My forthcoming book Desire – Discrimination – Determination – Black Champions in Cycling joins the dots on the lives and stories of black cycling champions. I present these from the past, and in the present; across different generations; across different countries and social-cultural contexts in aiming to advance knowledge and understanding on the black experience in cycling: from grassroots participation to elite and professional racing, and particularly within the white Eurocentric context of the sport. The book is now in production with Rapha Editions and Blue Train Publishing with a publication date set for Spring 2021.
My recent conversation with Mark McKay, David Clarke, Red Walters (GB) and the Rashaan Bahati (USA) gave our online audience a snapshot of my research approach. I apply themes where I have seen the possibility of congruent life experiences in meaning making, and through my facilitating the blending of knowledge offered by black cycling athletes.
My intention with ‘The Art of Racing’ discussion was to share a sense of the unique racing traits held by these cyclists on entry into the sport. I asked them to give us as sense of the special characteristics and disciplines that they carried through their careers in defining their racing identities.
We learnt from Mark about his ability to pedal the smaller gears rapidly. This style of riding being his energy saving technique during races in preparation for unleashing his killer sprint for victory.
David spoke about mindset preparation for victory, including the depth and quality of miles taken in. 500 to 600 miles per week as a norm during key phases of his career.
From Rahsaan, it was his toughness and ruthlessness at races; the necessary attitude required of the champion athlete.
From Red, we learnt about his focusing on victory as the only desirable outcome.
All individual traits cut across in the attitudes and responses of each of the cyclists.
Mark, David and Rahsaan (now retired from racing) enjoyed many days of high success in their careers. Between each of them, they took multiple national championship titles; international road-race victories; international stage race wins overall; international King of the Mountains points classification titles.
Their victories have included beating world class fields including riders such as Abraham Olano, George Hincapie and Jan Ulrich. Given their impressive performances on the world stage (when the opportunities came) it is surprising that David, Rahsaan and Mark did not race consistently at World Tour level, and for top international teams.
It was particularly interesting to note that David, Rashaan, and myself, all had similar experiences of feeling side-lined in some way during our careers although I probably didn’t get my point across on this topic - my big disappointment was not being recognised by the Great Britain selectors properly during my Star Trophy winning year of 1992, especially having finished top ten in the series in 1991. I suppose on reflection, this collective experience, gives some confirmation that I might have been correct in my concern at being ignored for no apparent good reason – Mark McKay
For me, even as a black man, I find these forms of reflection in our conversations difficult to navigate. These are sensitive and personal experiences. I recognise that I am asking the cyclists to remember their disappointments, and in some cases the ugly experiences of racial abuse. But these are important conversations to have. Take Rahsaan’s point of view:
The stories need to be told and I'm a true believer if we want to see change amongst our people it must be done by our people to have a bigger impact. This is why I truly enjoyed the conversation last week.
Rahsaan shared a reflection on abuse he faced with his all black track cycling team during an event at the Little 500 at Indians University. He remembered it as a 'Klu Klux Klan' environment.
Mark recalled his shock at the racist abuse hurled at him by Dutch riders when racing on the European continent. He also shared on his sense of racist gamesmanship by white riders when he raced in South Africa.
David spoke about being promised international racing opportunities on more than one occasion for Great Britain on the condition of winning specific races (Junior Tour of Wales, Dover International cyclo-cross). But these promises did not materialise. Explanations were not given. All reflections seemed to relate to each other in some way.
Collective reflection and collective learning allowed for making greater sense of past occurrences, in meaning making. This gives a better understanding of the past, in the now:
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the other riders for the first time and as always in these scenarios, I came away from the experience feeling that I’d learnt something from speaking with people about our common love of bike racing. Departing the conversation with a positive note on his optimism, it was great to hear of Red's continuing love of the sport and his passion in seeking success as well as his experiences of “learning” from many different types of friendly people on his training rides - Mark McKay.
It was really good to chat with Rahsaan, Mark and David. It was interesting to hear their difficulties as black professional cyclists during their careers, and how that has changed with the development of things like social media, but fundamentally still exists. I hope one day I can be that role model for the next generation of black and brown cyclists – Red Walters.
It was refreshing to learn about the others who I had no idea about. Connecting those dots and helping our community to become stronger is what I felt was the most important thing to me – Rahsaan Bahati.
It was a great experience. It was interesting hearing what the other riders had to say and how they achieved what they did even against all the odds. These are amazing people and it was a honour to talk with them. It was nice to hear how Red had been inspired by Rahsaan after seeing him in action on YouTube. It's the same way, albeit through cycling magazines that I was inspired by seeing and reading about Mark. The chain goes on. At the same time it clear there’s much more that needs to be done. Thank you for putting this together. Best wishes to you all and I hope we can speak again soon - David Clarke.