The unique initiative, which has already supported 6 cyclists from diverse backgrounds in their ultra-distance cycling journeys, has just launched its search for new recipients. Applications for the 2022/23 season opened on 3 October 2022 and close on 16 October 2022 at midnight.
Ultra-cycling is traditionally a very niche, predominantly white sport. This could be attributed to high costs, lack of support systems for those from diverse backgrounds, and undiversified representation in the media. Since 2020, the Ultra Distance Scholarship (UDS) has been on a mission to tackle these barriers and increase diversity and representation on the start lines of prominent ultra-cycling races.
Cool! So what IS the Ultra Distance Scholarship, exactly?
The scholarship currently selects three recipients per year, and these riders receive 8-10 months of intensive support to train for and compete in an established, self-supported ultra-race. The scholarship is a registered non-profit based in the UK and is currently only open to UK residents, however it is hoping to expand its reach in the near future. Riders receive support in the form of a custom bike from Stayer Cycles, bikepacking bags from Tailfin, cycling apparel from Albion, coaching from Veloqi Cycle Coaching, bike fitting from Foundation Fit, nutrition from Outdoor Provisions, 1:1 mentorship, a bike computer, and more.
For 2023, the Ultra Distance Scholarship is partnering with the Pan Celtic Race, as it did in 2021.The Pan Celtic is a ‘self-supported, ultra-endurance bicycle ride, journeying through the Celtic Nations of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany’. It follows a different route each year, with distances for the full route varying from 2000kms to 2600kms depending on terrain. Riders have the choice of the shorter route option, which is usually around 1600kms – still a significant challenge and an admirable undertaking. It is known that Brittany will make its first appearance in a Pan Celtic Race route this time around, but the exact details will not be released for quite some time. The spirit of The Pan Celtic is one of community and supportive camaraderie, and the UDS is very pleased to be working with such strong-hearted race organisers. This year’s edition takes place in July 2023.
Do you know of a resilient, hard working and enthusiastic individual looking for a challenge? Or are you that person? The Ultra Distance Scholarship invites all interested people of colour/BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (in relation to the UK population)) * cyclists to apply here:
Ultra Distance Scholarship 2022/23 Application form
Words from Carla Benton, a 2021/22 scholarship recipient:
In November last year, I received an unassuming email in my inbox to say I’d been lucky enough to be chosen as an Ultra Distance Scholarship winner for 2022. To say the Scholarship has been life changing would be a massive understatement. I’ve gone from cycling no more than a few miles and not having any confidence in my cycling abilities, to completing the Pennine Rally in June this year with a view to doing my first ultra. I’ve been given absolutely everything I could need or hope for, including a totally awesome bike, awesome gear, and a great coach.
Along the way I’ve met the most wonderful, inspiring, strong and awesome people, close to home and around the UK.
Not only have I felt more confident to give big things a go (like the Pennine Rally, which was totally out of my comfort zone), but I now think nothing of pedaling from my front door and seeing how far I can get before sleeping out under the stars. Cycling across the whole of the UK now feels like a nice way to spend a couple of weeks, rather than completely daunting and something I absolutely could not do. There’s no denying this sense of confidence in myself has filtered into other areas of my life too; I’ve always been optimistic, but knowing that I’ve hit rock bottom on long rides, and somehow still found the strength to carry on, makes me know that however hard life gets, things will get better.
I also started an Instagram account, which I always thought I would never do. But I hope to use it as a force for good; sharing the good and not so good side of long distance cycling, when things go great and when things go badly. I want to inspire other people, particularly women of colour, to give things a go and feel they can do anything they put their mind to. If I can do it, anyone can as I’m certainly no athlete! I also hope that by seeing someone who isn’t a typical athlete build doing these things can inspire people too. If you can see it, you can be it and I really believe that representation matters.
Unfortunately illness has got in the way of some of my bigger plans for this year, but some of my exploits earlier in the year include traveling around the UK to go mountain biking in trail centres on my own (something I would have never dreamed of doing pre-Scholarship), cycling the South Downs Way (100 miles of off-road riding) with the Scholarship crew, doing the Rapha Pennine Rally (323 miles off mostly off-road riding from Edinburgh to Manchester) and doing my first 250k ride. I’m really excited to get back on the bike once I’m well enough and start heading out on big adventures again, and I know none of these experiences would have been possible for me without the scholarship.
Catch Carla at Bespoked this year as part of a panel discussion with Ultra Distance Scholarship recipients past and present, the scholarship’s coach, and the scholarship’s founder, discussing representation and diversity within ultra distance cycling and racing and how the scholarship is supporting and inspiring people. This panel will take place on Saturday at 15:00.
Questions? Interested in sponsoring, donating or otherwise supporting the Ultra Distance Scholarship? Please reach out to Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*the UDS acknowledges that the use of ‘people of colour’ and ‘BAME’ (BIPOC would be used in North America) does not necessarily serve all individuals within the diverse groups we are trying to reach and we are continuing to learn and update our language as we go. Mixed ethnicity individuals welcome.
More information about eligibility and criteria can be found in the description of the application form.