Zambia mining mountain bikers

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Just your average afternoon animal encounter during training in Zambia (Photo: Kansanshi)

Zambia is renowned for its wildlife and epic waterways. And wherever there are rolling valleys, there must be good conduct.

Mountain biking is experiencing incredible growth in Zambia, mainly thanks to the efforts and support of the Kansanshi Sports Foundation.

They have trained professional riders and have involved them in many school cycling programs in their area.

Ride 24 chatted with Ryan Ellis, the director of the Kansanshi Sports Foundation.

How did the Kansanshi sports foundation come about?

Kansanshi copper mine started the foundation. It allocates funds for the improvement of the local community in Solwezi. Part of this funding is allocated to sport.

The sports foundation started with cycling in 2014 and currently offers programs for rowing, netball, soccer, swimming and track and field. This program gives children the opportunity to play sports, as there is no official school sports program in Zambian schools.

Do you also have the only professional cycling team in Zambia?

Yes, the professional team consists of 20 cyclists who train and race like professionals in any other country. Thanks to the foundation, these runners are supported with salaries and equipment. The team is led by a full-time coach, Joseph Daka and the manager, Bedias Tunkanya.

Each of these 20 riders is also responsible for a school, where they train the next generation of riders, which means that through these 20 local pros, the foundation reaches around 150 avid cyclists.

Over the past seven years, these 20 runners have evolved to a high level. They could win their age group at Namibian events and run to the far end of the field in any country including South Africa.

What cycling disciplines do the riders focus on?

There are not a lot of paved roads in Zambia and the ones we have are very busy and carry a lot of heavy vehicles which means it is not the ideal place for road cycling.

The foundation thus focused on the development of mountain bikers, first for the XCO discipline. Yet over time we have found that our athletes are more sorted on marathon events and gravel races.

I believe our runners could achieve the greatest success in the racing scene on earth. This is a goal we will be working on over the next few years with a focus on events such as the Migration gravel race.

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