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Safiya al Sayegh – Rouleur

Safiya al Sayegh – Rouleur

This article was originally published in Issue 116 – Mind. 

When I scanned through the start list of the 2022 World Championships women’s road race, Safiya al Sayegh’s name stuck out. She was the lone rider representing the United Arab Emirates, a first. In fact, she was the only Arab rider in the race, dressed in leg warmers, arm warmers and a headscarf to respect her religious beliefs. 

Al Sayegh didn’t finish the tough, attritional race around the roads of Wollongong, Australia – only 78 out of the 130 starters did – but her participation in the event was groundbreaking nonetheless. She’s blazing a trail as the first Arab female pro cyclist in history, aiming to “break the bias” she tells me, and “be that example for others”.

The 21-year-old’s journey in cycling began when a shop near where she grew up in Dubai was offering discounts on second-hand bicycles. Her father took advantage of the two-for-one deal, buying one for himself and one for Safiya. The pair used to ride for ten kilometres around the local neighbourhood, often early in the morning or late at night, before the sun became really fierce and when the traffic on the roads had subsided. Al Sayegh had always liked sports, taking part in gymnastics and swimming growing up, but there were no swimming competitions for women above the age of 12 in the UAE. Cycling, however, was different.

“I heard that there was actually a competitive side to cycling in the country, which was interesting,” says Al Sayegh. “I never knew there were bike races anyway, even in general in the world, but I started to get more familiar with it. I saw on social media one of my friends joined the national team, as they were competing and scouting young people from schools that showed interest in cycling.”

Then just 16 years old, Al Sayegh had no idea that joining the national squad would be the start of her pathway to making history in the sport, and that six years later, she’d be part of the UAE’s very own Women’s WorldTour squad, UAE Team ADQ.

Read more: Women’s UAE Tour 2023 – contenders and predictions

“Around two years ago, I started achieving bigger and bigger results and that was pushing my ambitions to want more in the sport. I was so happy to be offered a professional contract,” she says. “The team is helping to open up many doors for me to lead the way, I’m grateful for those opportunities.”

Al Sayegh’s signing for UAE Team ADQ is far from a…

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