Team Amani: Giving Africa an opportunity

The year is 2021 and less than 2% of WorldTour pros are African. Team Amani are removing the barriers that have prevented Africa from reaching the top before.

The entry barrier for cycling is high, which is the case for many professional sports. However, the obstacles aspiring African cyclists face require a Herculean effort to overcome, and it’s proven by the lack of African riders in the pro peloton today.

In 2021, just eight of the nineteen WorldTour teams feature a rider from Africa on their roster. Out of the 578 riders that began the year on a men’s WorldTour squad, only 11, or 1.9%, were African (four from Eritrea, six from South Africa and one from Ethiopia).

The road that an African cyclist, dreaming of riding the Tour de France or purely becoming a professional rider, must tackle is long and arduous. The first difficulty is acquiring a bike, which isn't a straightforward process for those in or close to poverty. Next, how and where do you race? The number of racing opportunities in the continent of Africa are miniscule compared to Europe or North America.

Photo credit: @saltlakelian

And then, when a rider has achieved both of the above and demonstrated talent on the bike in the limited opportunities they have been given, what next? A move to Europe? Here, a haven of chances to race await. On paper, this sounds like an enticing option. However, on arrival, they are almost certain to face a barrage of cultural challenges, prejudice, and homesickness.

The Team Amani project is changing all of that.

See Mikel Delagrange from Team Amani at Rouleur Live.

Mikel Delagrange, who helped create the Team Amani initiative, spoke to the Thereabouts podcast about his background and what inspired the project. “I am a lawyer. I work at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. I spent the best part of ten years working in East African countries, mostly Kenya, Uganda and DR Congo. I work specifically on enabling victims of war crimes and crimes against humanities to participate in trials.”

Photo credit: @saltlakelian

Mikel was inspired to get on his bike by Lance Armstrong’s ‘success’ at the ‘99 Tour de France. Since, riding his bike has become his place to recharge and relax when he's not working.

He went on to explain the idea behind the project, which unlike many start-up cycling teams, is not to reach the WorldTour or the ProTeam ranks. For Team Amani, they are all about utilising the access and connections they have in the Netherlands to the benefit of their riders in East Africa. This is achieved by splitting the project into three strings, which all enhance inclusivity in cycling and create opportunities for African riders that simply haven’t been there in the past.

The first tangent is all about providing racing opportunities. Team Amani are based in The Hague, the Netherlands, where their Dutch squad work and race. However, they also have sister teams in Rwanda and Kenya, where they foster a welcoming environment for riders of varying experience. Riders receive the opportunity to race in Europe, where they'll also be provided with dedicated support systems which are critical when competing away from home.

Photo credit: @saltlakelian

However, after the global pandemic struck in 2020, like many, Team Amani were forced to innovate.

This is where the next strand comes in: riding online. With travel restrictions in place, the project pivoted to find new ways to increase inclusivity, and e-racing was the answer.

In association with Team Africa Rising, Team Amani clubhouses have been fitted with e-trainers in Iten, Kigali and Masaka. This provides a platform for their riders to train, and races are organised on Zwift under the ‘Team Amani X Africa Rising Intercontinental Series’ umbrella.

E-racing brings about many advantages. It provides a quick way for riders to gain racing experience and compete with others from all over the world. Additionally, it is the ultimate performance leveller — watts don't lie. Without the need to pay for travel to and from Europe, e-racing means that Team Amani can reach a wider pool of riders and provide a greater range of opportunities. The hard data used in tool such as Zwift also allows them to judge their pool of talent efficiently. Although it was introduced due to the pandemic, E-racing is now a critical weapon in Team Amani's arsenal to battle inclusivity issues.

Photo credit: @saltlakelian

The final prong is the Migration Gravel Race, which is part of the Amani project. This is not just a gravel-only four-dayer that takes place over 650km in the stunning Maasai Mara National Reserve. The race creates real racing opportunities for East African cyclists. Additionally, it aims to build financial models that can be used to support local cycling teams, building the foundations for future generations to get involved in cycling from a young age.

Less than 2% of WorldTour riders are from Africa right now, but Team Amani are at the forefront of changing that statistic in years to come. The project is already helping to combat challenges that aspiring cyclists from Africa have faced for decades. They are giving Africa a chance.

Mikel and Team Amani are changing what African cyclists can achieve. See Mikel at Rouleur Live 2021.

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