There were emotional scenes Sunday at the finish line of the Afghan national cycling championship, as sisters Fariba (19) and Yulduz (22) Hashimi finished first and second. The championship was held in exile in Switzerland, with such events outlawed by the Taliban.
The sisters left just days before the Taliban entered Kabul. Fabina has since begun building a new life in Italy.
Following her victory, Women’s WorldTour team Israel – Premier Tech Roland, offered Fariba a contract for the upcoming season, which she happily accepted. The spot on the roster means Fariba has a chance to race the Tour de France Femmes, and with the announcement of a U23 Continental team in the works, Yulduz will join her next year.
IPT owner Sylvan Adams, who played a key role in the rescue operations that helped hundreds of Afghans to escape the Taliban in August 2021, commented saying, “We are making history here as these two brave women become the first from their country to reach this level of the sport. It is part of our commitment to helping young cyclists from all over the world – from developing nations to war zones. From our Racing for Change initiative in Rwanda to Afghanistan, we are more than a cycling team.”
It was also a sound professional decision based on merit, explained Ruben Contreras, the owner and manager of Israel – Premier Tech Roland.
“Both sisters raced for the Italian team Valcar and showed promise,” he said. “We expect them to progress a lot with us.”
But for the new champion, as she explained, the opportunity meant so much more than just career prospects.
Fariba said, “I can’t lie – it’s so exciting but it’s pressure, too. Honestly, I didn’t think I would get this opportunity to ride for a WorldTour team and a chance to race in the Tour de France. I will take the challenge head-on and race for all the women in Afghanistan. My country today is dangerous for many of the women living there. Women are not free to live and thrive as they wish, but if they see me riding in the TDF with the Afghan colors they will see that everything is possible.”
Also competing in the race were 49 brave women who were among 400 Afghan women, rescued from the Taliban thanks to Canadian businessman and philanthropist Sylvan Adams, the owner of UCI World Tour team - Israel - Premier Tech, who worked in cooperation with IsraAID, an international non-governmental humanitarian aid organization based in Israel, and the Asian Cycling Confederation, to airlift the women to safety.
Some struggled to finish the race as they had been rescued just months ago and did not have the time or resources to train. But they did not give up, even when the 57-kilometer course felt torturous.
One of those women, Zarifa Hussaini (20) was out of breath and exhausted, but smiled broadly when she reached the finish, saying “It was very hard to finish after more than a year of struggles to escape … but I just could not let myself give up and stop. It was my freedom race, and I couldn’t afford to quit.”