Hadnet Kidane will be the first Ethiopian female road cyclist to represent her country at the Olympics next year in Rio. The 22 year old who has just graduated from university didn’t even have a training bike until just a few a weeks ago. In May she beat all the odds to qualify her country for an Olympic bid by racing on a borrowed bike that was too large for her.
Kimberly Coats, Marketing Director for Team Africa Rising was at the Continental Championships earlier this year and witnessed Hadnet’s performance first hand.
Hadnet Kidane is all of 5′ nothing weighing 115 pounds. She is a tiny young Ethiopian cyclist, a woman.
At the Continental Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, I do not know if it was her first time racing internationally but I highly suspect it was. There are simply no races on the continent for women and even Ethiopian men do not participate in many of the international races.
I was on the side of the road about 10kms from the start/finish. I was relegated to the feed zone for a few laps. Early on through a race radio the Namibians had commandeered, we learned she was in a two person breakaway with a South African. When she came past the feed zone the first time I saw her with the South African. I thought to myself, there is no way she is going to be able to hold this. She was on her rev limiter keeping wheels with the South African.
Then I hear on the radio there’s another South African who has bridged the gap from the peloton to their 2 person breakaway. They quickly drop Hadnet. As she comes through the second time past the feed zone, she’s alone. The worst thing for a cyclist is to be alone between a break and the peloton. No man’s land. I remember saying “She should just hold up and wait for the peloton.”
How wrong I was.
After the peloton comes through the feed zone I jump in the follow car with Jock and Jamie for the final lap. The peloton splits on the next hill. We’re down to five women, including Jeanne d’Arc, chasing Hadnet and the two South Africans ahead of her.
In the final 5-6kms we’re on a plateau with long rolling hills and you can see Hadnet and her follow car in the distance. We are gaining on her. The South Africans have put minutes into Hadnet. She is all alone.
For a moment it looks like the group of five will catch Hadnet. There are two Olympic bids available in the race. South Africa will get one, but Hadnet is being chased by Rwanda and Eritrea in the pack of five for the other.
Hadnet crosses the finish line 46 seconds in front of the group of five. Securing an Olympic Road Race bid for Ethiopia.
When I finally got back to where all the riders and teams were camped out I congratulated the Ethiopians and saw Hadnet in a heap on the ground. She was sobbing, her tiny body just heaving, sobbing. She was inconsolable. My first thought was she was simply emotional from essentially being hunted for miles for her third place finish.
That was not why she was sobbing.
GG, the Ethiopian mechanic simply said to me, “Her mother died last week.”
The next day I was with her at the feed zone during the Men’s Elite Road Race. She gave me her email address and begged me to please help her. She did not have a proper training bike and she wanted to race. A girl without a bike, without a mother gave Ethiopia a spot in next year’s Olympics….speechless.
Hadnet’s current, donated training bike is still not a great fit for her. She still needs a bike to ride at the Rio Olympics next year – We don’t think team GB have that problem.
Team Africa Rising do some fantastic work by helping give cyclists a chance to race at an elite level, for both men and women. They have helped structure a 10 year plan to increase female participation in the sport.
If you would be interested in helping Team Africa Rising, you can make a donation via their website. You can even make a note should you wish to direct your donation to a specific cause or rider.