A dream is achieved this weekend after a 15-month journey to freedom

The last group of female riders to escape the Taliban arrived in Switzerland for the UCI Afghan National Championships after receiving special visas

Marjan, former team captain, “I was shot and almost died riding my bike – now I am finally free to race.”

We are racing to show the world that Afghan women never give up. We are strong.

They joined dozens of Afghan cyclists who were rescued last year

IPT owner, Sylvan Adams, who played a key role in the rescue operation came to greet them: “I felt obligated. To save one life is to save the world. To see them race is uplifting!”

UCI President David Lappartient arrived on his bike to congratulate the riders: “I know it was a difficult and long journey for all of you, but you made it!”

I am Marjan, the former captain of the Afghan national team. I am a human being. I am a woman and I am a cyclist. To bike, I risked my life. I was a victim and shot at just because I rode my bike. I thought I would die but I got back to my bike; but when the Taliban came back, I thought they would shoot me again. I escaped, found a new home, and now I am on my way to my first race in freedom!”

Dozens of women cyclists from Afghanistan, who were rescued in an operation heavily supported by Israel – Premier Tech’s owner Sylvan Adams and other key partners, will take part in a unique sporting event organized by the UCI this coming Sunday in Switzerland: the Afghanistan Women’s National Championship.

Among the women competing this weekend will be a group of 14 riders – Marjan among them – who went through the most arduous journey which took more than a year to complete. This group landed in Italy just two months ago after finding themselves stranded in Pakistan for almost a year. Thanks in part to the efforts of the UCI, the Swiss authorities issued these riders special visas to allow them to enter the country and race.

The women escaped Afghanistan in 2021, on the cusp of the Taliban takeover. They were rescued as part of a group of 400 men and women including cyclists, human rights activists, and others.

Playing a key role in the rescue operation to airlift them to safety was Canadian businessman and philanthropist Sylvan Adams. The owner of the UCI WorldTour team Israel – Premier Tech, worked in cooperation with IsraAID, an international non-governmental humanitarian aid organization based in Israel, the UCI and its president David Lappartient, and the Asian Cycling Federation to airlift the women to safety.

Adams spoke about his role in the rescue operation saying, “When I heard about the plight of the Afghan cyclists stranded in Afghanistan, a place where these women would be persecuted or possibly killed merely for riding their bikes, I felt an obligation to try to help. To be able to offer this help as a Jew, and as the owner of an Israeli team, felt even more meaningful – a sign of true shared responsibility. Indeed, the Talmud tells us that even a single life saved uplifts our world, and we saved 400 worlds.”

Adams, together with IsraAID CEO Yotam Polizer, arrived to greet the women they helped rescue and watch them race for the first time in the special championship race this weekend in Aigle. “To see some of them compete will be truly uplifting,” said Adams who happily joined the women for a training session on his bike and the opportunity to hear their stories of despair and triumph. As they finished the ride, they met UCI President David Lappartient who was also on his bike. He greeted them warmly and said: “I know it was a difficult and long journey for all of you, but you made it!” He added, “It was an extremely important operation and I want to thank Sylvan Adams for taking part.”

The girls were equally excited:

I am so relieved that we finally got the chance to race and see many of my old teammates,” said Marjan in tears today on her way to the Swiss border from Italy. “This is one of the best moments in my life!

Zamarod, Afghan cyclist: “I was spiritually dead. The taste of lunch was not delicious. I had forgotten how to smile for a long time. I was physically alive but spiritually dead. All my wishes and dreams were destroyed in one day. But now, being able to be free and arrive here, I found my motivation again.”

Mahraz, only 16, left her whole family behind but expressed happiness here: “We are racing to show the whole world that Afghan girls never give up. They are strong!