Migration gravel race: giving African cyclists a chance

in Swahili, Fursa means “opportunity”. Among East African cyclists, that word is epitomized by a gravel bike. Carrying a number of more integrative values, this hybrid frame is gaining more and more followers around the world, a racing frame, a robust frame, wide but rolling tires. As a result, some African athletes hope to make their sporting dream come true.

For example, look at the Tour de France peloton to see the obvious. Much of the world is missing from the world tour of the road bike. In 2021, less than 2% of professionals in the world’s top division were African: a total of 11 out of 578.

These numbers are a testament to the thick glass ceiling of cycling in Africa. The causes are varied, as well as travel restrictions and administrative problems in terms of lack of equipment and language and cultural barriers. In the eyes of human rights lawyer Mikel Delagrange, the biggest problem is the lack of racing opportunities on the African continent.

Reverse the trend

For this American amateur cyclist, who got into cycling thanks to the victories of fallen champion Lance Armstrong, it is obvious: “If you are not faced with the best, your level will stagnate and you will never reach the level that is required, that necessary is to appear on the world tour.” Aware that it would benefit the lucky few to benefit the process by inviting big names (who, when not on the world tour, will certify to benefit the process to to reverse the process to reverse the process to reverse the process to reverse the process to reverse the process an excellent level) in two key events he created between Kenya and Tanzania in 2021.

“The experience is thus shared by a whole community of runners,” Mikel Delagrange continues in the magazine Outside. Western athletes propelled into a new territory can also discover a different culture and create strong relationships with athletes they may not have the opportunity to meet elsewhere.

Amani means “peace” in Swahili. “The atmosphere is indeed peaceful in the evening when we all gather around the fire,” testified Marin de Saint-Exupéry, one of around 40 western cyclists who have taken part in the migration gravel race in Kenya over the past few days. But once the sun comes up, everyone is in the competitive world.

altitude sickness

He’s used to riding long-distance circuit races, but he’s not hiding after suffering on the arid lands of the Kenyan highlands. “It hits, it’s difficult and it goes fast,” he describes on the phone. The effort is intense, the pace stable. Everyone hits full speed and if you want to claim victory you need to be in the Lead pack from the start. After that, you need to resist as long as possible.

Over four days, the migratory gravel race participants covered 650 kilometers in the Masai Mara Nature Reserve at an average altitude of 1900 meters. “I didn’t anticipate the lack of oxygen and after being delayed by a puncture on the first day, my head was spinning and my heart was racing on the second,” says Marin de Saint-Exupéry. In the days that followed, stomach problems forced him to retire and follow his competitors in a broom wagon.

He therefore regrets not having been able to follow everyone single track, technical paths and red soundtracks that cross these plains inhabited by the Maasai. Although he spotted zebras as well as giraffes, antelopes and hippos, the animal that interested him most was covered in dust and moved on two wheels.

A stepping stone

Well-equipped and sometimes better trained, it was mostly members of the Amani team who supported the project and fought for victory. “But this year the Italian Mattia de Marchi would have won no problem with his derailleur before the end this year,” explains the French cyclist.

For women, Kenyan Nancy Akinyi, last year’s and bronze medalist at the 2019 African Games in Morocco, had to bow to Italy’s Maria Sperotto and America’s Lael Wilcox, known for her long-distance performance. On the men’s side, Kenyan John Kariyuki won the race ahead of Uganda’s Jordan Schleck Ssekanwagi.

If everyone is planning to compete in the Evolution Gravel Race that will be held in Tanzania on Sunday, many are those who dream of the most famous gravel races in the United States. Unbound Gravel, Gravel Locos, Steamboat Locos, as many names as there is a chance to shine elsewhere than their continent. And to show what they are capable of despite a terrain with pitfalls.

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