Kenyan’s Zakayo Nderi and Samwei Mwangi are testing their legs up the fabled 15.5km track of Alpe D’Huez on the 11th and 18th of August, 2008, to prove they have what it takes to join the world of professional cycling.
Lance Armstrong, retired professional cyclist and seven-time Tour de France winner, took 39 minutes and 41 seconds to climb this route. Nderi and Mwangi want to pit themselves against his time, and prove that with the limited training and support they’ve received, they’re on par with the top 20 cyclists of the Stage 16 time trial at the 2004 Tour de France.
Nderi and Mwangi have endured poverty and hardship, including ethnic cleansing in their villages. This ride is the next lap in these Kenyans’ hopes of getting sponsorship and putting together a multi-ethnic African world-class cycling team.
They have big dreams. They want to put African cycling on the map by being part of the first black African team to enter the Tour de France. Could this be a new era for pro cycling?
Nderi is a shoe-shine boy and Mwangi is a Kikuyu tribesman who bought his first bicycle at the age of 16 and never looked back. Daily, they ride distances between 100-200km for work. They both have the small stature and high endurance of the typical Kenyan marathon runner, which supporters believe is the perfect build for a climbing specialist in cycling.
So far, they’ve ridden a timed ascent of Genting Highlands, voted by Procycling Magazine as the fifth hardest climb in the world. Their time was comparable to the champion of the Tour de Langkawai, Anthony Charteau. When he could not compete in a cycling competition, Zakayo took part in stair-climbing competitions. Last September he won the Swissotel Vertical Marathon.
There are currently no professional black African cyclists racing in the European peloton. Many cyclists from Africa, and in particular, East Africa, have been restricted in their opportunities to compete at prestigious cycling events.
A contributing fact is the high cost of the sport which is a significant barrier to their entry and participation. Traditionally, cycling events such as the Tour de France require sponsorship by companies in order to field a team to participate.
Follow their progress at www.theafricancyclist.com.