If Rwanda’s Amavubi Stars were to qualify for the World Cup, the players who would have achieved that feat would be pampered and idolized by this football mad country.
It would be the talking point from down town pubs, to schools, to rural areas, where people can’t even comprehend the significance of the World Cup, not mentioning the significance of Rwanda striving to play in it.
Imagine the pride that players, who book a spot at that particular event would carry for the rest of their lives.
That is exactly what soft spoken Andre Niyonzima achieved when he raced in this year’s Tour of Ireland, one of the biggest cycling events on the world calendar.
Not only did he race in the much converted competition, but raced alongside all time cycling living legends like seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong of the United States of America and ten-time tour of Ireland winner Mike Cavendish of Britain among others.
The 22-year-old’s story is both captivating and humbling, having defied odds both in his personal life and cycling career.
The young rider lost six brothers in the 1994 Genocide, and that sparked off the many battles that he would face.
Trying to fend for himself without any basic education or occupation was a nightmare that Niyonshuti found daunting in his early teens, and the one thing that he always found solace in was riding his uncle’s bicycle.
He later joined Rwamagana Cycling Club which he guided to many triumphs like ‘Ascension de mille colline’ and Tour of Rwanda, among others.
He was later incorporated in the national cycling team in 2007 at the tender age of 20 and immediately impressed by winning the Tour of Rwanda, which is the country’s most prestigious cycling competition.
After winning all the six stages of the Tour of Rwanda last year, the national cycling team head coach Jonathan Boyer was quick to recognize his talent and through his contacts Niyonzima and compatriot, Nathan Byukusenge also an aspiring cyclist, were sent to a two month training camp at the UCI African Continental Cycling Centre in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
While in South Africa, their impressive performances had Douglas Ryder of the South African team MTN-Energade offer them professional contracts, the rest as they say is history.
Despite dropping out on the third stage of the Tour of Ireland, Niyonshuti will go down in history as the first rider from the entire East and Central Africa region to race alongside the sport’s greatest like Lance Armstrong.