Suleiman Kangangi, an African cycling pioneer, died at the Vermont Overland Gravel Race (2023)

Posted on September 21, 2022 at 10:00 am M. | Updated October 4, 2022 at 1:25 p.m

click to enlarge Suleiman Kangangi, an African cycling pioneer, died at the Vermont Overland Gravel Race (1)

  • Courtesy of Saltlake_lian
  • Suleiman Kangangi

IfSuleiman "Sule" Kangangi, a professional cyclist from Kenya, competed in the 59-mile raceVermont overlandGravel racing at West Windsor on the morning of August 27 he had every reason to hope his team would win it. A little over three hours later, his teammates had taken first and third place. It was only later that afternoon that they learned that Kangangi, their team captain, had died from injuries sustained in an accident that no one saw and no one could fully explain.

"Sule is our captain, friend, brother",Team Amanihe said in a statement posted to Instagram. "He is also father, husband and son. If the giants [sic] fall. Sule was a giant. Instead of leading us to the head of the pack, he will now lead us as our guiding star as we progress towards realizing his dream."

Kangangi, 33, was a pioneer in the African cycling community. The odds were against him from the start. When he was 12, tribal fighting broke out in his village and he had to drop out of school. In order for the family to survive, his mother hired him as a cattle herder for $8 a month. Exercising was not an option.

He was born in Eldoret, a town of 500,000 in the Rift Valley, near the famous athletics town of Iten. Located at 7,900 feet above sea level, Iten is home to legendary runners including Edna Kiplagat and Mary Keitany and the site of an altitude training center. Many local runners had gone abroad to win major marathons and land sponsorship deals with big brands, bringing recognition and resources to Kenya. Kangangi felt that the locals were not so optimistic about the cyclists who had yet to rise to fame as Kenyan runners.

The first time Kangangi saw a bike race was in 2010 when he was 22 and leading the race through Eldoret.

"I was amazed and stunned by the speed at which the bikes flew",told a VeloNews reporter last year. "Not only that, the town was [at] a dead end, and everyone was cheering."

Kangangi wanted to experience this speed, this feeling for himself. He joined a local cycling club and began racking up kilometers.

In 2016, Kangangi became a professional road racer and signed with the Kenyan Riders Downunder, the Union Cycliste Internationale's first team registered in East Africa. He then spent four years racing in Europe, Africa and Asia with Bike Aid, a Germany-based professional team whose mission is to empower African cyclists and athletes. In 2017 he became the first Kenyan to stand on the podium in a race on the international professional cycling calendar. At the same time he organized charity rides for children in Kenya and worked to develop opportunities for young cyclists.

Like all professional road cyclists, Kangangi dreamed of competing in the Tour de France. However, when he turned 30, he sensed another opportunity that was more realistic and served his personal desire to promote cycling in East Africa: gravel racing.

Gravel cycling as a discipline is less than 15 years old and is growing in popularity as interest in road cycling has waned in the US While road races are intense affairs with shaved legs, $12,000 wheels and fierce competition, gravel events like marathons are all kinds of people share the starting line, from elite professional athletes to people in jean shorts just waiting to cross the finish line. This spirit of inclusivity, coupled with a vast network of underused dirt roads, has led to a boom in sales of gravel bikes and accessories across the US, along with a packed calendar of gravel rides and races that attracts thousands of cyclists put on.

Following this trend, Kangangi and AmericanMikel Delagrange, International Criminal Law Advocate at the United Nations and avid cyclist, organized theMigration Schotterrennenin Kenya in 2021. The four-day stage race, held in the Masai Mara National Reserve, traversed 650 kilometers of rugged gravel roads and singletrack and attracted former World Tour pros including Laurens ten Dam, Thomas Dekker and Vermont'sIan Bowell. The idea was to hold a world class event on the East Africans' home turf so they could compete with top riders, learn racing strategies and tactics and create future racing opportunities.

Kangangi finished second in the 2021 race ahead of ten Dam, who retired from the World Tour in late 2019 and had ridden 10 editions of the Tour de France. A total of seven East Africans made the top 10.

Given the success of the Migration Gravel Race, Delagrange and Kangangi decided to create a gravel cycling team for East Africans.

“When we saw our drivers performing better than expected in their own contextual environment, the idea was toWe need a vehicle to take them to races chosen for their talent.said Delagrange.

In late summer, that vehicle became Team Amani, a professional gravel and mountain bike team made up of riders from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Like a traditional road team, Amani has corporate cycling industry sponsors such as Wahoo, SRAM and POC, and all 12 team members earn a salary.

This year, the team came out in full force, with Kangangi at the helm. In March, Kangangi and Kenneth Karaya competed as a two-man team in the Absa Cape Epic, a stage mountain bike race in South Africa. Karaya didn't finish, but Kangangi finished the solo run. The team also held a second edition of the Migration Gravel Race, which was won by Amani team member John Kariuki, and a new event called the Evolution Gravel Race, a five-day point-to-point race in Tanzania that was won by Kangangi.

Racing in Africa has always been part of Amani's plan, but a big goal has been to travel to the US, which has the largest and most competitive gravel scene in the world.

Boswell, a retired World Tour pro living in Peacham, is the athlete liaison at Wahoo, and he and the fitness technology company led efforts to obtain visas for some Amani riders to compete in the United States this season can compete. The visa process took much longer than expected, but since arriving in early August, Kangangi and his three Amani team members had competed in the SBT GRVL race in Colorado and the Gravel Worlds race in Nebraska, finishing in the top 20 in each.

While in the US, Amani riders also had the opportunity to experience world-class training facilities for the first time. They underwent aerobic testing at the Wahoo Sports Science Center in Boulder, Colorado and achieved levels only achieved by the world's best cyclists. They also learned about their unique dietary needs through experiments on salt loss and carbohydrate intake.

At Vermont Overland, in West Windsor, Kangangi's teammate Kariuki took first place, more than four minutes ahead of the next rider. Another teammate, Jordan Schleck, finished third.

Delagrange followed Overland on Instagram from her home in Switzerland.

"When John crossed the line, we freaked out," he said. “It was a moment of absolute joy because we had been targeting the US for so long. And then, a minute later, I got a call that changed all of our lives forever.”

Kangangi had fallen alone on a gentle descent down a dirt road, suffering serious internal injuries. Nobody saw him fall. Anyone who knew him and knows the circuit is at a loss as to what could have caused the accident.

Boswell was able to pull Kangangi's GPS data from his bike computer and it showed he was traveling at 31mph just before the crash. However, the handful of riders ahead of him had reached speeds of up to 50. Kangangi wasn't going too fast for the conditions.

"I've seen all the evidence, and it's really completely coincidental," Boswell said. “He was an incredibly competent driver. The road was smooth sand. There are much tougher, more technical sections of the course that he has ridden before.”

Vermont Overland, which includes nearly 8,000 feet of climbing, is a unique gravel road because it contains seven or eight sections known in the state as Class IV roads: unmaintained public rights-of-way that resemble gravel roads. They tend to be hilly and rocky and it's challenging to ride a gravel bike that's a drop bar bike like a road bike but with wider tires and better gearing for the climbs. Minor falls are fairly common in gravel racing, but life-threatening falls are extremely rare.

There are several possible causes of the Kangangi accident. Your bike may be defective. Your hand may have slipped off the handlebars. An animal may have run ahead of him. But in the absence of concrete evidence, the cycling community is treating the accident as an unusual accident.

In a post on Instagram, Vermont Overland owner Ansel Dickey wrote, "There are no words that can describe the magnitude of the loss caused by the unfortunate accident and death of Sule Kangangi this weekend... I know people are eager for it." to learn the circumstances of Sule's death full transparency, no one knows how Sule's accident happened."

One of the Northeast's top gravel riders, Kevin Bouchard-Hall was with Kangangi for most of the race. A few miles before the accident, they had been driving together at high speed down a notoriously bumpy and long section of Class IV called Pope Road. If someone fell on the field, it would probably be in this section. But Kangangi drove it clean with Bouchard-Hall and clocked one of the fastest times on record in the segment.

"This guy knew how to ride a bike," Bouchard-Hall said.

Within seconds of the crash, Kangangi was surrounded by people trying to save his life. Bouchard-Hall, a physical therapist, performed CPR until the first EMTs arrived. An ambulance who was on the run stopped to help and rode in the ambulance with Kangangi, helping the crew clear his airway, insert chest tubes and administer transfused bags of blood and IV fluids.

After an hour of CPR without a heart rhythm, Kangangi was pronounced dead at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. He leaves behind his wife and three children aged 10, 6 and 4.a memorial fundIt was created to support his family, of which he was the only sustenance.

Kangangi would certainly have been proud of his teammates' performance in Overland. The team planned to return to European racing this month, starting with the Gravel World Series in Spain.

Delagrange hopes people will remember Kangangi as a defining figure in the East African cycling timeline. Before him, there was only the traditional and nearly impossible route of the Eurocentric street race. After him, opportunities opened up.

"He wouldn't let us get depressed and sad," Delagrange said. He would want us to stand up and fight.

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