Monday 15 April 2013

Africans and Cycling - 2

In light of Gerald Ciolek's recent victory at the Milan-Sanremo bike race while riding for the African Team, MTN Qhubeka I thought I would revisit a subject which I previously wrote about - Africans and cycling.
Not only was Ciolek's first victory for an African professional cycling team (which only got into the Sanremo race on a wildcard), but the team actually included a black African racer, Songezo Jim. We have seen African racers like Chris Froome and Dan Craven participate in high profile professional events, but for once we saw the first ever participation of a black African guy in the Milan-Sanremo. He has documented his experience of participating in this year's epic edition of the event, which makes for quite interesting reading.
There have been black guys participate in other elite races on the UCI African Tour, and other races like the Tour of Rwanda and the Tour of Burkina Faso. At the London 2012 Olympics a number of racers from Eritrea, Morocco, Algeria and Rwanda also competed in cycle races.

It seems that cycling is no longer being seen as a form of transportation for the poor, as was traditionally the case. More Africans are choosing to ride a bicycle for pleasure rather than cycling out of necessity.

Cycling can be a way of overcoming adversity, as is the case for Rwandan cyclist Adrien Niyonshuti. After losing most of his family at the age of seven in an attack on his village during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Adrien found comfort in cycling. As a novice cyclist riding on an old steel bicycle through the Rwandan hills this gave Adrien a sense of freedom and a new focus.

Thanks to events organised in Rwanda by mountain bike pioneers Jock Boyer and Tom Ritchey, Adrien Niyonshuti took up off-road cycling more seriously and joined Team Rwanda which was set up and coached by the two Americans. The full story can now be seen in a new film, Rising From the Ashes, which shows the story behind team Rwanda and how cycling has given hope to the Rwandan genocide victims, including Adrien, who competed in the London 2012 Olympics.

There have been different schemes to encourage cycling in Africa such as the Bikes 4 Africa scheme. Indeed, Team MTN Qhubeka race to raise the profile of children in African communities and donate bicycles to disadvantaged young people in South Africa who would like to take up cycling.

Where cycling was previously seen as something only done by certain classes in society, nowadays different types of people in Africa embracing this two-wheeled pleasure.

As with many countries across the developed world, cycling is a great leveller. Two South African photographers and cycling aficionados Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler, recently published a book entitled Bicycle Portraits, containing various photos that can be viewed on line. The book features ordinary people of all shapes, sizes and races who are bonded by the fact that they travel around by bicycle. (More on their project in this article.)

I for one, was very pleased to see the participation of Songezo Jim at the Milan-San Remo race this year. I hope that in time we will get to see more black Africans in World Tour professional races. Who knows, this could then lead to an African equivalent of the "Wiggo" effect (like what we saw in the UK after Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France).
It seems cycling could be about to have a new image in Africa. I look forward to the time when cycling will firmly be seen as a "like to do" activity rather than a "will have to do" activity.


Buckles said...

I follow your blog regularly and being of African-Caribbean descent I am really interested in the subject of this article.... however I find the typeface and the background colour makes it really hard to read! Any chance of black text on white background and a nice sans-serif typeface?

2Wheel Chick said...

Thanks for your comments Buckles. I was planning on reviewing the blog design template so I have taken your feedback on blog. Thanks for following the blog and hope enjoy the article. Maria

Unknown said...

Lots of work still need to be done
We have a the population, the keen cyclists, committed wanna be pros.
Back here (Nigeria), we are trying to push cycling from the private angle as what obtains now is once every two years race at the National Sports festival and a few crits in between.

2Wheel Chick said...

Thanks for your comment Inyang. Like you say, there's still a bit to be done, but it is already a step in the right direction. It is great to here that there are crit races in Nigeria, and I am very interested to hear how this develops.

Anonymous said...

It's even worse on a mobile phone, the text on the mobile version of the page doesn't stand out against the background at all, makes it barely readable outdoors even with screen brightness at 100%

2Wheel Chick said...

Thanks for your comment. The appearance of the blog varies across different devices. I have altered the fonts and background colours and looked at it on Blackberry, I-phone, google tablets and PC. It was visible on these when I checked. The current layout is the best compromise. I regularly review and alter the layout, so hopefully you will be able to see the blog more easily as the changes are made or as you look at the blog on other devices. Thanks for viewing the blog.

Tonia said...

This is cool!

Victorina said...

This is cool!