The high-altitude hills around Iten are famous for running. But these days, you’re nearly as likely to meet a pro cyclist on its steep, winding roads and Kenya is now eyeing the big prize: to enter its first all-black team into the Tour de France, the most celebrated bike race in the world.
For a decade, the 15-member Kenyan Riders development team has been working to raise the profile of Kenyan riders and attract new talent. But before its riders can hope to take on the world’s elite cyclists, they need to start winning races. As the team’s manager, Nicholas Leong, explains: “When people start coming back with meaningful amounts of money, that’s when cycling will start catching on.”
One of the team’s star racers is Geoffrey Langat, a lithe 26-year-old. Langat is about to kick off a three-month training run in Europe, and hopes to be elevated to the German continental team Bike Aid, which works with athletes from Africa.
Nomad caught up with Langat in Iten to talk about his hopes for the team – and the scariest thing about cycling.
How did you get into cycling?
My first time on a bike was when I was in high school. It was the local, single-speed Black Mamba bike that’s mostly available in Kenya, and I used this bike to go to school. I wasn’t really serious about cycling; I didn’t even know it was a sport.
When I finished school, I started doing roller-skating, and going to conventions in Nairobi. And I would sometimes see cyclists go by and I really admired them and thought, I could also try that.
There were races each month, and I started doing them and I kept on improving. Eventually, by 2013, I got selected to the team and I had to move to Iten and start doing serious training.
What’s your biggest goal as a team?
The Tour de France. I really hope that one day we can have an all-black African team. It’s the big dream for the entire Kenya Riders development team here. I’m not really sure when, but it’s going to take a couple of years – maybe three to four years.
And what do you think that will mean for cycling’s popularity in Kenya?
It would be a revolution in cycling. I think it would make a really big impression if we went, and maybe it would even make the government really support this thing. That’s my hope.
How has the image of cycling changed since you got started?
We have lots of guys riding in parts of Nairobi, and we also have many guys trying to join our team in Iten. People are getting the idea that you can do this sport – not just running – and that we can try to achieve our dreams together.
But for many Kenyans, they see cycling as a poor man’s sport – like, someone is so poor he can only afford a bike. The mentality needs to be changed. I have a dream that in the future, we’re going to make cycling like how running is in Kenya. It’s not something easy, but it could happen.
So, how scary is it racing on Kenyan roads?
Yeah, it’s really scary. There is lots of crazy driving. Last October, I was in the last stage of the Tour de Machakos – it’s the biggest race in Kenya that happens annually – and I was trying to go for a breakaway and I crashed into a boda boda.
He just turned without any kind of caution. That was a disaster for me. I fractured my left pelvis and I’ve been away from the bike since then – six months. I hope things are going to go well now, that I’ll be back on my bike again and I can continue with my dreams.
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