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Biking beyond borders

Zambian cyclist featured in TGR film visits Durango
Cyclist Gift Puteho, from Zambia, watches Durango Devo racers Wednesday at Test Tracks with his coach and Durango native Nora Richards, who rode for the Fort Lewis College cycling team. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Teton Gravity Research’s latest mountain bike film, Esperanto, mixes “the rock stars of the sport with a cast of unknown and up-and-coming heroes,” according to TGR.

“The film explores how we share our dreams through a universal two-wheeled language no matter what our native tongue may be,” TGR says. “The sacred ritual of the ride might sound different all across the world – whether it’s a full-face getting pulled down to drop into a big jump line or wheeling a beat-up bike out of a mud hut to pedal to school – but it’s a universal process no matter what language we speak.”

One of the cyclists featured in the film, Gift Puteho, who is from Zambia, was in Durango recently, working with some Devo riders and attending Fort Lewis College’s cycling camp. His coach on the Kansanshi Cycling Team, Nora Richards, is from Durango and a former Devo, Fort Lewis College and University of Colorado rider.

Puteho, who is 17 and has two years of school left, said his part in the film is “mostly joy riding and sharing my story.”

“Being on a bike is really cool,” he said. “When you go out riding, you get to feel nice. And if you have stress, you can lose it. … It’s addicting.”

Puteho is from Livingstone, Zambia, home of Victoria Falls. He started cycling when he was 10 years old and spent two years training with the Livingstone Cycling Club.

When he dominated a race, however, he caught Richards’ eye.

“He was really fast,” Richards said. “He won by about 10 minutes.”

After the two connected and he learned about the Kansanshi team, Puteho called Richards every week for 15 months until a spot on the team opened up. The Kansanshi copper mine started the team, and Richards raced on it before coaching it.

“I knew (Puteho) was serious, and I knew as soon as I recruited him he’d be into it,” Richards said.

Cyclist Gift Puteho, center, from Zambia, talks with Durango Devo riders, Kai Lokey, 15, left, and Emmett McManus, 15, during Durango Devo races Wednesday at Test Tracks. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The team’s 13 elite riders get their education, housing and travel paid for, as well as a salary and bikes to ride.

“It was really exciting,” Puteho said about making the team, adding that it eased some of the struggles he had finding food.

The team also coaches roughly 100 community riders from about seven different schools.

“It’s a beautiful country, and the culture is really compatible with Colorado and Durango,” Richards said. “It’s outdoor oriented. They have had a bike scene for about 10 years. Since then, it’s grown into one of the most popular sports.”

Cross-country mountain biking, she said, has the most opportunities for the Kansanshi team.

TGR, meanwhile, heard about Puteho from a friend of a friend of a friend. His film part was shot in Zambia on terrain near Victoria Falls and a nearby national park.

Puteho attended the premiere of Esperanto in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist while riding bikes in Utah, meaning he was unable to ride for most of his trip. Puteho will head back to Zambia, which is about a 32-hour flight away, on Monday.

“Durango is really cool,” Puteho said. “It’s cold, and the altitude is different. It was a great opportunity to come here, but I would love to come back when I can ride my bike.”

Before getting injured, however, he got to meet some of the film’s stars and ride with them in Utah, including Carson Storch, Johny Salido and Sophie Gregory.

Cyclist Gift Puteho, from Zambia, visits Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“It was really fun, until I got into that crash in Salt Lake City,” he said.

Brandon Semenuk, Cam Zink and Darren Barrecloth are a few other pros featured in the film.

Esperanto will premiere in Durango on July 29 at the Durango Arts Center.

In English, the word Esperanto means “one who hopes.” Today, Esperanto might remain elusive, TGR said, but the dream of a shared language spoken worldwide still flourishes. And biking is a shared language.