Azzedine Lagab - until a few weeks ago this name was unknown to most people. But due to an incident at the Tokyo Olympics, his name went "viral". Since then, Azzedine Lagab has been contacted by many journalists. The reason for this was unfortunately rarely his achievements as a rider although the 34-year-old has been one of the most successful African cyclists for years: eleven Algerian championship titles speak for themselves. rather, it was about further fueling a media flash in the pan.
After the cycling community took the incident as an opportunity to speak out on the issue of racism, we were also asked to take a stand. But "simply jumping on a populist bandwagon that's just rolling, we did not want to do that, but to think it over carefully," said Timo Schäfer.
Instead of "just" posting on social media, Matthias Schnapka contacted Lagab to propose that he ride the Tour of Germany in the BIKE AID jersey. "I could have imagined that he would find my contacting him inappropriate. I proposed him to ride the Tour of Germany with BIKE AID and asked him to share his honest feeling about it at that moment. Azzedine agreed and told me his story, through which I got to know an athlete from Africa who has experienced a lot, found his own way and can pass on a lot to young African athletes," says Matthias Schnapka.
When Azzedine Lagab was young, he dreamed of a professional contract in Europe, a dream that never came true. He raced in world championships, competed in the London Olympics back in 2012 and most recently in Tokyo in 2021. Western journalists have not been interested in him so far, although he has a lot of exciting things to tell. About his difficult path as an athlete, how he struggled desperately as a young rider to get a place on a team, and about all the obstacles he and other African athletes have to overcome. It makes him all the sadder that it was not his athletic achievements but a discriminatory statement that led to the press taking notice of him after all.
In 2013, BIKE AID participated in the Tour of Algeria and experienced thousands of spectators along the route in the deepest backcountry. We also met Azzedine Lagab there. We had already met him at many races in Africa, and he stood out not least because he stood by his Muslim religion and thus rode with knee warmers even at 40 degrees. To us, this seemed strange, and yes, we were amused by his unusual appearance.
Yet this behavior contradicts our philosophy: We want to support athletes from Africa, to give them opportunities that they too rarely get. We talk about issues like racism or social injustice. We travel to countries that we ourselves do not know in order to report on the enthusiasm for cycling there, to overcome our own prejudices, and to make others curious about foreign cultures and people with our reports. We stand for encounter instead of demarcation.
"At the latest after this incident, my previous behavior towards Azzedine Lagab felt wrong. I overcame my insecurity and decided to contact him. With the Deutschland Tour, Azzedine now has the chance to tell his life story, to take another step as an athlete, and thus to further encourage young riders in his home country to fight for their own way," says Matthias Schnapka.
A media flash in the pan, a social media shitstorm against individuals who are pilloried, provide short-term attention. However, they miss an important target: the clarification that racism is omnipresent, that hardly anyone can absolve themselves of stereotypical thinking, and that encounters and openness are the main things that help against racism. And it is precisely these encounters in cycling that BIKE AID is committed to: Encounters between people where borders, prejudices and nationalities are overcome.
"Adding Azzedine Lagab to our team, and during the current season for such an important tour, was of course not an easy decision. I think if we as a team stand by what we claim to be, then we have to take this on and question ourselves. Many asked if we are sure that this was the right decision. No, we aren't. However, we can hope that the negative event will be the impetus for something positive," says Matthias Schnapka.