Vatican rider to make history at world road cycling championships

Vatican Cyclist Olympics, Cycling, Vatican City, World Road Cycling Championships, Rien Schuurhuis
Athletica Vaticana
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VATICAN CITY — A plain white helmet like the pope’s skullcap.

The Holy See’s crossed keys seal stamped on his white and yellow jersey over his heart.

Dutch-born cyclist Rien Schuurhuis will carry an enormous sense of duty when he races for the Vatican in Sunday’s road race at the cycling world championships in Wollongong, Australia — marking a first in the city-state’s increasing use of sports as an instrument of dialogue, peace and solidarity.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Schuurhuis told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Australia on Friday. “I think the real emotion is still yet to come when I’m standing there at the start line.

“This is a great first step in the direction of what the pope believes in achieving through sports (with) inclusiveness and fraternity,” Schuurhuis added. “Everyone on the sports field — or on the roads in this case — is equal, no matter their backgrounds, religion or age.”

Vatican athletes have recently participated as non-scoring competitors in the Games of the Small States of Europe — open to nations with fewer than 1 million people — and the Mediterranean Games.

The cycling worlds mark the first time that a Vatican athlete will compete as a regular scoring competitor, after the International Cycling Union recognized the Holy See as its 200th member last year.

“As Pope Francis said when he met with a group of riders in 2019, the beautiful thing about cycling is that when you drop behind because you’ve fallen or because you punctured your tire, your teammates slow down and help you catch up with the main pack,” said Athletica Vaticana president Giampaolo Mattei, who oversees the team. “That’s something that should carry over to life in general.”

The 40-year-old Schuurhuis qualified for the team because he is married to Australia’s ambassador to the Vatican, Chiara Porro.

He holds Dutch and Australian passports but athletically now represents the Vatican.

“I was able to ride a bike before I could walk” Schuurhuis said about growing up in the cycling-crazy Netherlands.

Schuurhuis previously raced on the UCI’s Continental Circuit, one level below the elite World Tour.

“He’s a good cyclist. That’s a high level,” said Valerio Agnoli, Schuurhuis’ volunteer coach and a former teammate of Grand Tour winners Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali.

Schuurhuis, whose day job is now running a company that supplies materials for 3D printers, trains on Rome’s traffic-clogged roads. He sometimes heads out to the Alban Hills, where the pope’s traditional summer residence is at Castel Gandolfo.

Besides a recent photo opp, Schuurhuis doesn’t really ride inside the Vatican.

“I think I did it once with my son,” he said. “But it’s not really allowed to go through St. Peter’s Square. So I think we were told off by the police.”

Schuurhuis doesn’t expect to come close to winning. His main goal is to spread the pope’s message.

Like when he participated in a church event with Indigenous Australians on Friday, or when Belgian standout Wout van Aert sought him out during training a day earlier.

“When people see that very special white and yellow jersey it makes them curious,” Agnoli said.

Agnoli noted how cycling takes place on open roads, passes by people’s homes and isn’t restricted to paying ticketholders inside a stadium or arena.

“That’s the great thing about cycling,” Agnoli said. “I was chosen by the Vatican for this job because my role as a cyclist was that of a team helper. I helped teammates win the Giro d’Italia and the Spanish Vuelta.”

In another example of the values held within cycling, Mattei pointed to how Gino Bartali, the 1938 Tour de France winner who smuggled forged documents inside his bicycle frame to help rescue Jews during Germany’s occupation of Italy in World War II, is currently being considered for beatification by the Vatican, the first step to possible sainthood.

Vatican officials would like to one day field a team in the Olympics.

“To go to the Olympics would require creating an Olympic committee and being recognized by the International Olympic Committee,” Mattei said. “That takes time.”

Competing in a world championships, however, is a big step toward Olympic participation.

So will the pope be watching Schuurhuis on TV?

“The time difference presents a problem,” Mattei said, noting that the race in Australia starts at 2:15 a.m. Vatican time and that Pope Francis is traveling to the southern Italian city of Matera on Sunday. “But maybe he’ll watch a replay.”

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Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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