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Persistence pays off, and no one knows this better than the riders of Team Amani.
After an arduous process to get US visas, four East African riders — three from Kenya and one from Uganda — are now on American soil, poised to line up at the Leadville Trail 100 and SBT GRVL this weekend.
Team captain Sule Kangangi will take on the LeadBoat Challenge (racing the Leadville 100 and SBT GRVL back-to-back), while Nancy Akinyi, John Kariuki, and Jordan Schleck will all race SBT GRVL on Sunday.
Team Amani was founded in the wake of the inaugural Migration Gravel Race last summer, an experiment meant to give East African riders a chance to race international talent on the African continent.
The race was a huge success, elevating the status of a dozen East African riders who had previously struggled for opportunity and the resources to race internationally.
Since the first Migration Gravel Race in June of 2021, a second edition was held this summer and an additional stage race — Evolution Gravel — debuted in Tanzania, as well.
For the Amani Project, the umbrella group that puts on the stage races and supports the race team, bringing riders to the birthplace of gravel racing was a goal that piggybacked on the vision of giving riders opportunities to race at a higher level at home.
For John Kariuki, who won this year’s Migration Gravel Race, simply getting to the United States was a major milestone.
“That’s the dream,” he said.
Kariuki is one of nine riders who is now living the dream of racing bikes professionally. He said that while he occasionally has to work side gigs at home in Kenya, he can mainly support himself with his salary from riding — something that would have been impossible had he stuck with trying to race on the road.
Despite the difficulty in getting to the US, racing gravel has already presented the Team Amani riders with an opportunities significantly less fraught than trying to race at home.
“Connections with people. Getting famous. A lot of people are following the sport now and they’re trying to understand,” said Schleck, 19, of Uganda. “We find a lot of barriers, especially with road and the federations. With gravel, apart from the travel barriers, it’s OK. You can race solo. If we keep fighting we may have a big chance.”
Both Schleck and Kariuki are feeling good about their chances in Steamboat Springs this weekend. They have put in the work, and after landing in Boulder nearly a week ago, are feeling more familiar with the US day by day.
They are beset with both nerves and excitement.
“Yes I’m nervous,” Kariuki said. “At the same time I’m so motivated to do it. I think I’ll do good. I’m waiting for the results and then I’ll know.”
The race in Steamboat Springs is the first of three that Team Amani will compete in during their stay in the US — up next is Gravel Worlds and then Vermont Overland. Schleck said that he is motivated to learn from each experience.
“I will have to use all of my tactics, all of my skills to survive as much as I can,” he said. “Racing into another country, sometimes the confidence isn’t as high as at home. At home you know people, you know how they race. Here you have to be more clever.”