ROANOKE, Va. – A women’s cycling team is preparing for the 2024 Olympics in Paris by making Roanoke officially their home.
The Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24 cycling team moved from Idaho and is now relocating their base of operations to the Star City. The team has earned 14 Olympic and Paralympic medals along with 17 world championships.
Roanoke College grad Shelley Olds trained with the team but remembers when she had to save her dollars to train overseas and eventually compete in the 2012 Olympics.
Olds said now athletes across the world may flock to the U.S.
“Anytime you tell a European or a Russian or a Chinese rider, ‘Hey, there is a race in America,’” she said. “They are pumped to come. This could be the groundwork onto something amazing.”
Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge President Landon Howard is investing in the team and said the international attraction could lead to a spike in tourism.
“But also sports and economic development,” he said. “Putting us on the map so people know where we are.”
Isabella Robusto is a NASCAR driver and is transitioning into cycling by joining the team. She said more people need to recognize female athletes and their accomplishments.
“Females can do all of what males can do,” she said. “It’s pretty empowering and pretty cool.”
For others, the dream to race seemed to be far out of reach.
Rukhsar Habibzai arrived in the U.S. in October after evacuating from Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
She aims to bring home the gold to prove Afghan women can rise above.
“It’s not easy,” she said. “It’s very painful for me because I work hard. I change people’s minds about allowing girls to participate on the team.”
The founder of the team, Nicola Cranmer, thanks the community for supporting her team and embracing diversity.
“We can just be those role models. You can’t be it if you can’t see it.”
The junior athletes will return to Roanoke in March to start training camp.