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Meet The Rider: Salman Alsaffar

A cyclist sitting on his bike on a bike path in Kuwait
Salman Alsaffar

Tell us about yourself:

"Hey there, I'm Salman Alsaffar, I have been a biotechnologist at Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research for about 10 years, and I work in the Environmental & Life Sciences Center. I graduated from the University of Alabama, Huntsville, as a Chemist with a BS, and then I got my Master's degree in Biotechnology from the University of Melbourne, Australia.”

cyclists riding on the road in Kuwait
Salman riding in his usual training spot

What got you into cycling? And how long have you been cycling?

"My beginnings with cycling started brewing when I was a decathlon athlete. A decathlon event consists of 10 events over 2 days, 5 on each day. I have always wanted to do long endurance challenges and races. Decathlon was my life. We spent a lot of time as athletes, which kept me going for a while.

Around 2013 when I returned from the US after getting my BS, I met Jaffar, my teammate at the AlQadsia Club (a historical club in Kuwait), where we were both runners at that time (and still to this day). Jafar had just started riding for the then-new Kuwait National Cycling Team. The team was looking for new riders to race in the Gulf and Arab cycling championships. Back then, they had a coach from Greece, Nicolas, who profoundly impacted the newly assembled team.

We started as beginners, and over 4 years, he taught us how to be the best riders we could be.

We had a lot of training camps, and the coach taught us all the basics, the best fitting tips and tricks, how to ride properly, and pedaling techniques; he pretty much covered everything we needed to know to start growing as a professional cycling team.

From then, we knew that cycling was the missing key that complimented the athletic passion burning within us, which was craving for long endurance challenges.

cyclist wearing Kuwait's cycling jersey

Our first race as a national team was unforgettable; it took place in the United Arab Emirates, Tour de Al-Sharjah. It was as surreal as it was eye-opening. During the training camps, daily training, and all that we had to do to be better at cycling, we never expected to see the level of riders, speed, and sportsmanship we saw during our first race.

I don’t even remember going at speeds above 50kph on the flats during our trainings. However, that race was eye-opening. Within the first 5 kilometers, the peloton reached speeds above 60kph! We were amazed at how fast the riders were; it was a different experience.

After that, we knew that we had to work even harder and really come together as the team we were if we ever wanted to compete at the international level. We continued to do that, and thankfully, over the years, new and strong riders joined the team, and we accomplished a lot. We scored 2nd place in TTT (team time trial) at the gulf level. A teammate (Jafar) also scored 1st in ITT (individual time trial), who is a pure time-trial rider. As a team, we also got 3rd place in the Arabic cycling championship in 2021.”

a bike in the middle of a cycling path
A Scott with the corncob in the back

Did someone or something inspire you to start riding? Who?

“The person who inspired me to start riding has to be Jafar AlAli because he's a talented rider. He’s a pure time-triallist, as I said earlier. So he’s a natural talent in Kuwait. To speak the truth, Jafar is at the core of taking cycling in Kuwait to the next level, and he brought the cycling team up to speed with the region’s level, if not a bit more.

When Jafar joined the team in 2012-2013, he took the team to a higher level. As I said, he made us one of the best in the region. We always try to one-up him and challenge him since every ride with Jafar is a race. He has no mercy, Mashallah.

So Jafar is the person who not only inspired me but inspired many other cyclists in Kuwait as well. He is known as an exceptional rider in the national team and on the CCC ride (weekly fast-paced drop ride).”

cyclist on a cycling path in Kuwait

What was your best ride ever?

“Well, every ride is different for me, as is every training ride. To me, every ride is a good ride. However, there’s a ride that comes to mind now that I think about it. It was a ride in Greece, and I remember we had a TT race 20 kilometers up the mountain.

My coach had told me to ride to the race that day, which was 150 kilometers away. The race starts at 2 pm, So I had to ride to the start and rest for an hour before jumping in the saddle again. He knew that I had the endurance to achieve that, and he believed in my ability to perform at a level that would rank me high on the scoreboard.

So I headed out at 7 in the morning, rode to the start, rested for an hour, and then raced up the mountain. Thanks to the hard work I’ve been putting in and having a coach that believed in my abilities, I got a spot on the podium that day!

I honestly didn’t expect it. It was challenging since my legs were pretty much spent during that 150k I road that morning. That was an excellent experience, I don’t want to say it was the best ride ever, but it certainly is up there for sure.”

What does cycling mean to you?

“Cycling now is a lifestyle for me. I don’t take it as a sport, workout, or training, it's purely part of who I am. Even if I retire or become a regular cyclist, I will continue to ride. Cycling gives me a lot more than I put in. So if I’m stressed, not in a good mood, or have anything weighing heavy on my mind, the only way to get out of it is to ride my bike.

Even now, as a triathlete, I like to focus on riding, and I still enjoy long rides.

So yeah, you could say that I love cycling!”

What do you need as a cyclist in Kuwait?

“We need a lot, honestly.

One of the reasons I became a triathlete was because the support for cycling in Kuwait is very weak, and the cycling culture is unappreciated on so many levels. In addition, the roads are in dire need of repair, and the cycling infrastructure is nonexistent.

As cyclists in Kuwait, we sadly had many accidents with cars. As a result, we recently lost two cyclists, Saad Alsubaie, who was a rider for the Kuwaiti national team! And we also lost Ala Alotaibi, a rider for the University of Kuwait cycling team.

It is an unsafe environment; we need the infrastructure not only to ride or train but to stay safe. But, unfortunately, we have none of that, and we don’t even have a proper short loop that professional riders can use.

Compare that to the United Arab Emirates, which has over 2000 kilometers of dedicated cycling infrastructure for cyclists. You can't imagine how much they respect cycling there and the dedication they provide to that sport. Even though the climate in the Gulf is not the best for cycling, you still see a massive amount of support for the sport.

For example, in the UAE, they spent more than 2 million Dirhams ($554k) on prizes alone in a single race! As a matter of fact, in two weeks, there will be a race in Dubai where the total amount spent on prizes alone will be more than 2 million Dirhams as well!

However, in Kuwait, the support is not there. Last week we had our first official race in the country in 3 or 4 years, supported by a local bank. We don’t even have races held by the national cycling federation, so the support is minimal, to say the least.”

Any parting words?

“Lastly, I would like to thank you, Abdulrahman (interviewer), because this is one of the ways we can support cycling and the community through media since the local media isn’t focusing on our sport, as you see them focusing on football and other sports, but not cycling!

So thank you for creating an outlet that focuses on the riders and community since it’ll give the reader a good idea about cycling in Kuwait. And if they are interested in joining us for our weekly rides, we’re happy to communicate with anyone who wants to join our sport. Because I really like to encourage everyone within or outside Kuwait to try cycling because it's hard to see the beauty of the sport without doing it! And hopefully, by doing so, they can appreciate and respect cyclists and the sport when they ride and see how beautiful it is of a sport.

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