Yohana Dawit will be the first female Eritrean cyclist to race at the professional level in the U.S. Photo courtesy Gary Kessler

Green Mountain Stage Race (GMSR) founder and director Gary Kessler reports that there will be a guest rider making an appearance in this year’s races, thanks to the Amy D. Foundation race team.

This year, Team Africa Rising is sending its first pro-cyclist, female racer from Eritrea. A key element of the Team Africa Rising program is the identification, development and promotion of women’s cycling in Africa. For the past month, the coaches at the headquarters of Africa Rising Cycling Center (ARCC), which is home to the national cycling team of Rwanda, have been working with female cyclists from across East Africa for a monthlong, high-altitude training camp. Fourteen women from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Rwanda have taken part in an intensive training schedule to improve every aspect of their cycling skills, training, diet and preparation.

Yohana Dawit, a 24-year-old Eritrean, is one of the members of this rising tide of female cycling talent. She has been in intensive training since mid-July and recently won the Rwandan Race for Culture Cycling Cup on July 23. Due to the publicity of this high- profile victory, Kimberly Coats (the women's program's sporting director of Team Africa Rising) spoke with Michael Engleman of the Mission Sports Group in the U.S. who was keen to connect Team Africa Rising with the U.S. racing scene. They agreed on a guest rider position for Dawit at the Green Mountain Stage Race in September, riding for the Amy D. Foundation race team.

When Dan Dombroski, president and founder of the Amy D. Foundation, heard about Yohana, he explained: "It's wonderful to see so much excitement around these African cyclists; we were moved by the potential to help, as it all aligns so well with developments we try to promote through Amy D. Foundation programming. The invitation of Yohana was a function of circumstances including conversations with Amy D. Foundation board of directors and the Team Africa Rising staff. Ultimately, our understanding is that Eritrea is supportive of their female cyclists, and so it seemed fitting to invite the Eritrean national champion."

Dawit will become the first female Eritrean cyclist to race at the professional level in the United States. The Green Mountain Stage Race has launched the careers of global superstars in the sport such as Evelyn Stevens, currently representing Team USA in Rio.

“Over its 17-year history, the Green Mountain Stage Race has played host to many up-and-coming racers who have gone on to find success on the world stage as both professionals and Olympians. We are very excited to welcome Yohana as she represents the vanguard of African women in bicycle racing,” said Kessler.

Dawit was thrilled to learn she would be racing in the U.S.

“This is my dream, to become a professional cyclist. I am very happy and I want to show all women in sport in my country and Africa that they can reach their goals no matter how difficult,” she said.

After successfully building a strong Rwandan men’s national team, which now boasts five Rwandan riders on European professional teams, and with a reputation that has spread across world cycling, Team Africa Rising is turning its attention in a major way to African women's cycling. For female cyclists, the current obstacles in the sport include lack of training, equipment, funding, international races on the continent and the one of the most significant barriers, cultural stigma. Although the odds are stacked against them, they have ridden anyway and are proving to be every bit as talented as the men, Kessler pointed out.