Journalists, donors, and interested people often ask, “How do you decide which country to help? Why Benin?” It is complicatedly simple. Because of our limited financial and human resources, we only work with Federations, partners, teams, and cyclists who we trust and who are transparent and committed to growing the sport in their country. Benin is one of those countries. The President of the Benin Cycling Federation leads with a visionary spirit, coupled with transparency, legitimacy, and financial support. That is the “simple” part. Now to complicated…
Hubert Nkurayija Ishimwe, TAR’s Virtual Technology Specialist, and Kimberly Coats, our CEO, arrived in Benin in mid-April and began a weeklong training program with ten preselected coaches. The training entailed setting up the Wahoo trainers, understanding Wahoo SYSTM, testing the national team, and conducting our first Zwift races. Along with setting up the trainers, Hubert and the Benin mechanic, Eugene, troubleshot the two Stages Cycling bikes and made them operational. The juniors who showed up every day would ride for 20-30 minutes each. TAR’s job was to prepare the coaches for the shipment of 25 Wahoo trainers the Federation invested in for clubs throughout the country. Half of that initial group of 10 coaches rose up through the ranks and became our “go-to” cycling tech specialists.
On Thursday of that week, the Federation President and journalists, and other Federation members came to Porto Novo, where we were training to witness our first official Zwift race. Internet, electricity, and connections were all issues. Still, we prevailed, and three cyclists, Fousseni, Remi, and Emmanuel, all raced – a 52km Team Amani race, which tested their strength, endurance, and speed. Although Benin has a long way to go in proficiency and country-wide distribution and data collection via virtual technology, they are most definitely on their way.
The following Monday, Hubert left, and Adrien Niyonshuti arrived for the Tour du Benin training preparations and race the next week. Adrien immediately went to work executing a training program. He rode with the team every day. He showed them how to ride in a paceline, echelon, what a training program means, and how and why the training needs to be specific. The current National coach of Benin lacks real-world experience as a professional cyclist. He had the team ride 2-3 hours each day with no particular purpose. Adrien changed all of that, and the riders, at first tired, eventually thrived on the new program. He spent time setting up their Wahoo Elements, tweaking bike fits, and working on their diet on and off the bike with Kimberly.
All Benin needed was another six months of training before the Tour of Benin!
The Tour of Benin started on May 3rd, and the cyclists were underwater from the start. Not because they lacked talent. They lacked the training and race experience necessary to race at a UCI 2.2 level. Adrien and Kimberly worked tirelessly to make sure they were not left discouraged. Through daily meetings and lots of laughs and hugs, every rider improved over the weeklong event.
The takeaways from TAR’s time in Benin? Talent…the cyclists have talent. The cyclists are hungry, curious, motivated, and want to learn. With those attitudes, they have the ability to succeed at a much faster pace than what TAR built in Rwanda. There are more highly educated people who want to coach. They saw a transformation in three short weeks. Adrien already launched a Whatsapp group with the team. He gives training programs, nutritional advice, and the inspiration only someone who has done it can give.
The amount of work to do is monumental. There are people in current positions who cannot take them to the next level. They lack skill, motivation, and the inability or desire to do the work necessary to get these cyclists up the ranks of the Africa Tour. That’s the simple, complicated, brutal reality. With change comes change. TAR’s time in Benin was productive, hopeful, and left an impact. The next steps will be crucial to the development of cycling in Benin.
More stories to come….stay tuned!