Out of Africa — two orphans on road against challenging odds to fulfilling pro cycling dream

Out of Africa — two orphans on road against challenging odds to fulfilling pro cycling dream
Lawrence Lorot, One More Child Cycling Team. (Photo: WWF/Twitter)

Two Ugandan cyclists have created a small stir at the current UCI World Championships on the go in Glasgow.

Elite road cycling remains overwhelmingly white and largely the preserve of riders from wealthy nations so the idea of two orphans from a village in Uganda setting out to make it as pros would appear an unlikely journey.

But Paul Lomuria, 21, and 18-year-old Lawrence Lorot from the village of Jinja, both members of the remarkable 1moreChild Cycling Club, are already on the long and winding road to fulfilling their dreams.

Their earliest cycling memories are of gathering firewood and carrying water on mangled bicycles rescued from scrap heaps.

But over the past week, they have been competing in the UCI World Championships in Glasgow, riding the latest carbon-fibre machines and making quite an impression.

Lorot laughs when recalling his early adventures on two wheels. “There were no gears, no brakes, flat tyres, you used your feet to slow down if you were lucky,” he told Reuters near the finish line of the junior road race.

While he did not complete the race because of a mechanical issue, he managed seven laps of a formidable city circuit that proved challenging enough even for the best professional riders in the business in Sunday’s elite race.

Considering it was his first competition out of Africa, it was a notable achievement and he will have another outing in the junior time trial in Stirling on Saturday, 13 August.

Lomuria raced in Wednesday’s under-23 time trial in which he finished a respectable 60th out of 78 and he will also ride again in Saturday’s under-23 road race.

Both say they hope to follow a handful of other African cyclists to reach the WorldTour and one day the Tour de France.

An ambitious target, perhaps, but considering the obstacles they have already overcome, they feel anything is possible.

“You can’t just be on the bike without having a dream or a vision on the bike and my dream is to be on a UCI WorldTour team and to compete in the Giro and other big races,” Lomuria, who picks Italian Filippo Ganna as his favourite rider, said.

Lomuria has been cycling competitively for two years and, like Lorot, trains with the Eliud Kipchoge Cycling Academy in Kenya which is supported by British team Ineos Grenadiers.

Lorot finished runner-up in the junior time trial at the African Cycling championships in Ghana in March.

Everything is possible

“My career is coming, I know I can do it,” Lorot said. “Now I will go home and tell all the brothers and sisters that everything is possible.”

While undoubtedly talented and blessed with the attributes that have produced so many world-class East African endurance athletes, pursuing a cycling career would be mission impossible without the charity 1moreChild.

Established in 2008, it offers life-changing support to street children, many from the Karamojong tribe, providing lodgings, food, education and opportunities to enjoy sport.

The cycling club was formed in 2018, although at the time it owned just a handful of ramshackle bikes and donated jerseys.

Thanks to a long-standing partnership with UK-based cycling events company Ride25 whose ‘Pioneers’ raise money through an ongoing London to Sydney cycle challenge, regular shipments of decent kit arrive in Jinja.

It means promising riders, many of them girls, compete in competitions in the region and internationally. It has become so successful that the 1moreChild club is now regarded as the de-facto Ugandan team.

“When Lawrence was racing on Saturday we were watching all the children in the orphanage watching it all on a phone,” 1moreChild patron John Readman told Reuters.

“It’s not just about these guys, it’s about inspiring a whole generation.”

Cycle racing is an expensive business but Ride25 have raised £1.5-million since 2012 and have garnered support from the likes of Sigma Sports and Specialized while the Ineos Grenadiers development squad was assisting in Glasgow, even supplying aero helmets for Lorot and Lomuria.

“Compared to the funding of Europeans or Americans or Australians it’s amazing that they can compete,” Readman said. “But that’s down to their perseverance and attitude.

“Paul and Laurence’s success story is a testament to the transformative power of sport and highlights the potential within each child.” Reuters/DM


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