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Team Africa Rising aim to build women's race squad from the ground up

Joseph Delves
3 Feb 2017

Director of Africa Women Cycling determined that lack of funding won’t scupper chances for the continet’s aspiring female athletes

Watching last year's Olympic road race Kimberly Coats was struck by the fact that there were just three women from Africa, and not one woman of colour, lining up to tackle the course in Rio. Not that this came as much of a surprise. Having for many years worked with Africa Rising and Team Rwanda, Coats was well acquainted with the state of cycling on the continent.

Team Rwanda are one of cycling’s great sucess stories. The team has helped bring together riders and fans in a country previously riven by ethnic conflict, helped nurture a unique African cycle racing culture, and propelled several of its members onto the world stage.

Coats had been instrumental in its success, working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the project on track. Building on that success in August 2016 the organisation behind Team Rwanda, announced their intention to form the first ever all African women’s professional cycling team.

In August the Africa Rising foundation ran a month-long, high-altitude intensive training camp. Fourteen women from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Rwanda took part. Of these Yohana Dawit, a 24-year old Eritrean who had recently won the Rwandan Race for Culture Cycling Cup was selected to travel to America to compete in the Green Mountain Stage Race.

In doing so Dawit became the first female Eritrean cyclist to race at the professional level in the United States. 

However the team suffered a setback when their star rider went missing and claimed asylum in the USA and by the end of the year, despite showing such early promise, it became obvious that the funding necessary to put together a permanent team couldn’t be found. Yet rather than give up, Africa Rising reformulated and expanded their plans.

The Rwandan men’s team had achieved success in a top down way. Using limited funding, a pool of talented riders had been identified and nurtured. Their success on the world stage had then served as an inspiration, helping attract funding and growing the region’s racing scene.

With the national Tour of Rwanda now part of the UCI Africa Tour, attracting massive crowds, and rider Adrien Niyonshuti signed to a WorldTour team and competing at the Olympics, the project was a triumph. 

By contrast the Africa Rising Women’s (ARW) Cycling Programme will attempt to grow cycling from the grassroots, and not just in Rwanda, but all across the continent.

‘We believe if we open the doors to the world of cycling at the youngest ranks, eventually we will have not just the first women’s African professional cycling team but dozens of professional teams,’ explained Coats.

To achieve this they aim to give women and girls access to bikes for recreation and business, with the intention of building a cycling culture from which the next generation of riders can emerge.

To make sure these riders grow up in an environment where they can succeed, ARW aim to advocate for women cycling on the continent by building a network of stakeholders and role models within Africa’s national cycling federations and support the candidacies of women standing for positions on their executive committees.

‘Long term, in order to help all women interested in the sport, we need to grow grassroots support,' said Coats.

'We need to organise and help place women in leadership roles within local clubs or federations. We need women in the Confederation of African Cycling and more women in the UCI in leadership and policy making.

'And ultimately, we need young girls to know the freedom they can experience on a bike and the older women to be their mentors and voices,’ Coats added.

The organisation will hold it first planning meeting at the Africa Continental Championships on 15th February 2017 in Luxor, Egypt.

You can follow the project on Facebook, Twitter, on the Africa Rising website or make a donation here

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