Announcing the Mark Gunter Young Cyclist Assistance Program winners

With some help from guest judge Sarah Gigante, we're thrilled to announce the recipients of this annual award.

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As part of the annual Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year Awards, we use the entry proceeds to donate to causes that were close to Mark’s heart. Besides our donation to cancer research (via Tour de Cure) we also ask for nominations of young cyclists who need a hand along in their journey, and give a cash donation of up to $1,000 to help them on their way. It’s not much in the scheme of things, but it can make a big difference – it can help purchase a year of coaching, a plane ticket to Europe, a block of racing, or whatever the next roadblock might be.

Past nominees have included riders who have gone on to compete in the Olympics, get WorldTour contracts, or simply gone as far as they care to go (which is also okay!)

Each year, we ask a pro cyclist who knows what it’s like to come up through the ranks to choose the recipients of this award. In the past, judges have included Koen de Kort, Marianne Vos, and Richie Porte.

This year, we asked Team Movistar pro cyclist and Olympian (also a VeloClub member, past Young Cyclist Assistance nominee, and all round wonderful person) Sarah Gigante if she’d do the honours. Gigante has gone through the dozens of nominees and chosen the recipients of the cash awards. Not an easy task!

And now, over to Sarah Gigante to announce who the recipients are…

by Sarah Gigante

It was such an honour to be able to help choose the recipients of the Mark Gunter Young Cyclist Assistance program for 2022. I have loved working alongside Leeane Gatien [Mark’s wife], Lucas [Mark’s son] and Wade, and being able to play a small but important part in celebrating Mark and what he did, and what his legacy continues to do, for the cycling community. On top of this, having the privilege to find out about so many passionate and eager young cyclists and the lengths they are going to in order to follow their dreams warmed my heart.

It was wonderful to see how far the news of the Mark Gunter Young Cyclist Assistance program traveled this year – we received many entries, from eleven different countries! Of course, this excellent take up only made our job of narrowing the list down to just three riders even more difficult. Every single young cyclist who applied would have been very deserving of a grant, and I just wanted to say, before I announce the winners, that I wish I could give you all $1,000! I hope and believe that you will all reach those goals which you proudly shared in your applications. Thanks for giving me an insight into your cycling dreams, and I’ll be following from afar as I chase my own – maybe I’ll see you out there!

The first applicant to whom I would like to award $1,000 is a young man from Sierra Leone, Abu Sheik Sesay (pictured above, left). You may not know his name yet, but you probably know his face, as Matt Grayson’s stunning photo of Abu Sheik’s elation after a podium in the Tour de Lunsar won second place in the professional category of the Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year Awards! Reading about the context surrounding Sierra Leonean cycling gave me a lot of perspective into just how much difference a grant like this one will hopefully make in a passionate young cyclist’s career. Abu Sheik is certainly one such cyclist, and I really hope that this money will allow him to travel to Rwanda and join the African Rising Cycling Centre. The application for Abu Sheik was extremely well written and opened my eyes to the fact that there has never yet been a Sierra Leonean professional cyclist – but I hope that Abu Sheik can change this and inspire others to follow in his footsteps. Best of luck Abu Sheik!

Another very worthy winner of $1,000 is 18-year old Chilean track and road cyclist Carlos Rodriguez (pictured above, right). Despite his young age, he has already shown massive amounts of both physical and mental prowess by having won eleven national titles in the seven years he has been racing. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic marred the two years that he was in the Junior Under 19 category, meaning that he missed out on the opportunity to race on a larger stage, at the Junior World Championships. As Carlos makes the big step up from juniors and continues to chase his dream of being a top track sprinter, I hope that this grant helps him to travel and represent his country at future major competitions across South America and the world, and also to buy the equipment necessary for success. I will be following his career closely!

I am very glad that there are three grants to be awarded this year, because this third cyclist has also impressed me greatly, and I look forward to seeing what she can do in the future with the $500 grant made possible by the Mark Gunter Young Cyclist Assistance program. Anya Louw is a 21-year-old Australian road cyclist who has been racing for more than half her life, yet is still only getting better and better. At the time of her application, she wrote that she had achieved many podiums in Under 19 and Under 23 national championships, however in the short time between then and now, she has since gone on to become a dual Under 23 national champion. Despite the grit and strength that she has shown in Buninyong and throughout her whole career, I know that the journey to fulfilling her dream to become a full-time professional will not be easy or cheap, so I hope that this grant helps her in her travels to Europe this year.

Thank you so much for trusting me with this task. It has been wonderful getting to know more about the future of our sport and as I said before, a real honour to be part of these awards. Best of luck to all the applicants!

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