“I used to lay in bed at night dreaming about riding a bike.”
When Maurice Burton began pursuing a career in cycling, there weren’t people who looked like him competing at the elite level. Born in 1950s London, Maurice rose through the junior ranks to secure a national title in the sprint. But despite his success, he was seldom celebrated on home ground. Frustrated by the racism pervasive in British cycling at the time, he was forced to relocate to Belgium.
Over the past century and a half, few Black athletes have been provided with the resources and opportunity to compete at the professional level, creating a deficit of representation. Even when they’ve made the cut, the pro peloton can be an unwelcoming place. South African cyclist Nicholas Dlamini of Team Qhubeka Assos has experienced and been witness to the appalling racism that Black athletes face while racing:
“It is true that there have been a lot of incidents of racism in the peloton. I’ve seen it happening to the African guys. ‘You’re a Black guy. You’re not supposed to be here anyway. I need to go past, so I’m just going to push you.’”
In a sport where you don’t see yourself being represented, it takes great courage to take the leap to be the change you want to see. BMX and Track World Champion Shanaze Reade felt the weight of being an outsider as the only Black athlete in her field:
“I never felt like I fitted in. Not at all. I was the only person of colour to start with. You just look around you, and you feel different.”
While the culture has deterred many talented cyclists from entering elite road racing, others have been obstructed from doing so, like English road and track racer Russell Williams. He identified that racist attitudes played a pivotal role in stunting his career progression.
“I found out that the riders behind me, in second and third place, were selected instead of me to go and represent Great Britain at the World Championships. All I can think of now is that it was a racist decision. If you are white, you get to go. If you are Black, you stay at home.”
Having dedicated years to extensively researching and uncovering stories from all corners of cycling, academic and former elite racer Dr Marlon Moncrieffe is a world-leading expert on the history and lives of cycling’s black champions. In his new book, he broaches a subject that few others in the cycling world will: representation.
Black Champions in Cycling
From forgotten stories of Black champions past to shocking tales from today’s pro peloton, Desire, Discrimination and Determination sheds a light on the lack of representation that still persists within cycling. And, most importantly of all, the book celebrates the lives and achievements of some of the sport’s greatest Black champions, just as they should have been celebrated from the outset.Buy now
Photography: Beth Schneider, Charlie Reynolds, Cycling Weekly, Kit Karzen, Lulli Adeyemo, Marlon Moncrieffe, Phil O'Connor, Presse Sports, Sam Holden Agency