In the wake of a successfully organized African Mountain Bike Continental championship over the weekend, Team Rwanda Cycling head coach Jonathan ‘Jock’ Boyer has urged Rwandans to take up mountain bike riding both as a competitive and leisure sport.
The continental event which was a qualifier for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in the men’s elite category attracted seven countries including Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, hosts Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe as Ivory Coast and Lesotho withdrew from the event at the 11th hour.
This was the highest number of countries competing in the two-day event with South Africa and Namibia, the traditional powerhouses in Africa consistently participating at the continental level.
“Mountain bike riding is an opportunity for Rwandans to showcase their country, the culture and the beauty of Rwanda. It would be very good for tourism and can even be bigger than the gorillas,” revealed Boyer in an interview with Times Sport.
The course in Musanze, a 6.5km cross country loop course constructed by world renowned trail design and consulting company from Switzerland, Trailworks boasts of a 2km climb on volcanic rock-strewn pebbles that tests every rider’s endurance but also brings to notice the presence of the volcanoes nearby.
The rough forest paths in the vicinity of a nearby river bring to life the diversity of vegetation, and the footpaths through the potato gardens showcase the unique identity and culture of the Rwandan people.
This course has been identified as not very technical so it is beginner-friendly for any rider who wants to embrace mountain biking for the first time as attested to by the Team Rwanda riders who competed in their first mountain bike race ever.
Team Rwanda riders are predominantly road racers and only two (Nathan Byukusenge and Abraham Ruhumuriza) have ever competed in mountain bike events including the Swiss Epic twice and up to three times at the coveted Absa Cape Epic in South Africa.
It was the first time for riders like Janvier Hadi, Joseph Biziyaremye, Gasore Hategeka, Camera Hakuzimana, Jean Claude Uwizeyimana, Joseph Areruya and junior Samuel Mugisha to compete in a mountain bike race let alone a continental championship.
Hadi was the second best Rwandan rider in the men’s elite category after finishing in 12th position having clocked 2:13:09 in the race that attracted a total of 39 riders.
The 19-year-old Aleluya (2:13:09) finished 13th in the general classification and won bronze in the U-23 category in his first attempt at mountain bike racing behind South Africa’s Brendon Davids who was defending his U-23 African title and Arno du Toit who boats of massive experience.
Biziyaremye (2:14:09) was 14th while Uwizeyimana was 22nd in the general classification and sixth in the U-23 category. Mugisha was fourth in the men’s junior category on Saturday.
Boyer mentioned that he was impressed with Team Rwanda riders who did exceptionally well in their first ever mountain bike races against a field of strong and experienced South African and Namibian riders who have mastered the art of mountain biking.
The American tactician said he will support any rider who wants to specialise in mountain biking. He said, “We shall send any rider who wants to specialise in mountain biking to South Africa and Switzerland for training.
We are trying to incorporate mountain biking into our programme even though we don’t have the finances but it would be another opportunity to prepare our riders for another sport because it is totally different from road racing. It is like the difference between 100m and the marathon. It is two totally different athletes and two different events. It is very technical.”
The mountain bike tours would also create employment avenues for retired riders as guides for the tourists and the hotels in Musanze would benefit too by earning from providing accommodation and food.
Meanwhile, Byukusenge has to wait until May 25, 2016 to confirm his place at the Rio 2016 Olympics, a feat that will make him the second Rwandan mountain bike rider to compete at the Games after Adrien Niyonshuti competed at the London 2012 Olympics after finishing fourth at the 2011 continental edition in Stellenbosch, South Africa.