Colorado Woman Helps Start Zambia’s First Pro Cycling Team

The four members of Zambia’s female pro cycling team hope to compete inernationally and spread a nationwide love for the sport.

From Elevation Outdoors
By Jessi Hackett

Photo by Nora Richards

Zambia Rising

Southeastern Zambia is well known for its picturesque safaris, with herds of elephants and big cats drawing tourists from across the globe. But head north to Solwezi near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and you’ll find a different scene. This rural district’s notoriety lies with its large copper reserves. Follow a red-dirt road out of the city of Solwezi’s town center, and small villages dot the lush, green countryside where a tropical climate makes for warm weather year round.

Though it’s the capital of Zambia’s North-Western province, few Americans have Solwezi on their radar—especially mountain bikers. But while the usual day-to-day of Solwezi’s mining community carries on, a dedicated group of cyclists have been gaining recognition here and beyond as they train tirelessly on miles of singletrack they’ve helped build.

“This is Zambia’s first pro cycling team,” says coach and Colorado native Nora Richards. “We get asked by locals every day about how they can join, and we always tell them to get on their bikes and come to races.”

Richards, 28, grew up riding her bike down sketchy trails littered with rocks in Durango. Once she graduated from University of Colorado at Boulder where she raced downhill, she made her way to Solwezi to follow her now-husband Ryan Ellis, a native Zambian and a fellow zealot when it comes to all things cycling.

Solwezi revolves around the mining industry economically, and it got the cycling ball rolling here. In 2014, a senior member who was an avid biker at First Quantum Minerals’ (FQM) local Kanshanshi Mine decided he wanted to start a team. He’d approach talented runners and encourage them to join. And since Richards and Ellis were notorious local cyclists, always out riding and working on trails, FQM recruited them in 2016 to ride for and help train a small, but elite team of male racers—including Richards as the only female on the team. But by June 2018, she was putting together Zambia’s first elite-level national team of fully sponsored female riders.

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