Rwanda is one of the countries, globally, where the sport of cycling is currently on the rise, thanks to a generation of exciting riders.
Since 2009 when Tour du Rwanda became an International Cycling Union (UCI) Africa Tour category 2.2 road race, Rwandan cycling has grown from strength to strength, increasingly winning over hundreds of thousands of fans.
Over the same period, the sport has produced some elite riders including Adrien Niyonshuti, the first Rwandan professional cyclist who’s currently riding for World Tour Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka.
Others include Valens Ndayisenga, who recently became the first rider to win Tour du Rwanda more than once after his triumph in 2014 and 2016, as well as Janvier Hadi (now retired), who won the 2015 All African Games road race gold medal in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), to mention but a few.
Today, Saturday Sports’ GEOFFREY ASIIMWE profiles 19-year old Samuel Mugisha, who has been described as the new king of mountain climbing and is tipped by many to be Rwanda’s future cycling superstar.
The Club Benediction de Rubavu rider was among the six cyclists that made their first appearance in the 2016 Tour du Rwanda edition that covered a total distance of 819.1 kilometres.
The other five debutants included; Eric Nduwayo (Team Rwanda), Jean Ruberwa, Alex Nizeyimana (Club Benediction), as well as Mathieu Twizerane and Samuel Hakiruwizeye (Les Amis Sportif de Rwamagana).
However, from nowhere, Mugisha surprised many and suddenly rose to fame when he emerged as the best climber at the end of the eight-day seven-stage international race.
He beat his closest rival, Hailay Kibrom Giday from Ethiopia, by 60 points, while his Benediction Club teammate and captain Patrick Byukusenge was the second runner-up having collected 20 points.
This achievement has immediately borne him fruits with arguably Africa’s best UCI Continental team Dimension Data for Qhubeka moving to snap him up, along with his compatriot Joseph Areruya.
The duo will join their new team next month.
Born on December 5, 1997 in Mukamira Sector of Nyabihu District, Western Province to Capt. Samuel Kadari and Agnes Mukabutera, Mugisha is the third born and eldest boy in the family of nine — four boys and five girls.
He went to Kazuba Primary School in his home district for both his primary and ordinary level education. However, when he joined Senior Three in 2013, he dropped from school to concentrate on cycling, which he believes holds the key to his future.
Mugisha’s parents, just like many other parents, wanted their child to entirely focus on education and initially never supported his idea of becoming a cyclist, which they associated with school drop-outs.
Rather, his father preferred he played football, especially considering his son had started showing some eye-catching goalkeeping skills.
Mugisha’s love for cycling started in 2013 during the fifth edition of Tour du Rwanda. The then 16-year old was among the spectators who lined up the streets to cheer riders during stage three (Rubavu-Kinigi, a 62km stretch) that year.
“When the riders rode past, I saw how people were cheering and chanting their names and how spectacular it was and inside me, something told me to consider a career in cycling. I made a decision on that day to start training,” he recollected.
Fortunately, in his home neighborhood was a former Team Rwanda rider, Innocent ‘Rukara’ Uwamungu, whom Mugisha approached and asked to start training with him.
“After Tour du Rwanda of that year (2013), I would wake up every morning to go to Rukara’s house and knock on his door and we go for training together, he liked my attitude and, as a result, went to my parents and convinced them to buy me a bicycle.”
“It was hard to convince them because they wanted me to focus on studies only and I had to run away from home which forced my dad to accept my decision and allowed me to follow my passion,” the youngster says.
On day, in early 2014, the youngster says, he went for training with his childhood friend and current teammate Jean Ruberwa and, by coincidence, they met with Team Rwanda technical director Jonathan ‘Jock” Boyer, who was impressed by the two boys and invited them to come at Africa Cycling Rising Center in Musanze, the base of Rwanda’s cycling.
“We went there and after passing trials, we were both given professional bicycles and were put under the close guidance of coach Felix Sempoma of Club Benediction de Rubavu. That marked the start of our cycling journey,” recalls the youngster.
Mugisha reveals that, while at Benediction, he I trained hard and the coach (Sempoma) believed in his potential and ability, and, as such, closely followed his progress closely.
In 2015, he was selected by Team Rwanda to compete in the Africa Continental Championships.
During his maiden appearance at the African Continental Championships held in South Africa, Mugisha, competing in the junior category, finished eighth in the Individual Time Trial (ITT) and 14th in the road race.
In 2016, he again competed at African Continental Championships – Road Race in Morrocco – before competing at Circuit International d’Alger and Tour Internationale d’Oranie but did not complete these races.
He featured for Team Rwanda in six more competitions in Algeria that included; Grand Prix de la Ville d’Oran (coming in 43rd), Tour International de Blida (did not finish), Tour International de Setif (13th), Tour Internationale d’Annaba (29th), Tour International de Constantine and Criterium International d’Alger, which he did not finish.
Mugisha also competed in Eritrea’s Fenkil Northen Red Sea Challenge (35th), Asmara Circuit (17th), Massawa Circuit (35th) and Tour Eritrea, which he did not finish.
He went on to race at Vuelta a Colombia but crashed out during the final stage before competing at Cameroon’s Grand Prix Chantal Biya finishing 18th in general classification and third in mountain climbing classification.
The 19-year old made his Tour du Rwanda debut last month finishing in 25th in general classification but, crucially, claiming the overall best climber’s award.
The starlet began to show what he can do during stage 2 (Kigali-Karongi) winning all the six climbs that dotted the 124.7km section, before again winning the six climbs of stage 3 (Karongi-Rusizi; 115.9km).
He also won six other climbs during stage 4 (Rusizi-Huye – 140.7km), a stage which he actually came close to winning.
“2016 has been a very memorable year for me, but it is just the first step in my long journey.”
Best and worst moments
“My most outstanding moment so far is this year’s Tour du Rwanda, winning that award was a great honour and motivation, while the worst moment was in Colombia, we had some misunderstanding in the team that almost ended my career but I thank God it all ended well.”
“My dream is to compete in Tour de France and probably ride for one of the best professional teams in the world,” he explained. “I believe God will help me achieve it”.
“My heartfelt appreciation goes to my coaches Jock, Magnell and Sempoma, I owe them everything. And, of course, to my parents too, they have come to realise how good cycling is and now encourage me too keep working hard.”