Team Rwanda eye home advantage

Team Rwanda Cycling is seeking to benefit from home advantage during the upcoming African Mountain Bike Continental Championships slated for May 8-10 in Musanze.
Adrien Niyonshuti became the first black African to compete in the Mountain Bike race at the 2012 London Olympics. (Courtesy)
Adrien Niyonshuti became the first black African to compete in the Mountain Bike race at the 2012 London Olympics. (Courtesy)

Team Rwanda Cycling is seeking to benefit from home advantage during the upcoming African Mountain Bike Continental Championships slated for May 8-10 in Musanze.

The eight-riders elite squad, that comprise of Janvier Hadi, Nathan Byukusenge, Joseph Biziyaremye, Gasore Hategeka, Abraham Ruhumuriza, Jean Claude Uwizeye and Joseph Aleluya, will be vying for honours in a bid to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil in the cross country category – riding in a loop including climbs and descents on a variety of terrain.

“The riders have been practicing on the race course so definitely they will have an advantage. Secondly, we do not have to travel so that is very good because we would never really be able to travel with seven riders, seven bikes, a mechanic et al,” said Jonathan ‘Jock’ Boyer, the Team Rwanda Cycling head coach.

Youngster Aleluya, who won the Kivu road race, the first competition of the Rwanda Cycling Cup earlier this month, replaces Bonaventure Uwizeyimana who is recovering at King Faisal hospital from a head injury he attained a fortnight ago while in training.

Upcoming youngster Samuel Mugisha is the only representative in the junior category while Aleluya will be categorised in the U-23 grouping.

Boyer said, “Our target is to have as many riders as possible in the top 10 and we would really want to see Mugisha in the top five. It will be very difficult but it is not impossible.”

The top countries will qualify for the Rio Olympics and the hosts face a tough challenge from continental powerhouses South Africa and Namibia.

The 60-year-old American trainer will be looking at veterans Byukusenge and Ruhumuriza for a display of brilliance at the continental competition, a feat that he believes could inspire the younger riders to glory.

“Nathan (Byukusenge) and Abraham (Ruhumuriza) are definitely our most experienced mountain bike riders and they are training with the younger riders and teaching them the technical aspect of the race. Nathan is our best technical rider and this will help us,” noted the optimistic Boyer, a former Tour de France rider.

The duo competed at the 2009 Absa Cape Epic, the ‘Tour de France of mountain biking’ in the Western Cape in South Africa and Byukusenge finished 32nd while Ruhumuriza was 48th in the general classification.

Olympian Adrien Niyonshuti finished fourth at the 2011 African Mountain Bike championships in Stellenbosch, South Africa to book a place at the London 2012 Olympics, becoming the first Rwandan mountain bike cyclist to qualify for the Summer Olympics. He was also named ‘Best African’.

Niyonshuti went on to finish 39th at the London 2012 Olympics, becoming the first Black African to complete a mountain bike race at this competition.

The 29-year-old will not compete in this year’s qualifiers as he is currently racing in Europe at the Tour of Turkey with his team MTN Qhubeka which got a wild card to compete at this year’s Tour de France.

Qhubeka will become the first African team to compete at the world’s most prestigious cycling event.

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