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In a Country of Runners, Kenyan Cycling Team Faces Uphill Climb



In East Africa, the sport of cycling has been growing in popularity in recent years.

There are plenty of hills for cyclists to climb and a mild climate – not too hot, but not too cold. In addition, two-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome was born in Kenya and trained by one of Africa's best cyclists, David Kinjah.

Now an area 50 kilometers southeast of Nairobi is seeking to become Kenya's center for cycling.

Some cyclists make it look easy. But with hills in Kenya rising as high as 1,600 meters above sea level, cycling the countryside is anything but effortless.

That makes Machakos County, Kenya, a good place to test the abilities of East African cyclists during the Tour de Machakos. This is the second time the race has been held.

Twenty-three-year-old Cyrus Wambua is one of the riders. Born and raised in Machakos, Wambua has been riding bicycles since he was a child. He says his mother urged him to start.

"My mother got inspired by that strong guy from the Tour de France, the Lance Armstrong. So I used to read documentaries and when we were a small kid, they used to tell us that one day you'll race like Lance Armstrong."

Uganda's national cycling coach, Jesper Fiedler, says this is one reason why Kenya's and East Africa's cycling community has continued to grow over the years.

"Partly, it's the exposure on TV. More people can watch these races on TV, and then the more people who are riding around in different towns around East Africa, the exposure's just bigger. So people, they see and they say, Maybe we should pick up this sport.'

Alex Tibwitta organized the Tour de Machakos. He says Machakos has it all -- nice hills, good roads and a government that supports the cycling community.

"I'm pretty confident that with the right nurturing, this is definitely the best place to base a sort of cycling in Kenya, and probably in East Africa."

Some of the best marathon runners in the world either live or train in the Kenyan towns of Eldoret and Iten. Both towns are high in the mountains. Some cyclists think Machakos could eventually have that same reputation.

Uganda's national cycling coach, Jesper Fiedler, agrees.

"So definitely, this is a perfect place. If somebody wanted to build a camp up in the hills at maybe 2,100 meters, you're more or less at the same level, as let's say, Iten. So for sure, this could become a new cycle hub as well, that's a perfect setting here, perfect, really good."

And for cyclists like Cyrus Wambua, that would be good news indeed.

"I like cycling so much because as a sport, it always keeps you busy in that you avoid bad company, don't take drugs, even on the other side, it's a source of living. You can earn something from the cycling event and you push your family, you do your things, and that's all."

The Tour de Machakos covers 400 kilometers around Machakos County. It is the biggest road race in Kenya. This year there were 130 registered cyclists -- double the number from last year.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Jill Craig reported on this story from Machakos, Kenya. Marsha James adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

mild – adj. not strong in action or effect

exposure – n. public attention

confident – adj. showing that you are sure in yourself or your actions

nurturing – adv. caring for something or someone

definitely – adj. surely

reputation – n. public image; the common opinion that people have about someone or something

hubn. the central and most active part or place

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