Racial discrimination may not be the reason that so few black riders have ridden in the world’s grand tours. It may simply be that cycling has never been a sport favoured by black athletes. On the other hand, the absence of black cyclists from top-level racing may be yet another expression of everyday racism.
For example, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2017 that Chicago police wrote more than twice as many tickets in African-American communities than in white or Latino neighbourhoods.
“The top 10 community areas for bike tickets from 2008 to Sept. 22, 2016, include seven that are majority African-American and three that are majority Latino… Not a single majority-white area ranked in the top 10, despite biking’s popularity in white areas,” the paper reported.
This is not a surprise, considering what we’ve learned (again!) recently.
In addition, a 2017 study by a Rutgers University researcher found that racial profiling by police was a deterrent to cycling in minority communities, with 21 percent of male African-American, Latino and mixed-race New Jersey residents in the study saying they had been unfairly stopped by police.
But racism has also been a feature of top racing competitions ever since black riders have begun to appear in pelotons. For example, in the 2015 Tour de France, the first African team to compete in the race, MTN Qhubeka, claimed that their black riders had been subjected to racist bullying by other riders – even as the team’s Eritrean rider Daniel Teklehaimanot made cycling history by becoming the first black African to wear a leader’s jersey at a grand tour when he claimed the polka dot jersey for best climber in the sixth stage of the race.
There are other examples of overt and ugly racism that black riders in general, and MTN specifically, have been subjected to during races. MTN’s principal, Doug Ryder, charged that his black riders had regularly had to battle prejudice and bullying in professional cycling, with the team’s non-African signings, such as Tyler Farrar and Edvald Boasson-Hagen, having to step in to protect teammates on occasion.
So it is very good news that the London-based cycling club the Black Cyclists Network has announced the creation of the first British domestic racing team for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) riders. The club wants to find funds for a 10-rider squad for the 2021 season, and to host events and establish an outreach program.
The Black Cyclists Network was founded in 2018 by Mani Arthur and currently boasts over 100 members, “including white members and supporters of diversity.” The stated mission of the club is to connect and encourage cyclists of colour and the wider community to take up cycling.
A Gofundme online fundraiser has raised well over the goal of £10,000 for the 2021 racing season. The domestic racing team is currently made up of nine riders, including one at Elite level and four in the second category. The aim is to add one more rider to race next year.
“The Black Cyclists Network is more than a club,” said Arthur in a statement released by the club.
“We are a community built to address the lack of representation in the cycling world. There are a lot of cyclists from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK and around the world, yet very few resources cater for our communities.”
If the group is successful in its mission to attract more minority riders, it will literally change the face of cycling and help put an end to racism in our favourite sport.
A final question: What year did the first person of colour ride in the Tour de France?
In 2011, 108 years after the Tour was first run, 31-year-old Guadeloupe native Yohann Gene started for the Europcar team and finished the race in 158th place.