Attack Of The Kenyan Cyclists: Is African Country Poised To Dominate On Bikes The Way They Do On Foot?
The Commonwealth Games? Um, sorry to say that I’m not really very motivated: I’ve been neglecting baseball lately, and then there’s my cricket fantasy league draft to prepare for. But one thing did catch my interest.
On Thursday three riders from Kenya will be competing in the men’s cycling time trials. Then the road race happens on Sunday. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see Kenyans put the pedal to the, um, air, and start to dominate at that sport the way they generally do with long distance running?
John Njoroge, Suleiman Kangangi and Paul Ajiko will be riding for Kenya on Thursday. And while the Commonwealth Games don’t generally represent the very best athletes in the world (no U.S., Russia or Germany, for instance), it’s pretty competitive in cycling. England, South Africa and Australia are cycling hotbeds.
Kenya is where Chris Froome was raised and first put foot to pedal on his way to becoming the 2013 Tour de France winner and one of the finest cyclists in the world, yet traditionally the country has lacked a based of top-level riders. Success has been building, however. A Kenyan team finished 13th out of 9,000 teams in the 2011 l’Étape du Tour, an event which allows amateur cyclists to race the Tour de France route, and fourth in the following year’s Tour of Rwanda, Africa’s biggest cycling event.
Froome is British by heritage but was raised in Kenya, training in the highlands and taking advantage of the climate, geography and tradition that has produced some of the greatest distance runners in the world. So it stands to reason that native Kenyans, given the opportunity, could become great cyclists.
Given Iten has an altitude of 7,900ft (2,400m), it is no major surprise that the Kenyan Riders’ specialty is climbing. Njoroge, who at 5ft 5in is the shortest of the trio in Glasgow, works as a milk deliveryman in the highlands of Naivasha, transporting up to 60kg a day on his bicycle over long, grueling distances. “I was working very hard,” he says. “My body was used to the heavy weight and I liked to ride at high speeds. When I heard about the Kenyan Riders team, I trained as much as I could to ensure that I could join. Cycling for Kenya is my dream.”
Bicycles are part of Kenyan culture, but are used mostly as tools for transportation. That’s starting to change, says Kenyan Riders coach Simon Blake, who says that in 10 years, Kenya will start dominating cycling the way it currently dominates distance running.
— Kenyan Riders (@kenyanriders) July 24, 2014