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Mining mountain bikers in Zambia

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Just your average afternoon animal encounter, on a training ride, in Zambia (Photo: Kansanshi)
Just your average afternoon animal encounter, on a training ride, in Zambia (Photo: Kansanshi)

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

Mountain biking is showing incredible growth in Zambia, thanks mostly to the efforts and support of the Kansanshi sports foundation. 

They have developed professional level riders and linked them to numerous school cycling programmes in their local area.

Ride 24 chatted to Ryan Ellis, the head of the Kansanshi sports foundation.

How did the Kansanshi sports foundation originate?

The Kansanshi copper mine started the foundation. It allocates funding for the upliftment of the local community in Solwezi. A part of this funding is allocated to sports.

The sports foundation started with cycling in 2014 and currently has programmes catering for rowing, netball, football, swimming and athletics. This programme gives kids the opportunity to pursue sports, as there is no official schools sports programme in Zambian schools.

You also boast 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. Through the foundation, these riders are supported with salaries and equipment. The team is run by a full-time coach, Joseph Daka and manager, Bedias Tunkanya.   

Each of these 20 riders is also responsible for one school, where they coach the next generation of riders, meaning that through these 20 local pros, the foundation reaches about 150 passionate cyclists.

During the past seven years, these 20 riders have evolved to a high standard. They could win their age group at Namibian events and race towards the sharp end of the field in any country, including South Africa.

What cycling disciplines do the riders concentrate on?

There are not many tar roads in Zambia and the ones that we do have are busy and carry a lot of heavy vehicles, meaning that it is not the ideal place for road cycling.

The foundation has thus concentrated on developing mountain bikers, first for the XCO discipline. Still, over time we found that our athletes are more sorted to marathon events and gravel racing. 

I believe that our riders could achieve the greatest success in the gravel racing scene. That is something we will be working towards in the next few years with a focus on events like the Migration Gravel race.

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