Meet Sempoma, the passionate coach who has groomed cycling icons

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Felix Sempoma, right, shakes hands with a rider before the start of a past national race. / Sam Ngendahimana

Rwanda is one of the African countries where the sport of cycling is growing rapidly. Within a short time, Rwanda has established itself among the top five cycling countries on the continent.

The country has been able to get to where it is thanks mainly to the efforts of Jonathan ‘Jock’ Boyer, a former U.S. professional cyclist, who devoted 10 years of his life in Rwanda building and transforming the sport before returning to his home country last month.

Having said that, Boyer didn’t work alone; he needed the concerted efforts of other people; among them is Felix Sempoma.

Sempoma has not only played a key role in taking Rwandan cycling to where it is at the moment, but is also the co-founder and president of Club Benediction.

The 45-year-old is Rwanda’s most qualified cycling coach and is currently the national team (Team Rwanda) assistant coach.

Club Benediction de Rubavu is arguably Rwanda’s most successful club. The club has produced several riders for the national team.

Among the top riders that have been produced by the Rubavu-district based club, which was formed in 2005, include Jean Bosco Nsengimana, Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, Samuel Mugisha as well as the retired duo of Nathan Byukusenge and Janvier Hadi, among others.

Cycling is a very expensive sport and forming a self-sustaining club such as Benediction illustrates the love and sheer determination that Sempoma has for the sport.

Early days

Sempoma was born on May 29, 1971 in Nyundo sector, Rubavu district, Western Province, to Astel Sebuziro (RIP) and Seraphine Nzabanita. He is the seventh born in the family of 10 – eight girls and two boys.

He is married to Joseline Uwanyirigira and the couple has been blessed with two children, a boy and a girl.

Sempoma attended Nyundo Primary School. Later, he joined Groupe Scolaire de Rilima located in Bugesera District until senior four. He completed his secondary education in 1995 at Ecole des Sciences Byimana in Ruhango district.

Unfortunately, he didn’t advance to University and since it was just after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, he worked with different NGO’s including Doctors without Borders, Care International among others.

He studied a short course on criminal law at Centre Iwacu Kabusunzu in 1998 and later worked as court registrar at Rubavu High Court.

“After some time, I realized that working in the public sector was not giving me the income I needed and I started working for myself. I started off as a taxi driver in Rubavu town,” Sempoma revealed.

Today, Sempoma owns a tour and travel company called Kivu Travel that transports tourists that visit Virunga National Park and Lake Kivu.

Sempoma has never participated in competitive cycling; in fact he learnt riding a bicycle at the age of 14, which clearly indicates that cycling was not his favourite during his childhood.

He narrates that, “I learnt cycling when I was a bit old mainly because after I first dropped out of school when in senior two, I was forced to start looking for money. The place I got my first job was far from home and I was forced to learn riding because a bicycle was the most affordable means of transport.”

Being born in Rubavu where the sport of cycling had started to develop, Sempoma began to follow it closely and in 1997, he registered to participate in a race that was to be held in Kigali, but he didn’t compete after getting involved in an accident just a few days to the race.

“I was not seriously hurt in that accident, but it was like a nightmare for me and I decided never to race again,” he disclosed.

Forming Club Benediction

In 2005, Sempoma, who says he had fallen in love with cycling, met a one Benoit Munyanyindi whom they shared the same passion for cycling. The two agreed to form their own club which they named Club Benediction de Rubavu.

“Our objective was to help young riders, who had talent to develop it further with the little means we had and facilitate them in competing in various local competitions. Honestly, we never expected to produce professional riders who would win international races,” he explained.

The club started with four riders namely; Joseph Rukumbuzi, Patrick Nyandwi, David Nkurunziza and a one Sibomana.

A couple of months later, the quartet was joined by Nathan Byukusenge who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Mountain Bike.

Afterwards, Abraham Ruhumuriza, who had already won four of his five Tour du Rwanda titles, joined – he went on to win one more in 2007, two years before it became a UCI Africa Tour race.

In 2015, Nsengimana, a product of Club Benediction, became the second Rwandan rider to win Tour du Rwanda as an international race after Valens Ndayisenga in 2014.

Since 2015 when Rwanda Cycling Cup was started, Club Benediction de Rubavu has won the title two times in a row through Nsengimana (2015) and Gasore Hategeka in 2016.

As of today, the club has a total of 22 riders and majority of them are in Team Rwanda.

Coaching career

In 2008, a year after the coming of Boyer, Sempoma travelled from Rubavu to Musanze to meet the former Tour de France rider.

“When we met, I told him everything about my club and my objective to groom young riders, he was happy with my work; however, he advised me to learn how to develop riders technically, which he said would be vital if we were to reach our goal,” he recalls.

Boyer started giving Sempoma individual coaching lessons and in 2013, he got his Level 1 coaching license after attending a course that was conducted by UCI instructors.

In 2014, he attended another Level 1 coaching course in Egypt and in 2016, he attained a Level II coaching certificate from World Cycling Centre Africa in South Africa – the course lasted one and a half months.

Next year, he plans to go for Level III license, which is the highest level in cycling coaching that is only taught at the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland.

“That’s my dream and I hope that next year, I will go for it,” Sempoma told Saturday Sport.

The 45-year-old has been working as the national team assistant coach for the past three years; however, since 2012, he has been working as Team Rwanda’s Director of Sports.

Best and worst moments

“My best moment was seeing a rider (Janvier Hadi) who came through my team, cycling for the national team and later joining a professional team in Europe on top of winning a gold medal at the 2015 All Africa Games in Cong Brazzaville.”

And his worst moment was in 2016, “I was at the airport going to USA and I received a call from Hadi telling me that he had retired from cycling, I was heartbroken.”

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