“ If the WorldTour stops tomorrow, the social impact is zero ”: Bike Aid is a team trying to change this


In February 2020, a million years ago, but in reality it was only 14 months, I was in some parking lot in Saudi Arabia, chatting with Timo Schäfer, the Bike Aid team manager. , a German continental team.

He said: “If you stop the entire WorldTour tomorrow, the social impact is zero, it’s just zero. There is nothing, no one would even recognize that he was gone. Well, some people would say it’s a shame, but there’s no real social impact.

While we both arrived at Riyadh airport to be greeted by the sight of people wearing face masks, the coronavirus pandemic had yet to hit Europe, and unbeknownst to us at the time, in just a few weeks we would be able to see if his prediction was correct as the cycling calendar has been erased.

Although all cycling enthusiasts have missed the race terribly during this six-month stretch of 2020, Schäfer is right. Really, it was a shame. Of course, for those directly involved in the industry, there were concerns about employment. But who wasn’t? The message from the runners during these months, especially in reaction to the cancellation of major races, was that there were greater concerns in the world right now. And while the worst of the pandemic is now hopefully over, other social and humanitarian issues still remain.

The raison d’être of Schäfer’s strong opinion in this matter is the raison d’être of Bike Aid. Their primary goal isn’t necessarily to win bike races, and it would be an odd undertaking for a road cycling offshoot of what is largely a German cycling club with 1,400 members, 90 of which % go mountain biking.

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The membership of traditional cycling clubs in Germany declined for a number of years following the doping scandals, says Schäfer, and so a new approach was needed, everything had to be different.

“We have, say, a difficult past in Germany with cycling,” says Schäfer. “All the sponsors have withdrawn from cycling, the reasons are well known, and we can see that the structures of cycling have not really changed. Everyone involved in all these things in the 90s and 2000s is still here. And we say we don’t want to be in touch with that.

“I don’t want to argue or judge whether it’s good or bad, just for us, it’s not our way forward. And that is certainly not the way the Germans would accept. So for us, the most important thing is to have social relevance. “

Since 2006, Bike Aid has raised over € 850,000 for charitable causes, ranging from helping children with cancer and their families to funding school projects and orphanages in Africa. During the Tour of Rwanda 2020, they opened the Bike Aid school just outside the capital Kigali.

“No one would even notice it,” said Schäfer, reverting to the prospect of the WorldTour disappearing overnight. “It’s hard to say but if we stopped tomorrow, our team, it would have a social impact in Africa. Because we have already changed lives. And I think that’s what it is.

The photo above is proof of the gap between what Bike Aid is trying to achieve and the charitable initiatives supported by many other teams.

“So we don’t just want to have a selfish team where people play sports for themselves. But rather we want to install and implement a system in which we have a social impact and encourage young people to get on bikes and have role models that show a way out of poverty. Suleiman is a perfect example, that’s what we want to do. “

Suleiman Kangangi has been running for Bike Aid since 2017, but as a young child growing up near the Olympic factory in Iten, Kenya, his mother loaned him to a cattle owner in order to earn money for the family. , 8 dollars per month. When he was 12, tribal clashes happened in his village, he left school and never returned.

“My education was quite difficult, as were many children in Kenya,” says Kangangi. Weekly cycling. “I didn’t have a very good education, but not because I didn’t want it, but simply because the family couldn’t afford it. It was a tough upbringing, and I appreciate where I am right now, but yeah, it was pretty tough at first.

While working as a milk seller at the age of 14, he attended his very first bicycle race, a local affair, which initially piqued his interest in the sport. Then, in his early twenties, Nicholas Leong arrived in Iten, wondering if the city that created the champion runners could one day produce world-famous cyclists as well. Just how Lizzie Deignan was discovered cycling around her playground by British Cycling, Leong was testing young boys with potential, and Kangangi took her first steps in cycling via Kenyan Riders.

“It was pretty exciting but it was tough too, in Kenya there were a lot more talented people than me and sometimes you wonder if you can do it but you just have to keep going,” says Kangangi. “I managed to pull through and not give up and I can be proud of the time I am here.

“I might not be the most talented rider, but I guess the Kenyan Riders have given me a job and a purpose in life. It was a journey to prove that I belong to professional cycling. “

Suleiman Kangangi at Saudi Tour 2020 (Photo by Stuart Franklin / Getty Images)

The 38-year-old goes on to talk about his racing experiences, the craziest thing he’s experienced being crosswinds during a race in China (apparently you never find a crosswind in Africa) and the Tour of Rwanda being the favorite race of his career so far. , see the African roads filled with enthusiastic fans.

Kangangi’s story is inspiring, and even the fact that he’s a Chelsea fan cannot take away the shine from his story, but as the number and organization of African races over the years has steadily improved, the visa issue continues to improve. patella African riders dreaming of racing in Europe.

“African runners really have visa challenges and it can be quite boring, but it’s out of the hands of runners, it’s something that I hope maybe can change in the future,” Kangangi said.

Races in Europe will sometimes only offer an invitation to a team at the last minute, a week or two in advance, which is rarely enough time for an African runner.

“You have to go to the embassy, ​​the embassy has to take 14 days, it takes a long time, then you miss this race. So for team owners it can be a bit more difficult if you have a pilot and you have these issues, then it’s not that comfortable, ”says Kangangi. “Even if you want to help this African rider, you prefer to have another European, regardless of the rider who doesn’t have these problems. And that, you know, doesn’t help.

“Maybe the bigger, bigger organizations can help. The ASO is very strong, the UCI could perhaps create rules which could help African riders to make it easier for them to enter races, especially in Europe.

Kangangi is now 32, and while he was on the Saudi Tour in 2020 was on the breakaway route more often than him, his racing days will likely be behind him before too long.

“We are developing him further so that he becomes the teacher, the role model of the next generation, because it is very important to have someone from the country who speaks the language, who can inspire and teach young people”, said Schäfer. “Let’s say… the first generation is Suleiman. And then we hope that the second or third generation will grow up. “

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, 2019 has been a difficult year for Bike Aid, with one funder pulling out just before Christmas 2018, and although their ambitions are greater than what happens between the start and end of a bike race, of course they are still a cycling team.

“I mean, of course we have ambitions,” says Schäfer. “We are now at the continental level where we cannot go further, we have done almost all the races that it is possible to do as a continental team. We have done the Tour des Alpes, the Tour d’Allemagne, we are present in many HC races, we have been continuously on the Route d’Occitanie in France, which is a very high level race.

“There is no further development as a Continental team, so we are working on plans to take the next step, because it is also the next step to tell our story to spread our story across the world. If you’re at the start of, say, Paris-Roubaix and all the international media are there, they’ll pick up on our story because our story is different. At least that’s a story.

“All the other teams, they have no history. So it’s a random team, named after a sponsor, who have guys running, but that’s it. Okay, there’s the story of who’s the fastest? But there is no content behind it, what does it say? Okay, today we won the race. Awesome. Tomorrow there is another one.

When you step back, it’s hard to argue with Schäfer. Apart from personal satisfaction and the enjoyment of cycling, surely the efforts in which so much time and money are invested should have more to show?

More convincingly, take a look at the current WorldTour title sponsors and any semblance of moral purity is in the hands of the German cement and showerhead makers. Of course, since our conversation, the NTT team has grown into Qhubeka-Assos, and self-sustaining as the only WT team with a charity in its name.

One thing is certain, neither the peloton nor the world would suffer from having more bicycle aids.

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