Team Africa Rising announce launch of first all African women’s professional cycling team for 2017 - Total Women's Cycling

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Team Africa Rising announce launch of first all African women’s professional cycling team for 2017

Team Africa Rising Sports Director talks about the brand new team and how it's the only way to showcase current African women’s talent

Words: Hannah Troop

Back in 2009 when Kimberly Coats stepped onto Rwandan soil, I imagine the thought of creating an all African pro-women’s cycling team was not even a wisp of a dream. Yet seven years down the line, here she is talking animatedly about this project, with as much gusto as I imagine she had when she first packed-up life in America to tick off three life goals: to travel, to help people, and to do something with cycling. This she describes as her ‘mid-life crisis’. Only planning on staying for three months, she still finds herself devoting her time – and basically her life – to this incredible cause.

Having spoken with Coats a couple of times, it’s clear that unwavering passion has been the nourishment needed to get her through—there were many hurdles to overcome. Whenever countries such as Rwanda, Ethiopia or Eritrea come up in conversation, it’s hard to steer the mind away from the politics and devastation, so deeply etched in their history books.

Training camp in Rwanda

“I keep thinking—this is not the politics that you read about”

Coats describes that what we hear in the media often misses the stories that bring brightness to this area of the world: “You read about the struggles between Eritrea and Ethiopia and everyone knows Rwanda’s history, but last week when the Ethiopian girls left [the Rwandan training camp] a week earlier than the Eritrean women, they were all hugging and crying, and I keep thinking—this is not the politics that you read about”.

In fact, these training camps are a chance for the women to come together and share knowledge, Coats elaborates: “The women in Eritrea are the most experienced. In Rwanda we have one great cyclist, Jeanne D’Arc but she really needs to be around other women who have more experience, they all do”.

I ask how the idea of creating an all African women’s UCI team started out: “Over the last year I’ve watched the level of women’s cycling come up [in Africa], but there’s just no races on the continent. I thought to myself—it’s time to get these women out there, they can race competitively, just like the guys, but they just need the opportunity.”

Coats has worked with Jock Boyer (Team Africa Rising Coach) to bring the project to fruition. They’ve also had the assistance of Isabel Fernandez, who works for the UCI organising the Olympic road races.  With funding a constant struggle, this feels like a last chance saloon: “One of the reasons I’m setting up this women’s team, is to kick Rwanda out of the nest, figuratively speaking, and for them to stand on their own two feet” Coats says.

 

Could this be the start to Olympic selection

With Fernandez on side, this can only help facilitate partnerships to create opportunities for more African women to compete at Tokyo 2020. Coats says: “What we would really like to see in 2020 is more black African female cyclists in the Olympics, there’s not enough slots for Africa and that’s a UCI issue that needs to be worked through.” Having a UCI registered team of African women will raise the profile of the talent on the continent, which will hopefully see more Olympic slots given to these countries.

So far ten women have been confirmed on the team for 2017, including the Eritrean, Ethiopian and Rwandan National Champions. Another four are on the ‘potential’ list, meaning they can easily equal the roster of most other pro-women’s teams.

“We’re going to start small, but by no means is small meaning we’re not the real deal either, we will have power and strength; there is such a wealth of talent [in Africa] that’s completely untapped” Coats assures me.

As with every other team in the pro-peloton, funding is the major factor in success or failure; still without a title sponsor her and Boyer are in talks with many companies: “We’ve talked to several companies about sponsorship, Jock is at Eurobike [the biggest cycling trade show in the world, taking place in Germany from Tuesday] this week. We don’t have a title sponsor right now, but we’re hoping that is going to change in the next few weeks”

So once a title sponsor is found and the team are set to go, where do you see them racing, I ask: “The US is an easier stepping stone instead of going straight into Europe from the get go. Not saying the level in the US isn’t on par with Europe, but it’s definitely different, and the races aren’t as big. Our riders are used to riding in smaller pelotons, big for them is 80 people not 150 plus, like what you see in Europe” Coats explains.

 

The riders are used to a lot smaller pelotons

I’m intrigued as to what goals they are aiming to achieve in 2017: “I would love to see this team in some major US races, like the Tour of the Gila and Redlands Classic in California, and them do well. I’d be really happy to see them in the top 5 on a stage or high on a QOM (Queen of the Mountain) classification.”

“I want the world to not just see that they are legitimately talented cyclists, but seeing these amazing women for all the obstacles that they’ve had to overcome to get here”

It’s clear there is burgeoning talent on this continent, and that Coats and Boyer have the eye to pluck it out and nurture it. Coats ends our conversation by saying: “I want the world to not just see that they are legitimately talented cyclists, but seeing these amazing women for all the obstacles that they’ve had to overcome to get here; and to inspire other young Africans, and show what’s possible for them to achieve too.”

We are incredibly excited to see the team grow over the coming years – and we’ll be following them closely as they progress through the ranks. 

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