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The AMANI house: The future of cycling in East Africa

No rain, no flowers. It is common to go through a rough patch before being able to enjoy the outcome, and even once everything is up and running there are unforeseen events that put the whole thing in jeopardy.

This perfectly sums up what has happened to Team AMANI since its inception. After two years of dealing with uncountable problems that nonetheless made them stronger, the second half of 2022 was when they finally could set the ball rolling. However, the tragic death of Sule Kangangi, who was much more than a rider of the team, made them consider stopping the project. Luckily they opted to continue on instead.

Racing opportunities, that is what they need

The team began after Mikel Delagrange, an International Criminal Court lawyer originally from the United States, got to know Sule during one of his work trips to East Africa. The last thing he wanted was to be involved in a project like this himself, which would require a lot of his already scarce time. Nonetheless, he had previously got to know the head of the Dutch cycling federation so he saw the opportunity to link both parties and build something impactful out of it.

Sule introduced Mikel to the situation of cycling in East Africa, mentioning the need for racing opportunities to show their talent. In order to help those riders, Team AMANI started with the goal of bringing together initiatives aimed at enhancing inclusivity in cycling and creating the best possible environment for riders based in this African region.

Most roads in the countries Team AMANI is involved in are unpaved, so gravel was the logical way to introduce East African riders to international racing.

“Gravel was a key inflection point. It is accessible, and accessibility is the biggest problem African riders were facing until now” – Mikel Delagrange

Aware of the local talent, Team AMANI first put their riders on the big stage by organizing a stage race in Kenya and bringing some of the most prominent off-road cyclists coming from Europe and the US. The Migration Gravel Race was a success and proved that, when facing those riders head-to-head, they are able to keep up with their pace. The Evolution Gravel Race took place for the first time one year later in Tanzania and, although both events will continue being their ‘home ground’ races, it was time for team AMANI riders to travel to Europe and the US and race there.

Gladly out of their comfort zone

Nonetheless, that second step was not easy. In 2021 they didn’t manage to get the necessary visas to race in the US, and even last year they had to delay their debut in American gravel races because the signed papers did not arrive in time. Their disrupted 2022 season was documented by Wahoo for the second part of the FURSA film.

At least, after all these struggles, some athletes of the team already have everything needed to be at the startline of the biggest races in the US. In order to make the most of the visas that they already have, there will be a big emphasis on American gravel racing in 2023. Jordan Schleck and John Kariuki will spend most of the spring in Texas and start their American outing in Sea Otter on April 21st. They will additionally race Gravel Locos and Rule of Three, and end their stay on a high with Unbound.

If everything goes to plan, at least seven out of the eleven riders of the team will race in the US this year. The barriers to entry into the United States coming from Africa are high, but once there, it is possible to take part in several races with not many additional hurdles. On the other hand, while traveling to Europe is more straightforward for the riders, there are several barriers to entry into the sport. Still, half of the team is expected to be present at The Traka and many of them will take part in most events of the Gravel Earth Series.

The AMANI house

In one way or another, lining up the riders at the startline is very costly. Although they can afford travel, accommodation and entry fees, any cent they can save thanks to the help of organizers or locals will be reinvested into their latest undertaking: the AMANI house.

It was Sule’s dream to build a permanent, world-class cycling facility in Iten, Kenya, right in the Mecca for endurance running. He wanted to give the kids of his home region the opportunity he never had; to be discovered, equipped and trained at an early age so as to have a chance to reach the highest levels of the sport.

They have already bought the land and the building is starting to take shape, but they need our help to have everything ready as soon as possible and start nourishing the local talent. The donations, which are directly invested in the construction of the AMANI house, can be made through the following link.

Iten citizens are committed to endurance sports, but only running is perceived as a pathway out of poverty. Half of the AMANI team is originally from that city, and although they mainly are driven by their passion for the bike, they have the weight on their shoulders to show that it is also possible to make a living with cycling.

It is not an easy task, as they cannot afford to chase their cycling dreams for several years, not succeed and focus on something else. Saying that it is their only shot may sound extreme, but the truth is that, unlike in Europe, there is not much else to fall on.

Also, whereas winning a marathon usually means a big paycheck, gravel races are not ranked by the money they give to the first rider to cross the line. Mikel told us that when Geoffrey Langat won a race in Italy, he was stressed rather than happy because no one was going to believe that he won a race and still didn’t bring any extra money back to the family.

The new Teide

The house will sit at 2.300 meters of elevation, which is very important to promote physiological adaptations while training. There is good weather all year around and one can get to the location via a tarmac road, so hopefully many teams and individuals from all cycling disciplines will be persuaded to come to the facilities in Iten to train.

This would be beneficial for the team as it would give local cyclists the chance to learn from the pros, and it would also provide AMANI with a sustainable revenue stream. Although the ultimate goal is to run the project on their own without really depending on the financial help of others, their current sponsors play a crucial role in maintaining the team and providing all components needed to succeed. “Factor and SRAM changed everything. It proved that when their equipment is at the level of the others they can win”, said Mikel.

Wahoo is building a proper performance center inside the AMANI house to test current riders and find new talents. BBB will also build a service course to have all the tools they may need. Velosolutions has already built a pump track that kids are testing with the bikes that Giant provided.

Spoke Academy

Rwanda is one of the other countries where team AMANI supports local athletes. The recently launched Spoke Academy has been established to teach the intangible competencies related to cycling needed to make them more marketable for European teams.

Is their situation different from that in Kenya? Yes, because unlike in neighboring countries, English or French are not commonly spoken in Rwanda, which can be seen as an additional barrier. By filling the gaps in their education, the physiological talent of local kids will be complemented by the necessary skills to succeed in racing outside Africa once the opportunity comes.

With the 2025 road World Championships taking place in Rwanda, there is not a lot of attention in the country, but if the current state of Rwandan cycling persists, this incredible chance to showcase the potential of African cycling will pass without a single Rwandan making an impact at the event.

Multitasking for the greater good

They have proved that they can run the project themselves, and although the loss of Sule has extended the period in which Mikel is going to be directly involved in the team, since the accident several riders have stepped up and taken on different responsibilities. According to him, for example, Nancy and Kenneth are savvy business people, while Jordan is good with interviews and social media. Everyone wears different hats, which they combine with their varied racing ambitions.

2023 looks very exciting for team AMANI, both from the racing perspective and from what is happening outside race day. The flowers are glowing and, after everything they have already gone through, no storm is going to prevent them from fulfilling their mission.


Photos: Wahoo