager to go to the next level,” Jason said.
Taj was offered the opportunity to go to France with a French-speaking team or Spain with an English-speaking team; he chose the latter.
“He was in the feeder group for the first six months but since July 1 has been riding purely at the world tour level,” Jason said.
“He has been beating guys for the last few months who have been tour pros for years.”
And, as Jason pointed out, professional cyclists can have 15-year careers so there’s plenty of time for Taj to ride in the Tour de France.
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The first time southburnett.com.au photographed Taj was in 2012 when the then-Nanango State School student was presented with the Wide Bay Primary Sports Person of the Year during the South Burnett Primary School Sports night at Kingaroy State School.
He was presented with the Roy Wechsel Shield, a $500 bursary and named South Burnett Primary Athlete of the Year.
By this stage in his young life, Taj had already represented Queensland in AFL, Wide Bay in AFL, aquathlon, rugby league, swimming and touch football, and the South Burnett in AFL, cricket, cross country, rugby league and touch.
Running was also part of Taj’s sporting skills: he was crowned “Prince Of The Mountain” at the 2012 Nanango Mardi Gras King Of The Mountain running competition.
Jason said Taj has been keen on triathlons for many years – reaching the top five for his age in Australia – but along the way decided to drop the swimming and running and concentrate instead on cycling.
The rest is history …