Team Africa Rising announced it will forge ahead with previously tentative plans to set up the first African women’s UCI cycling team to race professionally in the 2017 season, after a training camp to assess potential gave them the confidence that now was the right time to provide this opportunity for the rising tide of female talent across the continent.
Team Africa Rising, who set up the men’s national cycling squad Team Rwanda, has already been helping African women break new ground in the sport. It has developed and supported Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu – who became the first Rwandan woman and first black African woman to ride at the UCI Road World Championships last year – and is helping send Eritrean national road champion Yohana Dawitt to race in the United States.
The new team will comprise of women from Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia and there are also several cyclists from other countries being considered for the squad of 10 to 12 cyclists
“The women from these countries in Africa will bring a whole new dynamic to the sport. We must help these women improve their opportunities and thereby their lives,” Kimberly Coats, the team’s sporting director said in a statement.
“There were only three women from Africa and not one woman of color in Rio and we are dedicated to getting nearer ten on the start-line in Tokyo,” added Coats. “It’s time to literally change the face of world cycling.”
In 2016 there were 40 UCI women’s teams, with 37 coming from the continents of either Europe or America. Only the top 20 teams are guaranteed an invitation to each Women’s WorldTour race, and this group’s geographic spread is even narrower. The United States, Australia and Kazakhstan are the only countries outside Europe currently with top 20 teams.
“When I watched the Olympic women’s road race a few weeks ago and saw so few women from Africa, I knew it was time,” said Coats.
“We firmly believe these women can begin to race against the best talent in the US, Europe and Asia to demonstrate the potential of African cycling,” Coats added. “We have seen with Team Rwanda how a dedicated, well-run program can flourish on this continent to allow riders to then go to the international scene and compete with pride.”
The Team Africa Rising women will be coached by former US professional rider Sterling Magnell and will be based in the United States for the first half of 2017, giving them access to extra resources through a partnership with Mission Sports Group. The plan is to start off the racing year taking on US races, including the Redlands Classic, Tour of the Gila and Joe Martin Stage Race.
The team said it is still actively looking for a lead sponsor.