2009 was considerably the busiest on the Rwanda Cycling Federation calendar in recent year. This year, local cyclists were a regular fixture in quite a number of international competitions on the continent. Ostine Arinaitwe looks at the highlights of the year.
As a young boy growing up in the rural areas of Ruhengeri in the early nineties, Adrien Niyonshuti never imagined that he would at one time get the chance of flying in a plane, not to mention living in foreign land doing what he had always liked as a small child-riding an old bicycle.
Nor did he ever envisaged that at just 22 years of age, he would be a professional cyclist riding along side cycling greats like seven time tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and ten time tour of Ireland winner Mark Cavendish in the biggest cycling races in the world.
Niyonshuti’s illustrious story clearly shows the big steps that cycling has made since the start of the year.
Cycling in Rwanda made a huge ‘statement of intent’ this year, with Rwandan cyclists impressing in all the major events on the continent in 2009.
Tour of Gabon (La Tropicale Amissa Bongo)
The national cycling team started the year dawdling, after finishing tenth in the Tour of Gabon, dubbed ‘La Tropicale Amissa Bongo’in January
In the absence of Rwanda’s top cyclists Adrian Niyonshuti and Nathan Byukusenge, Rafiki Uwimana emerged as Rwanda’s top performer at this year’s La Tropicale Amissa Bongo.
The five-day competition in the Gabonese capital Libreville was the first competitive event on the 2009 Africa Cycling Union calendar.
Uwimana clocked 18 hours and 35 minutes to finish 29th in the 646km race which ran from January 13-18. Nyandwi Uwase was Rwanda’s second best cyclist after clocking 18 hours and 41 minutes to finish 30th. In the team rankings, Rwanda finished 10th out of 14 countries.
Tour of Namibia
But they later recovered to finish fourth Team Rwanda in the African continental road cycling championship in Windhoek-Namibia in September.
South Africa won the tour while Namibia and Morocco claimed the other two podium slots of the 15-nation championship.
South African based Niyonshuti won bronze in the individual Time trials for Elite men under 23 years of age.
In the general classification, he finished 10th while four-time Tour of Rwanda champion Abraham Ruhumuriza and Nathan Byukusenge settled in 11th and 13th slots out of over sixty cyclists.
Niyonshuti rides alongside Armstrong
The 22-year-old made history when he became the first Rwandan cyclist to ride alongside all time cycling greats like seven time tour de France Lance Armstrong and ten time tour of Ireland Mark Cavendish in the tour of Ireland.
Though he did not finish in the top positions, he drew a lot of praise from cycling legend Armstrong for managing to finish the grueling seven stages of the tour, where each stage was more than 160km.
The weather conditions were so bad during this particular race that Armstrong pulled out during the third stage of the competition.
2009 Tour of Rwanda
The national cycling federation finally realized its dream of organizing an international cycling race that was included on the UCI (International Cycling Union) Calendar.
This race had 13 teams from Uganda, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Burundi, Morocco, Holland, France, Egypt, Cameroon, Namibia and Rwanda fielded two teams-team Karimisbi and team Akagera.
Though the Moroccans dominated the competition, team Rwanda impressed a lot after finishing second, with Niyonshuti pocketing Rwf0.42m while teammates Abraham Ruhumuriza, Nicodem Habiyambere and Nathan Byukusenge got Rwf0.2m, Rwf0.1m and Rwf85, 000 for finishing 5th, 10th and 11th respectively.
Team Akagera’s Jean de dieu Rafiki and Emmanuel Rudahunga also got cash prizes of Rwf128, 000 and Rwf50, 000 respectively for finishing 9th and 15th respectively.
The future looks bright
2009 provided hope that the future of cycling in Rwanda certainly looks bright after Rwanda was confirmed to as the next host of the10th African Continental Road Cycling Championship.
Rwanda won the hosting rights after beating off stiff competition from Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Mauritius. The competition will run from November 4 to 8.
Also the local cycling federation (Ferwacy) now has plans of setting up a cycling center. Among other things, the cycling center, starting next year (2010) will be a venue to train riders, coaches and commissaries not only from within but also from East and Central Africa.
Presently, the only cycling center in Africa is found in South Africa.