Announcing the winners of the Mark Gunter Youth Cyclist Support Program

As part of the annual Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year awards, we use proceeds from the entry to donate to causes that were close to Mark’s heart. In addition to our donation to cancer research (via Tour de Cure), we are also asking for nominations from young cyclists who need a helping hand on their journey and giving a cash donation of up to $1,000 for help them on their way. It’s not much in the scheme of things, but it can make a big difference – it can help buy a year of training, a plane ticket to Europe, a block of groceries or whatever whatever the next roadblock.

Past nominees included riders who competed in the Olympics, got WorldTour contracts, or just went as far as they wanted (which is also okay!)

Each year we ask a professional cyclist who knows what it’s like to climb the ranks to choose the recipients of this award. In the past, judges have included Koen de Kort, Marianne Vos and Richie Porte.

This year, we asked Sarah Gigante, pro cyclist and Team Movistar Olympian (also a VeloClub member, former Youth Rider Support nominee, and a wonderful person) if she would do the honours. Gigante reviewed the dozens of nominees and chose the cash prize recipients. Not an easy task!

And now, Sarah Gigante’s turn to announce who the recipients are…

by Sarah Gigante

It was such an honor to be able to help choose the recipients of the Mark Gunter Young Cyclist Assistance program for 2022. Loved working alongside Leeane Gatien [Mark’s wife]Lucas [Mark’s son] and Wade, and to be able to play a small but important role in celebrating Mark and what he has done, and what his legacy continues to do, for the cycling community. Also, having the privilege of discovering so many passionate and enthusiastic young cyclists and their efforts to achieve their dreams has warmed my heart.

It was wonderful to see how far the news of the Mark Gunter Young Cyclist Assistance program has traveled this year – we received many entries, from eleven different countries! Of course, this excellent recovery only made our job of reducing the roster to just three riders even more difficult. Every young cyclist who applied would have deserved a scholarship, and I just wanted to say, before announcing the winners, that I wish I could give you all $1,000! I hope and believe that you will achieve all the goals that you proudly shared in your applications. Thanks for giving me some insight into your cycling dreams, and I’ll follow from afar as I pursue mine – maybe I’ll see you there!

The first candidate I would like to award $1,000 to is a young man from Sierra Leone, Abu Sheik Sesay (pictured above, left). You might not know his name yet, but you probably know his face, because Matt Grayson’s stunning photo showing Abu Sheik’s elation after a Tour de Lunsar podium won second place in the professional category of Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year Awards! Reading the context surrounding Sierra Leonean cycling has given me a lot of perspective on the difference a grant like this will hopefully make in the career of a passionate young cyclist. Abu Sheik is certainly one of those cyclists, and I really hope that this money will allow him to travel to Rwanda and join the African Rising Cycling Centre. Abu Sheik’s application was extremely well written and opened my eyes to the fact that there has never been a professional Sierra Leonean cyclist yet – but I hope Abu Sheik can change that and inspire others to follow in his footsteps. Good luck Abu Sheikh!

Another very worthy $1,000 winner is 18-year-old Chilean track and road cyclist Carlos Rodriguez (pictured above, right). Despite his young age, he has already shown tremendous physical and mental prowess having won eleven national titles in the seven years he has raced. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic ruined the two years he was in the Junior Under 19 category, which meant he missed the opportunity to race on a wider stage, at the Junior World Championships. As Carlos takes a big step from juniors and continues to pursue his dream of being a top sprinter, I hope this scholarship will help him travel and represent his country at future major competitions in North America. South and around the world, and also to buy the necessary equipment to succeed. I will follow his career closely!

I am very happy that there are three grants to be awarded this year, as this third cyclist has also impressed me greatly, and I look forward to seeing what she can do in the future with the $500 grant made possible by the Mark Gunter Young Cyclist Aid Program. Anya Louw is a 21-year-old road cyclist from Australia who has raced for more than half her life, but is only getting better. At the time of her application, she wrote that she had achieved numerous podiums in the national under-19 and under-23 championships, but in the short time between then and now, she has since become a double national under-23 champion. Despite the courage and strength she has shown in Buninyong and throughout her career, I know that the journey towards realizing her dream of becoming a full-time professional will not be easy or cheap, so I hopes this grant will help her on her trip to Europe this year.

Thank you very much for trusting me with this task. It has been wonderful to learn more about the future of our sport and, as I said before, a real honor to be part of these awards. Good luck to all of the candidates!

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