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Dan Craven's Namibian Training Diary Pt 3

The rise of African cycling & Craven Camp - Dan's project to nurture the next generation of Namibian cycle talent...

In the final bulletin from Namibia, Dan Craven takes us to some youth projects he works at, helping kids get into cycling, and surveys the rise of cycling across Africa, from amateurs to the pros. Max Leonard and Laura Fletcher report.

Only a few miles from the new international hotels of the Namibian capital, Windhoek, lie townships splashed in vibrant rainbow colours - shanty towns like those exist outside most cities in southern Africa. Dan has an appointment in an after-school centre in the Katatura township, for willing recruits to his ‘Craven Camp’ for budding cyclists.- youth cycling initiative that Dan’s run since 2008. The idea: to foster a culture of cycling in urban as well as rural areas, to teach a few talented amateurs essential road cycling skills. It also gives young Namibian cyclists something to be excited about, to expand their horizons and to help them grow and improve.

“When I was a young cyclist in Namibia, I didn’t have a lot of support,” Dan explains. “There was virtually no infrastructure to aid training and education in cycle sport. Even though now and again I would get a bit of support, essentially I was on my own.” At the camp, a dozen or so local teenage boys listen as Dan explains the programme. The training and skills sessions typically last a weekend, with full accommodation, food, lessons, transport, everything provided – Omaruru is 250 kilometres away from their usual stomping grounds, and it’s important to take the kids out of their usual environment. The boys’ bikes are of varying vintages. Most of the bikes need work, and one of the first tasks – which happens before the camp – is to get them roadworthy. Even so, there’s often last-minute repairs to be done. One unlucky guy only got his bike fixed four hours before leaving on the camp – and even then without bottle cages (which, in a country that often hits 40C aint clever…).

The camps are a small way of promoting cycling in Namibia, in a continent where cycling is exploding. When Dan first competed in the Africa championships, in Mauritius in 2006, South Africa was very strong, Namibia and Mauritius a little behind, and other countries were bringing up the rear. By 2008, at the Morocco championships, things had changed. “A lot of countries who had two years earlier just been following a wheel, were all of a sudden getting involved in the race,” Dan says. “And by 2010, in Rwanda, the South African team simply wasn’t good enough, in comparison to the Eritreans, who were amazingly strong. The Ethipians and the Rwandans had come on leaps and bounds, and the Kenyans showed a lot of promise, too.”

There is now more money being invested in to cycling across Africa. Sometimes this comes from the states themselves. Morocco’s king, for example is targeting cycling as an Olympic sport, and is pumping money in to development programmes. Sometimes it’s from entrepreneurs, sports professionals and philanthropists, who see untapped talent or are just passionate for the sport. These include the former 7-Eleven pro Jonathan Boyer in Rwanda, whose cycling projects are being funded in part by the family that owns Walmart (and luminaries such as Tom Ritchey, who is currently selling a 40th anniversary steel frame with all profits going to Team Rwanda); and a Malaysia-funded programme to turn some of the country’s talented marathon runners into cyclists. “In the last four years, a whole bunch of things have happened independently, and a healthy level of competition has blossomed,” Dan says.

The UCI has done its bit too: its Academy in Switzerland has taken young riders from all over the world, and trained them to international level. Kenya’s Chris Froome, Eritrea’s Daniel Teklehaimanot and Tunisia’s Rafaa Chtioui are notable graduates. Dan’s ambitions are less lofty, but nevertheless he aims to make a difference. “Initially when I started Craven camp it was simply to give the youth something to look forward to and a fun activity. Over time the mission has grown,” Dan says. “I don’t take cycling to people who can’t cycle. In Namibia, the knowledge I have is quite precious, so I have to focus on passing it on to the most advanced kids I can find. They might not go out and become pros themselves, but when they go home and pass on their knowledge, that next kid is already a step ahead. It’s all about baby steps - taking baby steps and not being too concerned by the slow pace at which things happen.”

Just last weekend, a graduate of the 2010 Craven camp, Costa Seieeb, won Namibia’s biggest race, the Nedbank cycle challenge. He’d disappeared off the racing scene as his bike had been stolen. When Dan saw him again, he’d been without his bike for 18 months, but the police had just returned it to him – in a completely wrecked state. Dan dipped in to his tiny training camp budget to help him fix it up – replacing everything except the frame fork and seatpost. Then, when Costa got back on, he started training to great effect. “Before, during and after the camp, Costa always impressed me, with his talent, gratefulness, fondness and awareness to everyone around him,” Dan says. “I’m amazingly happy and proud, it’s such a massive achievement for him.”

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