Hours before the better-known competitors took to the course for the Team Time Trial Mixed Relay at the UCI Road World Championships, a group of riders from Afghanistan were the first down the starting ramp and, not much later, the UCI World Cycling Centre team with two refugee riders.
The fact that one of the Afghan riders fell on the start ramp, that the team struggled to stay together on the hilly, technical course in Glasgow, and that they finished dead last isn’t the point.
These riders survived the takeover of their country by the Taliban, some evacuating as the previous government collapsed and gun-wielding militants brought back a conservative culture that prohibits women from attending school or riding bikes.
More attention may have been on the riders from Ukraine, who have been impacted by the more recent Russian invasion, and less on the one rider from Syria, who has been away from his homeland for a decade. They raced to bring hope to people still in their country and the diaspora of people from their homeland.
The most experienced in the team is Ahmad Badreddin Wais, who fled war-torn Syria with his family in 2013 and endured an arduous five-month journey, eventually settling in Switzerland.
Wais represented Syria at the World Championships from 2017 to 2019 before opting to renounce his national designation. He competed at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 with the Refugee Cycling Team, and this time for the World Cycling Centre in Glasgow, finishing 14th. Wais pointed out to Cyclingnews that the situation in Syria seems to have been forgotten.
“It’s still difficult for the Syrian people,” Wais said, adding that racing on a high level at such a prestigious competition can bring hope to his compatriots as some already do for him.
“They follow me, and they are like big fans. All of them – they watch the races, and they help me to be also hopeful.
“I hope I will inspire the younger generation [of cyclists], and they will one day be with one strong team and to have a normal start.”
For the Afghan riders, it was their first major competition, and they seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the attention but powered through to deliver a similar message to the world, not to forget the people of their country.
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