Remembering professional cyclist Sule Kangangi

·12 min read

This article originally appeared on Velo News

“Gaping holes are left when giants fall. Sule was a giant.”

Meet Suleiman Kangangi

The global cycling community is mourning the death of Suleiman “Sule” Kangangi, who died on Sunday after succumbing to injuries sustained during the Vermont Overland gravel race. He was 33.

Kangangi was the team captain of Team Amani and a pioneering figure in Kenyan cycling. After five years of racing on the road for UCI pro teams, Kangangi became involved with the Amani Project, an organization dedicated to creating more race opportunities for East African riders.

While racing on the road had always been his lodestar, Kangangi fully embraced a transition to eRacing, and then gravel, after becoming involved with Amani in 2020.

Team Amani triumphs at the Migration Gravel Race and Evolution Gravel

"I've always had a dream of going to the Tour de France," Kangangi told me last year. "When I started cycling, that was the dream. But now I'm 32, that dream is fading quickly. But I realized, I'm used to these gravel roads, this is part of me. I don't have to go find them. If I want to go training I just take my gravel bike and I'm already there. It shows, you can always change your dreams. You start imagining yourself winning. Why not change my dream and go for something which is realistic for me?"

Since switching to off-road, Kangangi raced across the globe, trying his hand at ultra-endurance event the Badlands, the Cape Epic MTB stage race, and most recently, gravel events in the US.

However, Kangangi’s most lasting legacy may be his perseverance in pursuing a career in cycling in Kenya against many odds, and not just for himself, but so that others could also have the opportunity. Subsequently, his life’s work impacted nearly everyone he met -- his teammates, his competitors, his mentees, his friends, and even those who never met him.

Sule was a giant.

<span class="article__caption">Ian Boswell and Sule Kangangi, Nairobi, Kenya, June 20, 2021</span> (Wahoo)
Ian Boswell and Sule Kangangi, Nairobi, Kenya, June 20, 2021 (Wahoo)

Sule wanted to inspire Kenyans by riding his bike the same way Eliud Kipchoge did by running. He wanted cyclists to come home and build houses, give people hope, fun, and much more. During his mission he inspired many more all over the world and he will be missed greatly as a friend, coach, inspiration, leader and father. I’ve seen him personally get back up after a puncture during the first stage of the Migration Gravel Race and managed to end up on the podium anyway, an incredible display of persistence and grit. To realize he’s never getting up any more is a huge loss for cycling all across the world, especially in East Africa.

Pumzika kwa amani Sule.

--Anonymous

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(Photo: Courtesy Finley Newmark)

Over the last year and a half Sule has become one of the greatest influences in my life. His understanding of the bigger picture, how the world works and where he wanted to fit into it, provided great clarity and inspiration to me during a confusing time. He has been a leader to so many others, forging a path that has previously been impossible. His personality was a combination of dedication and relentlessness, mixed with kindness and empathy. A patience and trust in his process allowed him to achieve so much in his time with us. His work will continue to raise the profile of East African cycling for the foreseeable future. I have many fond memories of Sule that I will treasure, but the one that comes to mind straight away was driving through Nairobi in his MGR/EVO sticker-bombed car listening to Sipangwingwi, speakers rattling along to the base, so loud it was almost painful. RIP ❤️

--Finley Newmark

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Kangangi looks on as Patrick Mugu learns how to lift weights (Photo: Courtesy Patrick Mugu)

I have known Sule since 2019. He spotted me in a race, it was a stage race ‘Tour the Machakos.’ Since then he has supported and coached me in the sport. He helped me achieve a lot, and he was able to convince people to support me. Recently in 2022 he created a team “Black Mamba Development Team” after doing a series of races in different parts of the country. We were five of us, and he was working overtime looking for funds and sponsors to run this team. He got us into a camp where he coached us, shared his knowledge, and promised to get us a coach. He has been a selfless giver who was committed to change cycling in Kenya and East Africa.

I can only celebrate him for the great work he has done. I remember when I went with him on a 1000km charity ride to help orphans in 2020. It was a challenge, but he couldn’t stop until it was done. He kept saying ‘I have to put a smile on those children’s faces.’ It was around Christmas, I only wish he could have more time with us.

He was a great coach, mentor, a great friend and for the efforts and support he has shown I can’t let it go into waste. I will carry on and make him proud.

--Patrick Mugu

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Mentor and mentee: Patrick Mugu and Sule Kangangi (Photo: Courtesy Patrick Mugu)

Sule started in Kenyan Riders as one of the youngest cyclists on the team, and due to being younger got little respect from the older cyclists. He studied cycling, reading what he could get ahold of, watching races on the internet, and trying to draw as much information as he could - at times provoking the coaches to go deeper. Slowly Sule got faster and faster ’til he was the fastest in Kenya. He knew how to turn on the performance on the right day. Amazing how many times he exceeded what people thought was possible of him!

He understood that he had a role to lead by example for younger cyclists and was looked up to in Kenya/East Africa by young and old. A huge amount of respect!

He will be missed!

--Simon Blake

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Sule shows his playful side, with Simon Blake (Photo: Courtesy Simon Blake)

Sule was one of the creators of the Migration Gravel Race and many other small races in Kenya. He was the inspiration to so many young riders. He allowed young Kenyans riding “black mambas” to dream about making something big in this sport.

He knew that his years of riding professionally were ending and he was preparing the ground for the next generation. He was involved in the INEOS project in Kaptagat. He was part of the bike community to improve the safety on the roads. He was ready to invest in bringing top brands to Africa. He was loved by all of us. And he left some KOMs that will remain there, showing his huge talent.

--Marc Roig

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Kangangi at the Tour du Rwanda (Photo: Courtesy Simon Blake)

Met, raced and connected with Sule during Migration Gravel Race 2021 and 2022. With hard work he earned himself the role of racer AND guide for growth and equality via racing. During one of the dinners of the '22 MGR he spoke very thoughtfully about how he would further realize his ambitions for equality in racing.

A great man, a humble racer, a loving father will be missed.

-- Loek Luijbregts

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Sule races past villagers during the first Migration Gravel Race (Photo: @saltlake_lian)

Life is precious such a way that know one knows what tomorrow brings. To me, apart from losing a cycling partner, I've lost one of my close friends. Sule was like our big brother, especially the young talented cyclists since he guided us. He has opened so many doors to us with him being the first person in Africa as a whole continent to come up with the idea of introducing gravel racing with an aim to create more opportunities for cyclists to go and race in Europe.

He's the one that organized a slot for me to go and race in the Mara which created a great exposure -- it was my first time to race with pro riders and ex-Tour de France riders like Ian Boswell, Laurens ten Dam, etc.

In terms of character, Sule was a disciplined and focused person, well organized, kind, courageous, and very curious. He would try anything as long as he had the heart to do it. I've raced with Sule since back in 2013 when he was riding with Kenyan Riders, and I've seen him moving from one team to another until they formed Team Amani.

Nothing much more to say but to rest in peace and may God protect your family.🙏🙏🙏🙏

--Samuel Kagiri

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Kagiri and Kangangi at the Tour de Machakos. (Photo: Courtesy Samuel Kagiri)

On that second night at the pizza restaurant; after he had finished sixth [at Badlands], holding his own against the best endurance riders in the world, the conversation topics opened up. We talked about his family, his kids, about his responsibilities as a father and his dreams for the future personally, and for East African cycling. What struck me was that he was a man acutely aware of his talents, and the opportunities and responsibilities that came with them. And he was just getting on with it, not waiting for permission, not waiting for a hand out, and not asking for recognition. A truly humble leader acting with absolute conviction that he pursued an essential cause, and he had been called to serve.

Happily he took this enormous weight upon his shoulders. Understanding that his career as a professional road cyclist was behind him and that he could achieve so much more for his peers and the future generations of East African cyclists acting as a role model, coach, organizer, fundraiser, ambassador.

--Peter Halliwell

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Kangangi cared deeply about inspiring young Kenyans (Photo: Courtesy Simon Blake)

No words can ever explain the void created by losing Sule. There is so much to say; however my regret was not telling him enough how awesome he was. I should've flooded him more with gratitude and appreciation, rather than the alternative, which were texts, calls, and constant questions on how to improve my skills in cycling. He relentlessly and without tire answered and supported me without expecting anything in return.

Sule revived the dreams of many cyclists in Kenya. He made us believe in a dream that was long dead and gone -- a dream of purposeful cycling, and not just racing but meaningful engagement with each other. We have truly lost. He will forever be in our hearts.

Directing all my love to the family as I cannot fathom their pain.

Sule forever 💕 His legacy will live on and we will walk by his dream to its fulfillment.

--Iman Kagumba

<span class="article__caption">Morton and Kangangi after riding Mare de Deu del Mont outside of Girona. </span> (Photo: Courtesy Lachlan Morton)
Morton and Kangangi after riding Mare de Deu del Mont outside of Girona. (Photo: Courtesy Lachlan Morton)

Sule was a force on and off the bike. I'll be lucky to meet a cyclist who leaves as great an impression on me as him. He led by example and shared his infectious ambition. The experiences he'd worked so hard to garner he shared freely with rivals and friends alike. Ultimately, he was a man I aspire to one day be like. We all will have to become better versions of ourselves to fill the void left by his premature departure from this world. I look back on my experiences with Sule as great treasures but can't help but feel we've all been cheated as the ambitions he had, and was sure to achieve, outweighed anything I've yet to witness in my life time. I'll miss you mate, and strive to be better because of your influence.

--Lachlan Morton

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Kangangi receiving his second place ‘shuka’ after the first Migration Gravel Race (Photo: @saltlake_lian)

I went all the way to Kenya and never met Sule, well, I saw him, that's for sure. I sat not far in the same room, rode the same track far behind. I was at the Migration Gravel Race, and I knew Sule or about Sule before even boarding on that plane. His nonchalant, discreet and yet warm charisma was actually intimidating. Calm waters are the deepest, Sule was very calm. I actually never even talked with Sule, I didn't really dare to, kinda like you wouldn't dare to talk to someone that you look at knowing they know something you don't. Sule inspired wisdom, calm, excellence and grace, he made me think of a cat, like he'd probably had seven lives already while you were still trying to figure half one. I wish I talked with him, learned from him and told him how impressed I was by his presence, even if it would have sounded weird. Something about Sule was just beyond, beyond words, beyond limitations, beyond expectations.

-- Ryan Le Garrec

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Sule was an inspiration. (Photo: @saltlake_lian)

Since 2015, since I was a cyclist I have known Sule. We got to work closer together starting in 2019. Sule was a unique character in the Kenya cycling family, he was a leader and a champ. As a cyclist what stood out to me is his work ethic -- he loved the sport and lived it, he put in lots of work, and still had time to think about others. He really wanted to grow the sport of cycling in Kenya and East Africa. He was always ready to learn and improve -- Sule was a very smart guy.

Sule, many people would run out of superlatives while talking about him. He leaves a huge void.

--Nancy Akinyi

<span class="article__caption">Kangangi with teammates Jordan Schleck and John Kariuki before Vermont Overland (Photo: Joe Viger)</span>
Kangangi with teammates Jordan Schleck and John Kariuki before Vermont Overland (Photo: Joe Viger)

What I appreciated about Sule was that he was a genuinely good person and never bitter or angry about the obstacles he faced, including the difficulties he had to overcome just to race in the US. He was kind and patient, even to people he barely knew (like me).

Sule was simply amazing, and I hardly deserved his friendship. He was driven yet kind, the quiet guy in the room whose voice was usually the most powerful, unpretentious yet obviously a leader. It is becoming increasingly clear that he cannot merely be defined as one of the most important voices in East African gravel cycling; he was one of the most important voices in gravel cycling, full stop. One could say he passed away doing what he loved, but he unselfishly loved so much more than racing his bike -- that’s what makes his passing so heartbreaking.

--Terese and Paul Martens

To support Sule’s family in Kenya, please consider donating to this fund.

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