Tunisian junior Rafaa Chtioui achieves a stunning breakthrough for African cycling by taking the sil
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE African cyclists are rare to come by. African cyclists who win medals at world championships are even rarer. But Tunisian Rafaa Chtioui fits both descriptions, writes Susanne Horsdal. On Saturday, Chtioui became the first African ever to take a road cycling medal when he finished second in the junior men’s race behind Czech Roman Kreuziger. “My objective was to be the best non-European rider in this race, so this is like a dream come true. I’m very happy and proud on behalf of my country and all of Africa,” said a thrilled Chtioui. The Tunisian began riding at the age of 14 when a bike race was organised in his village, El Mourouj. Chtioui went on to win it and suddenly found a taste for the sport. “In the beginning I was more motivated to ride mountain bikes, but the first time I got on a real race bike I knew that was what I wanted,” explained Chtioui. After a few years of riding in his home country, in which cycling is a very minor sport, he was selected by the Tunisian government to go to the UCI development centre in Aigle, Switzerland. “There, for the first time in my life, I saw a track bike. Now I also race on the track and this year I was 14th in the points race [at the Worlds track champs],” said the young Tunisian. Earlier in the week he finished 12th in the time trial and knew that his form was good. “But I never imagined I would be here. I think people in Tunisia will be very happy for me,” said 18-year-old Chtioui, who won’t be surprised if he gets an invitation to visit the president in Tunisia, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. “He’s a strong supporter of developing sports,” said the happy silver medallist.