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Mhlengi Gwala, 26, had operation yesterday after horrific assault in Durban

An appeal to raise funds for a South African triathlete who was the victim of a brutal attack in which three men tried to cut his legs off with a chainsaw has raised tens of thousands of pounds.

The incident happened while Mhlengi Gwala, in training for the forthcoming national championships, was riding his bike near the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban in the early hours of Tuesday morning, reports News24.com.

His three assailants dragged him into nearby bushes and according to his sponsor, Sue de la Porte, the 26-year-old believed at first that they were attempting to mug him.

She said: "He tried offering them his cellphone and money, but they pinned him down and tried to saw off his leg.”

De la Porte, who spent all day Tuesday with him at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, continued: "He is very badly injured. We've just spoken to the plastic surgeon and he is currently in the surgical ward."

News of the attack was broken on Twitter by leading South African triathlete, Henri Schoeman, winner of the bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games behind Team GB’s Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee.

He wrote: “A friend of mine, cycling in the Durban area was robbed by three people this morning, Then they attempted to saw off both legs with a chainsaw. Blade too blunt and only got half way through one and started on the other. Absolutely disgusting! How safe are we on SA roads?”

In a second tweet, Schoeman added: “I wish all the best to @MhlengiGwala in his operation and road to recovery. We all stand behind you and support you as we need to make cycling safer on the roads in South Africa!”

Gwala was due to undergo surgery yesterday and beforehand his friend and training partner Sandile Shange said: "The doctor says the blood flow is good, the only problem is with his tendons.”

According to the fundraising page set up on his behalf by JP Valverde on the crowdfunding site Backabuddy.co.za, “the surgery went very well and now the road to recovery begins.”

Valverde wrote: “We are hoping to raise funds to support him with all his medical expenses, transportation, bike replacement and rehabilitation costs.”

At the time of writing, the crowdfunding appeal has raised 552,000 Rand (£33,400) of its 750,000 Rand (£45,400) target.

Police in South Africa have launched a manhunt to try and track down the attackers.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.