Kimberly Coats and Hadnet Kidane

Hadnet Kidane is all of 5′ nothing weighing 115 pounds. She is a tiny young Ethiopian cyclist, a woman.

In February at the Continental Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, I do not know if it was her first time racing internationally but I highly suspect it was. There are simply no races on the continent for women and even Ethiopian men do not participate in many of the international races. Ethiopia does have a strong local racing calendar with many more women competing than Rwanda.  Perhaps this is where she honed her skills.

On February 9, she participated in the Team Time Trial where Ethiopia missed a 3rd place podium finish by 4 seconds to Eritrea. Her team did not have time trial bikes, but neither did the Eritreans.

On February 11, she raced in the Individual Time Trial placing 8th 4:44 behind the winner from South Africa and 1:45 behind Rwanda’s Jeanne d’Arc.  Joan of Arc had a TT bike, Hadnet did not.

February 13, I was on the side of the road about 10kms from the start/finish. I was relegated to the feed zone for a few laps. Early on through a race radio the Namibians had commandeered, we learned she was in a two person breakaway with a South African. When she came past the feed zone the first time I saw her with the South African. I thought to myself, there is no way she is going to be able to hold this. She was on her rev limiter keeping wheels with the South African.

Then I hear on the radio there’s another South African who has bridged the gap from the peloton to their 2 person breakaway. They quickly drop Hadnet. As she comes through the second time past the feed zone, she’s alone. The worst thing for a cyclist is to be alone between a break and the peloton. No man’s land. I remember saying to Sophia, a junior Namibian cyclist manning the feed zone with me, “She should just hold up and wait for the peloton.”

How wrong I was.

After the peloton comes through the feed zone I jump in the follow car with Jock and Jamie for the final lap. The peloton splits on the next hill. We’re down to five women, including Jeanne d’Arc, chasing Hadnet and the two South Africans ahead of her.

In the final 5-6kms we’re on a plateau with long rolling hills and you can see Hadnet and her follow car in the distance. We are gaining on her. The South Africans have put minutes into Hadnet. She is all alone.

For a moment it looks like the group of five will catch Hadnet. There are two Olympic bids available in the race. South Africa will get one, but Hadnet is being chased by Rwanda and Eritrea in the pack of five for the other.

Hadnet crosses the finish line 3:51 behind the winning break of South Africans and only 46 seconds in front of the group of five. Hadnet had secured an Olympic Road Race bid for Ethiopia.

1 Ashleigh MOOLMAN-PASIO RSA RSA 30 3:06:57 40 40
2 Lise OLIVIER RSA RSA 32 +0 30 30
3 Hadnet KIDANE ETH ETH 22 +3:51 16 16
4 An-Li PRETORIUS RSA RSA 28 +4:38 12 12
5 Jeanne D’arc GIRUBUNTU RWA RWA 20 +4:38 10 10
6 Tsega BEYENE ETH ETH 21 +4:38 8 8
7 Yohana DAWIT ERI ERI 22 +4:38 6 6
8 Heidi DALTON RSA RSA 20 +4:39 3 3

How wrong I was… thank God she didn’t hold up. She didn’t wait.

When I finally got back to where all the riders and teams were camped out I congratulated the Ethiopians and saw Hadnet in a heap on the ground.  She was sobbing, her tiny body just heaving, sobbing. She was inconsolable. My first thought was she was simply emotional from essentially being hunted for miles for her third place finish.

That was not why she was sobbing.

GG, the Ethiopian mechanic simply said to me, “Her mother died last week.”

The next day I was with her at the feed zone during the Men’s Elite Road Race. She gave me her email address and begged me to please help her.  She did not have a proper training bike and she wanted to race. A girl without a bike, without a mother gave Ethiopia a spot in next year’s Olympics… speechless.

By Kimberly Coats – Team Rwanda

Kimberly has become a great friend of Girl Bike Love over the past few years. A great inspiration and supporter of women’s cycling she works tirelessly in Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea to not only support her team but search out and provide opportunities for women racing. Follow her blog A Life of Living Fearlessly.