Africa's Road Cycling Problem and How to Improve It
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Edited on September 13, 2022, 7:55 AM EST: Additional quotes and changes to the information provided.
In June, British petrochemicals company INEOS announced plans to invest heavily in the creation of a new cycling academy in Kenya. The move comes as part of INEOS' wider commitment to sport on the African continent and follows the success of Kenyan athletes such as double Olympic champion and world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. The academy will be based at Kaptagat camp - Eliud Kipchoge's Kenyan training center - and will be headed up by Valentijn Trouw, who has over 30 years of experience in identifying and nurturing long-distance running talent in Kenya. It is hoped that the combination of Trouw's expertise with that of the INEOS Grenadiers team will create a world-class academy that can produce competitive cyclists from Kenya on a global stage. The investment in local talent is just one small building block in a much larger picture of fostering talent development across the African continent.
Cyclists racing in Gondar, Ethiopia.
"There is immense talent in Africa, but not enough racing opportunities," says Rebecca Eliot, founder of ProTouch Africa - a sports tech business focussed on fan engagement that owns the ProTouch Continental Cycling Team. "Other than the Tour du Rwanda (2.1), Tour of Benin (2.2), Tour of Cameroon (2.2) and GP Chantal Biya (2.2), there are no other UCI-sanctioned races in Africa," she notes. "These tours (other than the Tour du Rwanda) are only open to local club teams and a few French club teams from time to time," she adds.
"Rarely do the organizers provide invites to our Team as they want t[he] locals to win and the current UCI rules around obligatory invitations mean that we have to sometimes compete with our federation for the invite. This is the case for both ProTouch and Sidi Ali Team from Morocco. In addition, by not including African teams that have riders participating regularly in international racing does not improve the level of racing on the continent. "
The comments come amidst news that one ProTouch rider made plans separate from the team. ProTouch was set to make waves at the Maryland Cycling Classic, the newest event in the UCI Tour of Americas, but one rider had unfortunately overshadowed the efforts and gains of all the other riders. Instead of following team transportation to the hotel lodging and event, Samuel Mugisha secretly coordinated his own transportation with Rwandans residing in the United States and became a no-show at the event. Instead, the rider decided to hide away so that he could overstay his visa and made international news from the unusual turn of events. Mugisha was a well-established cycling champion known for his victory at the Tour du Rwanda.
Nearly one year ago the UCI announced the news that Rwanda would be the host to the 2025 UCI Road Cycling World Championships. The President of the Rwandan Cycling Federation, Abdallah Murenzi, is hopeful that the event will raise the level of cycling in Rwanda and Africa as a whole. There is a dedicated "Team Africa 2025" that is working to ensure that African cyclists are ready for the event. More races and training camps are being created across the continent in preparation for the championships. Dr Mohamed Wagih Azzam, President of the African Cycling Confederation, is hopeful that many African nations will be represented at the event. The UCI World Cycling Centre is also working with the Rwandan government to prepare for the event.
However, the lack of high-level events throughout the continent remains one of the main current issues.
"The solution is that we have to take riders to the races in Europe, Asia and the USA," said Eliot. "This requires budget for flights and flying from various African countries can be challenging both from a cost perspective and with visas. Added to that, you have the cost of hiring vehicles (cars and buses), extra accommodation for days on either side, etc. Most of the continental teams in Africa are self-funded, so we struggle. When riders do what Samuel did ... it is selfish and irresponsible as it impacts future visas for African athletes - not just riders. And (it) would be considered by most to be disrespectful to both his team and the organizer of the event, that spent money providing him the ability: opportunity to get there."
“There are a lot of good people out there trying to assist in developing African riders. Sadly, there isn’t much collaboration between them to really benefit the greater good. I hope that in the future this will change and those with a common goal to see more diversity and inclusion will work together more to disrupt the current landscape."
In adjacent news, professional cycling was recently shaken up by news that Ireland would not be attending the UCI World Championships at all, and that New Zealand would require partial self-funding from riders that want to attend. However, self-funding is a reality for many professional teams throughout the entire African continent.
"Our team as you know is self-funded," said Eliot. "Ranked #1 in Africa and has 14 (oops 13) riders from 5 African nations and 5 national champions and 1 African continental champion. Over (the) past 4 years we have enabled 26 riders from 6 different nations (South Africa, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Burkina Faso) - more than any other team in the world. We have developed a platform ProTouch Africa that aggregates African cycling. It is an app you can download from the App Store."
In many ways, Africa is a continent of opportunity. Although it faces significant challenges, there are also many positive developments taking place across the continent. These include efforts to improve access to education, health care, and economic opportunities.
In recent years, African riders have made significant progress on the international stage, with several winning major races and earning places on top teams. This success has in turn led to more investment in African cycling, both from within the continent and from outside investors.
Amidst positive strides, there have been several tragedies as well. Most recently, Sule Kangangi, captain of the Kenyan cycling team Amani, passed away after a crash at the Overland gravel race in Vermont in August. Kangangi helped shine a light on the struggles that professional cyclists in Africa face on a daily basis. The champion cyclist was 33 years old and served as the captain of Team Amani, a cycling squad dedicated to promoting inclusivity and opportunities for East Africans. "Amani" means "peace" in Swahili, and Kangangi's passion continues to shine on through his team.
Team Amani's recent strides and successes helped Meta catch wind of the team earlier in the year and secure investment from the company. The team is now one of the few that uses the metaverse as a training platform. Kangangi will be remembered through his team for the passion that he instilled in his dozen charges and conveys the hope cycling brings to the lives of underserved people striving for dignity, identity, and a better place in the world.
Sule Kangangi was one of Africa's top cyclists who fought hard to promote opportunities for other East Africans through his work with Team Amani. His sudden death has sent shockwaves throughout the African cycling community but his legacy will live on through those he inspired. It is hoped that more young Africans will be encouraged to take up cycling as a result of Sule's story so that they can follow in his footsteps in achieving their dreams.
The African continent has produced some of the world's top cyclists, including Tour de France winner Chris Froome, and the sport is only continuing to grow in popularity across Africa, with many people seeing it as a way to escape poverty and build a better future. Top cyclists from the region are making a name for themselves on the international stage and promoting healthy lifestyles back home. This surge in popularity can be attributed to several factors, including the affordability of the sport and its ability to promote fitness and good health.
This increased global investment is already bearing fruit, with more and more African riders being given the opportunity to compete at the highest levels of the sport. This in turn is helping to develop a new generation of cyclists who will be able to take their place on the world stage. With continued support, there is no doubt that Africa has the potential to become a major force in global cycling.