The year 2016 has been exciting for Rwanda’s cycling fraternity and it is not surprising that the sport is fast becoming one of the most popular sports in the country.
From competing at this year’s Rio Olympic Games in Brazil to staging one of the most memorable events of the year (Tour du Rwanda), Rwanda Cycling Federation (FERWACY) continued to stand out as the most organized local sport’s governing body.
Geoffrey Asiimwe takes a look at some of the cycling events that highlighted 2016.
La Tropicale Amissa Bongo
On top of this year’s calendar was the 11th edition of Africa’s most populous road race- La Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon that took place from January 18-24.
Team Rwanda entered six riders that included; Janvier Hadi (now retired), Emile Bintunimana, Patrick Byukusenge and Jean-Claude Uwizeye.
Others were; Joseph Areruya and Camera Hakuzimana while 2015 Tour du Rwanda winner Jean-Bosco Nsengimana featured for his former Germany UCI Team Bike Aid.
The results were not what was expected in the general classification for Team Rwanda, but Byukusenge finished second in the mountains classification, Areruya came in fourth while Uwizeye finished third in the junior classification.
African Continental Championships
Rwanda made history at this year’s African Continental Championships that was held between February 21-26 in Casablanca, Morocco.
Team Rwanda returned home with a record tally of three medals including one gold and two silver medals from the time trial and road race events. Team Rwanda had a total of 11 riders that had participated in the annual event.
Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu, the only female rider on the team, claimed silver in the women individual time trial, the first time for a Rwandan female to win a medal at that level.
This was before 2016 Tour du Rwanda winner Valens Ndayisenga improved on his bronze-medal performance in 2015 to win the gold medal in the U-23 individual trial. This was Rwanda’s first gold medal in the competition.
In the most grueling and last race of the competition, the 180-kilometer men’s elite road race, Rwanda collected another silver medal.
Jean-Claude Uwizeye finished two seconds behind Team Dimension Data’s Gebreigzabhier Amanuel to earn the silver medal in the Men’s U-23 race.
The year 2016 has been possibly one of the most exciting for one of Rwanda’s future stars, Joseph Areruya.
After debuting in 2015 Tour du Rwanda and surprisingly finishing in the second place behind winner Jean-Bosco Nsengimana, Areruya maintained his winning streak into 2016.
In March, Areruya won the Circuit International de Constantine, a 105-kilometer circuit race in Constantine, Algeria. This was one of his biggest performances in a race that saw 42 riders fail to reach the finish line due to tough conditions.
Later in April, while riding for his team Les Amis Sportif de Rwamagana, Areruya won the Farmers Circuit, the first race of 2016 Rwanda Cycling Cup. Areruya finished the 148km race from Kigali to Nyagatare ahead of Hakuzimana (Benediction Club) and teammate Jean Claude Uwizeye.
In May, the 20-year-old Areruya won the Kivu Race, from Ngororero -Rubavu to enhance his growing reputation as a one of Rwanda’s top cyclists.
Later in November, Areruya finished fourth in Tour du Rwanda having won the winning stage four; (Rusizi-Huye) a performance that attracted interest from South Africa’s Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka that went on to sign him, together with youngster Samuel Mugisha.
Vuelta a Colombia saga
The month of June turned out to be a difficult one for Team Rwanda Cycling, when several riders were suspended indefinitely by the cycling federation over allegations of indiscipline.
It all started with Team Rwanda summoning five riders to compete at the 66th edition of Vuelta a Colombia, an annual cycling road race that was held from June 13-26. The riders included; Camera Hakuzimana, Areruya, Mugisha, Uwizeye and Patrick Byukusenge.
Towards the time of heading to Colombia, Byukusenge pulled out of the squad as he was preparing for his wedding, which reduced the number to four, who also upon arriving in Colombia, first demanded to have their allowances paid before the competition.
Upon return to the country, FERWACY suspended all the five riders for six months; however, they were allowed back into the team after apologizing, with only the unapologetic Hakuzimana still suspended.
Uwizeyimana wins Rwanda National Championship
In July, Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, who was riding for South Africa-based Team Dimension Data (he has since returned to Club Benediction de Rubavu) won the National Road Race Championship from Kigali-Huye clocking 2 hours 53 minutes 17 seconds.
Adrien Niyonshuti of Dimension Data World Tour team, finished second while defending champion Joseph Biziyaremye was third after using the same times as Uwizeyimana. Valens Ndayisenga won the U23 category with Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu claiming the women category.
Team Rwanda races at the Ride London Classic
At the end of July, Team Rwanda Cycling was invited to take part in the renowned Ride London Classic, Britain’s greatest one-day bike race bringing together 150 of the world’s top pro cyclists on a 200km route through London and Surrey.
Team Rwanda that then had four of their young rising stars on a month-long UK Tour to give them vital experience went ahead to compete in the grueling road race. The four included Nsengimana, Areruya, Uwizeye and Mugisha.
Niyonshuti and Byukusenge compete at Rio 2016 Olympics
Rwanda was among the countries that were represented in various disciplines at the world’s biggest multisport event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in September.
In cycling, the country was represented by Adrien Niyonshuti in road race while now retired Nathan Byukusenge competed in mountain bike race.
However, none of the two riders managed to finish their respective races with Niyonshuti blaming mechanical hitches for the failure to complete the grueling 241.5 kilometres race while Byukusenge bowed out of the 34-kilometre course with three laps remaining.
Ndayisenga sets new Tour du Rwanda record
After his historic feat in 2014 when he became the first Rwandan to win Tour du Rwanda since it became a UCI Africa Tour 2.2 category race in 2009, Valens Ndayisenga again set a new record as the first rider to win the international road race more than once.
The 22-year-old Rwamagana-born Ndayisenga won the 805.7 kilometer race after using a time of 21 hours 15 minutes and 21 seconds ahead of first runner up Eyob Mektel of Eritrea who used 21h16’00’’ while another Eritrean Tesfom Okubamariam settled for third runner up with a time of 21h16’51’’.
On top of winning the race, Ndayisenga also clinched the best young rider award, best African rider award and best Rwandan rider award. Following the win Ndayisenga bagged a total of US$4,455.
Debutant Samuel Mugisha took the best climber award while Dimension Data Qhubeka won the best team award. The 8th edition of Tour du Rwanda had 74 riders in 15 teams and was watched by nearly 3 million Rwandans.
Kenyan rider amputated after horrific crash at 2016 Tour du Rwanda
On a sad note, Kenyan cyclist Samuel Mwangi, who rode for Kenyan Riders Downunder team in his year’s Tour du Rwanda, was amputated following a horrific accident he was involved in during the final stage in Kigali. The Kenyan rider underwent surgery to have the lower part of his left leg amputated after a crash that broke his femur during the stage 7 of (Kigali-Kigali) in Kibagabaga.
Byukusenge and Ruhumuriza retire
After a highly-decorated career, both Rwanda’s most senior cyclists Abraham Ruhumuriza and Nathan Byukusenge decided to leave the stage for the young blood after competing at this year’s Tour du Rwanda.
The two have been integrated in Team Rwanda technical department and are currently undergoing training at Africa Rising Cycling Center in Musanze.
While Ruhumuriza retires with a record five Tour du Rwanda titles (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007), which he won before the tour become a UCI Africa Tour race in 2009, Byukusenge bows out empty-handed.