Sule Kangangi

Bringing one of Kenya’s top gravel racers to Europe

Sule Kangangi is an elite gravel racer and Giant Bikes brand ambassador from Kenya, but having experienced everything he could on the domestic gravel race scene in East Africa, he was keen to test his legs against the competition in Europe. So last summer he came over and participated in a number of events, including Grinduro Switzerland. We chatted to him to find out what he thought about racing in Europe and what his plans are for the rest of the 2022 season.

Why did you want to come and ride at Grinduro?

Sule – I wanted to fill my schedule with as many as events as possible while I was in Europe. It’s not cheap for me to come from Africa to Europe so whenever I find time to come over, I want to have a few races in. Grinduro has always been appealing to me. I’m organising my own races now in Kenya, so part of the reason for me wanting to take part was to see how the best events are organised – to try and learn from you! I wanted to learn both about the racing and the off-bike stuff too.

How much did you know about Grinduro beforehand? Had you done some research to see what was going to be involved and what it was going to be like?

Sule – I did some research before, although not specifically for Switzerland, but for other Grinduro events. So, it was something I knew pretty well. I was already in Switzerland and the event was not too far away from where I was based, so I was really keen to take part. I contacted the organisers and they were amazing and arranged a place for me at very short notice.

What was the highlight of the race for you?

Sule – I think the highlight for me was getting onto the podium at the end of the race! The race itself was amazing too – the other racers were very friendly and the staff too – everyone was willing to help and that made a lot of things easier for the participants.

Was there anything that you found difficult or that wasn’t what you were expecting?

Sule – I was hoping that all of the timed segments were going to be climbs as that is one of my strong points, but I realised that the event wasn’t just for climbers and that there were some good descenders taking part too, so the organisers needed to balance everything. Apart from that, there wasn’t really anything that I was surprised about.

Sule at Grinduro Switzerland

What was the best thing that you learnt? What would you take home as both a racer and a gravel event organiser?

Sule – As a racer, the commitment that I saw in the people that were helping was something that I would really want to recreate in Kenya. It’s hard to differentiate the two things actually. I loved the competitive nature of the event, but also everything was so well organised in advance and this is something that we don’t always have enough of in Kenya. When the organisers do such a great job, it makes it much easier for the racers who are coming to participate.

What did think of the party-to-race ration ethos of the event? Is that something you would like to replicate back home?

Sule – It was brilliant! I really loved it. I think back home people are more race focused and its harder to sell the party aspect. I really loved the use of timed segments among the more relaxed riding so that people can have a go at them if they want to. Personally, I really loved the party aspect and the non-racing experience. You have to have some time where you are able to calm down after racing. Cycling is growing in Kenya and people are becoming more used to it, but we have to give them the information in small pieces. We’ve really only just started to introduce gravel racing and I think if we introduced the party aspect too, it might be too soon. So, we need to be a bit patient. Maybe in a year or so, we’ll introduce the party too and have Saturday off and perhaps an easy ride on the Sunday too. It’s certainly something I will think about for the future, but I think at the moment it might be too early.

If you were going to give someone some advice who was going to take part in a Grinduro event for the first time, what do you think is the perfect type of bike to use?

Sule – For sure a gravel bike. Probably with quite wide tyres.

Grinduro – Is there anything you would do differently next time?

Sule – No, not really. I would probably just ask the organiser to remove the downhill timed segment!

Grinduro Podium Place for Sule

What do you think about a Grinduro event in Kenya in the future? Is that something you would like to see?

Sule – I think it would definitely work. The local people are now yearning for more events that they can take part in. We are seeing more and more people riding gravel bikes here, so it’s just a matter of time before they want to go and test themselves – to do an event and to have a good time. What I saw at Grinduro was all about attention to detail – everything from the race numbers to how people are treated off the bike – it was top notch in terms of organisation. So, if we bring that attitude and attention to detail here, people would really enjoy it. People want to come somewhere where there is good organisation – if they are leaving their homes after a stressful week at work, they want to have a good weekend at an event, so as organisers we need to make events as stress-free as possible.

If you could do another Grinduro event from the series, which one would it be and why?

Sule – Another event in Europe I think... Grinduro Germany sounds good. Only next time I’m going to try and win it, rather than coming second!!