Froome`s success reverberates through old training base

AFP| Last Updated: May 13, 2014, 15:58 PM IST

Mai-ai-hii: The rusty iron buildings that shelter the Safari Simbaz cycling team in a village outside the Kenyan capital may not immediately catch the eye.

But inside and around the simple dwellings an ambitious plot is being hatched: to challenge the Europeans for places in some of the world`s most prestigious and lucrative races, including the Tour de France.

Inspired by one-time local boy Chris Froome and confident that Kenya`s legendary prowess in endurance sports can translate to the bicycle, Safari Simbaz founder David Kinjah says it is only a matter of time before an all-African team will bring some fresh colour to the peloton.

"Froome`s success in the Tour de France has inspired many boys who want to take up cycling as a sport. We have also had a lot of interest from all over Kenya," said Kinjah, 42, who mentored the Kenyan-born Froome when he was a boy.

"Right now we have 20 boys in full-time training with us. Two of these boys might even go on to compete in the Tour of France in the next three years if they stay focused," he told AFP.

For Kinjah, the main stumbling block is funding, and not raw talent.

A basic racing bike costs upwards of $700 (500 euros), and a race-ready model many times more that -- a small fortune in a country where the average income is around $1,800 a year. Add to that the cost of clothing, shoes, helmets, mountain bikes for training on the trails and it`s easy to see why the sport remains inaccessible to many Kenyans.

"A lot of people were hoping that because we have great runners and marathoners, winning races around the world, we should start seeing great cyclists from Kenya. But cycling does not necessarily compare to running," Kinjah said.To address the equipment issue, hand-me-down bicycles are being sought from donors including the British charity Re-Cycle, while Froome is also in the process of setting up a foundation to come to the aid of young Kenyan riders, and has also donated kit to the Safari Simbaz team.

Kinjah also plans several promotional tours of Europe and South Africa later this year to raise money from potential sponsors, and will ride a 12,000 kilometre race from Cairo to Capetown in September for fund-raising.

"Cycling is a sport that is growing very fast in Kenya and in East Africa. The sport is very educative, there is a lot to teach the youngsters. It is bound to grow more and we will keep on pushing until we achieve that goal," he said.

"I would love to see lots of kids from poor families join cycling and elevate their lives. There is a lot of joblessness among Kenyan youth with lack of formal employment. They can use the bicycle to work as mechanics, tour guides or even as professionals."

Kinjah believes it won`t be too long before African riders are competing in the Tour de France -- noting that there are already a number of Eritreans, Ethiopians, Rwandans and South Africans competing in Europe.

One team member dreaming big is 18-year-old Kenneth Karanja, a youngster who was offered training with the team after Kinjah spotted him hammering his way to school on a bicycle along the red dirt trails of the Kenyan countryside.

Karanja is already using racing to help pay his school fees, but says it won`t stop there.

"The bike has changed my life. Cycling has changed me to be a better person as I have been able to use the sport to pay my school fees and help my family," he said, adding: "My dream is to become a professional rider like Chris Froome."