Velogal's Blog

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I can now tell you that Ryder Hesjdal and Pat McCarty are leaving the DC team and are joining Phonak... More news to come...

Just read an interesting article about a cycling organization in Santa Cruz, Cyclists for Cultural Exchange, who are raising funds for the Iraqi Junior National Cycling Team. I had read about this team in VeloNews a few months ago. This article is in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, by Sentinel correspondent Marina Malikoff, dated September 22, 2005. I will copy the article here, risking the wrath of the Copyright Gods, in case anybody wants to help out...

Cyclists Help Young Iraqis Ride Toward Dreams
SANTA CRUZ — While last week marked one of the bloodiest weeks in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion, here in Santa Cruz a small army of cycling enthusiasts celebrated a victory in their effort to bring peace and hope to the war-torn nation.

After a year-long campaign, Cyclists for Cultural Exchange has reached its $10,000 fundraising goal to equip the struggling Iraqi Junior National Cycling Team. Their Italian racing bicycles and gear were destroyed during the looting of Uday Hussein’s palace, where the bikes had been stored.

"Most of the equipment and clothing the team uses now is old, rusted and out of date," said Matthew Werner, a local cyclist and Cyclists for Cultural Exchange board member. "None of their jerseys or helmets match. They don’t look like a team."

The 10 members caught Werner’s attention after he saw a photo essay about them in a cycling magazine. "There was a picture with barbed wire in the foreground where the riders are practicing," Werner recalled. "It hit me as a courageous thing to do under the difficult circumstances."

The young members, in their late teens and early 20s, train in the congested, chaotic, bomb-blasted streets of Baghdad. "Every day there is a car bomb," Werner said. "I can’t imagine what it’s like to be riding when any car at any moment could explode."

After exchanging e-mails with the team’s coach, Dea’a Abbas, the nonprofit group launched its fundraising on the Internet, selling custom-designed jerseys emblazoned with the Iraqi team’s name, Iraqi flag and colors. George Hincapie, a teammate of Lance Armstrong, owns the jersey manufacturing company.

People nationwide bought the $90 jerseys — including servicemen, who had returned from their deployment in Iraq and support the young men’s dreams. Werner’s partner, Aptos Bike Trail owner Steve Jonsson, solicited corporate donations, including Santa Cruz-based helmet company Giro, Michelin, Smith Optics, PowerBar, Van Dessel Cycles and Shimano.

Last Monday, Cyclists for Cultural Exchange hosted a bike-building event at Aptos Bike Trail. Five volunteer mechanics assembled the 10 professional-grade bicycles, now ready to be shipped to Iraq. Yet they are still short an estimated $1,000 to cover shipping costs.

Several supporters at the event penned messages to the team in a guest book:
"To Our Iraqi Brothers,
I hope your country finds peace soon. I hope you enjoy the bikes and equipment, and that you all have long, happy, healthy lives. Peace!" — Bill Schoenbart.
The Iraqi team members have expressed their gratitude. Wrote team member Ahmed Raed:
"I grow up in a loving sport family, and I chose this particular kind of sport after my father gave me a bicycle as a gift. Then I participated with it in school races and I loved this sport more and more, so I joined a special team. In it I am the youth champion in Iraq in 2000 and 2001. My dream is that I will be a special rider that everybody respects."

For more information about the Iraq Team project:

Donations may be sent to Matthew Werner, 260 Dufour St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060, or by calling 427-3153. Please make payments payable to "Cyclists for Cultural Exchange."

I guess the one thing about the article that find curious and frankly, distasteful, is that the Iraqi Junior National Team bicycles were stored in Uday Hussein's palace. I guess I wonder about the connection there....

Photo: Hincapie Sportswear is the manufacturer of the jerseys, and I never pass up the opportunity to put up a photo of George - This is from Stage 19 of the 2005 Tour.

Link is to the Cyclists for Cultural Exchange website.


  • Dear Velogal,

    I just noticed that you posted an article about our project to give equipment support to the Iraq Junior National Cycling Team. Thanks for doing that! And sorry it took me so long (1 year) to notice it.

    You were wondering why the team's original equipment had been stored in Uday Hussein's palace. That was because, up until the invasion, Uday Hussein was in charge of Iraqi sport teams. He controlled the cycling teams by keeping their bikes under lock and key. He had a reputation for torturing athletes who did not win.

    The cycling equipment was looted during the invasion. Hence our effort to provide some new equipment. We were succesful in doing that, but unfortunately the climate in Iraq is not conducive right now to a flourishing culture of sporting competition. One can only hope...

    By Anonymous Matthew Werner, At 1:32 PM  

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