Riders on the Sandstorm

Number the paragraphs

This is from the sport section of The Observer.
What does that tell you about the target readership?
It’s not actually a letter, more an article in a series, written from a personal perspective, a bit like Alistaire Cook’s Letter from America, well loved by many, including me, for years on Radio 4. (Radio 4 listeners and Observer readers tend to fit into the same set.) Riders on the Sandstorm is a reference to Riders on the Storm, a song by The Doors, covered by Snoop Dogg (who?)
The colour picture is quite nice…I suppose.
The peloton is the main group of cyclists in a race. The image of the racing group having to dodge camels is visual and comic.

Paragraph 1 highlights the isolation of Eritrea.
Apart from the detailing of what one has to go through to get there, how else does Xan Rice convey this isolation?
He uses a parallel construction when describing Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea.
What words parallel “...may find…safe and tranquil”?

In paragraph 2 the third element of a tripartite construction appears, the previous two having been in paragraph 1.
What is the tripartite construction to which I refer?
This paragraph uses effective visual details to involve the reader and make her share the experience : “…a blur of neon on wheels cutting through the light of dawn…”
You will, of course, have noticed the metaphor there.
What is it, and what is its effect?

Paragraph 3 introduces an anecdote which leads into paragraph 4 in which the Eritrean passion for cycling is discussed. Eritreans, apparently, love cycling above all other sports.
Find three words or phrases from this paragraph which describe this passion. The universal appeal of the sport is conveyed through the contrast of the “…old men in suits pedalling lazily through the capital on heavy old machines, to youngsters on cheap ‘Snow Lion’ mountain bikes.”
Paragraph 4 closes with a rhetorical question, indicating the unexpectedness of the Tour de France being shown on African TV.

In paragraph 5 facts and figures begin to make their appearance.
It is shocking that, although the pro cyclists’ salaries are several times the typical wage, they are still “among the world’s worst paid full time sportsmen”.

Paragraphs 6 and 7 show the history of cycling in Eritrea and how the sport is growing, despite the fact that Eritrean cyclists do not yet compete on the international stage. There is alliteration and assonance in “…Catholic cathedrals and the taste for cappuccinos…” Bringing these two far removed cultural phenomena together in this way seem s to trivialise them, but I’m not sure why Xan Rice would want to do this, since he then lumps in cycling, which he is surely not trying to trivialise. So I’m a bit stumped about that one. Maybe he is saying that, whilst Eritreans have not outgrown Catholicism and cappuccino, they have moved beyond Italian colonial restrictions with regard to cycling and are now claiming their own cycling destiny via the Giro d’Eritrea. But that sounds a bit pretentious.

Paragraph 8 takes us into another anecdote, full of visual detail, which lasts till the end of the piece. The amateurishness of the Eritrean approach to cycling appears here: surely scrambled egg and tomato rolls and sweet tea are not a training diet for just before a major race meet? This amateurishness contrasts with their equipment- “shiny Pinarellos, Treks and Bianchis, each worth thousands of dollars.”
- but reappears in the contents of the team cars: “ a couple of spare bikes, a crate of bananas and a few bottles of water.”

The contrast between the “police outrider clearing the way” and the “donkey carts carrying old men and women in white shawls” is comic, as is the behaviour of the soldiers who “dropped their guard to wave”. It suggests that cycling in Eritrea still has a long way to go to be takes seriously; where else would the peloton have to cross a UN roadblock? The closing words of Akilu Lijam, head of the Eritrean Cycling Federation, suggest that Eritreans are resigned to eternal failure but are still going to enjoy the journey.
Why were the words of this particular man chosen to finish the piece?

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