The story of cycling in Rwanda is a phenomenal one. The game has been on the rise and the national cycling team (Team Rwanda) has been the shoulder to lean on for local sports enthusiasts.
Led by 21-year-old Areruya, local cycling has been nothing short of a country’s pride, first winning the 2017 Tour du Rwanda last November, defying odds to clinch the highly coveted La Tropicale Amissa Bongo last month in Libreville, Gabon and finally claiming the inaugural UCI Under-23 Tour de l’Espoir last week in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
As Rwanda welcomes the continent’s annual biggest cycling event for the second time in eight years, the first time since 2010, the question on everyone’s mind is, will Areruya and Team Rwanda compatriots display their continued lethal performance in international races?
Rwanda will host the 2018 UCI Africa Continental Road Championship scheduled for February 13-18.
Since 2010 when Rwanda first hosted the African championships, a lot of progress has been made in Rwandan cycling, rising in ranks from average positions in the 10th place to currently ranking among cycling powerhouses in the 4th spot, only behind Eritrea, South Africa and Morocco.
At the time of the 6th edition of African Continental Road Championships in 2010, Rwanda ranked behind countries that are nowhere to be seen on the African cycling map today such as; Zimbabwe, Libya, Namibia and Cameroon. In individual rankings, veteran Abraham Ruhumuriza was the only Rwandan cyclist in Africa’s top 40, in the 39th place.
Presently, six Rwandans are in top 40 of Africa’s best cyclists namely; Joseph Areruya in the second place, Valens Ndayisenga in the 12th position, Jean Bosco Nsengimana in 20th, Bonaventure Uwizeyimana in 31st, Gasore Gategeka in 32nd and Jean Claude Uwizeye in the 35th spot. Of these, only Gasore is not part of the squad in residential camp for the highly rated continental showpiece.
How does Rwanda fare against African cycling giants?
Eritrea top the current UCI African rankings with 1489 points, by far the most successful country in UCI Africa Tour races and African Continental Road Championships in particular. They have won more medals in these annual multi-category races than any other African country
Eritrea has won the elite men’s Team Time Trial (TTT) of the race for a record seven times since 2011 and will be in Kigali to stretch the landmark for an eighth consecutive time.
Eritreans have also claimed the men’s major road race five times, four Individual Time Trial (ITT) titles, all by former Tour du Rwanda champion Daniel Teklehaimanot and two titles in women’s TTT category.
Currently ranked second on the continent with 1250 points, South Africa is undoubtedly Africa’s powerhouse in women’s cycling and will be the team to beat in Kigali. The likely main challengers will be defending champions Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mauritius and the hosts Rwanda.
The country holds a record 10 titles in women’s main road race, including four titles in a row by Ashleigh Moolman from 2011 to 2015. They have also won the elite men’s road race a record 7 times, including last year’s victory by Willem Jakobus Smit in Cairo, Egypt.
Ranked third on the continent with 943 points, Morocco is another force to reckon in African Continental Road Championship. No country other than Eritrea and South Africa has been on podium more times than this North African nation.
Apart from the aforementioned countries, Rwanda has won more medals than any other country on the continent. However, unlike the three cycling giants, Rwanda has never won a gold medal in African championships.
Ranked fourth in Africa with 855 points since last October, Rwanda stands a good chance of rising in ranks, should Sterling Magnell’s men maintain the good momentum they have been on in the last few months, when the African championships kick-off next week, on February 14.
In history of African Continental Road Championship, Rwandan cyclists have won a total seven medals, three silver medals and four bronze medals, the most recent having come last year when a quartet of Valens Ndayisenga, Joseph Areruya, Samuel Mugisha and Jean Bosco Nsengimana finished third in Elite Men’s Team Time Trial.
Rwanda’s first ever cyclist to ride for a UCI World Tour Team, Adrien Niyonshuti is the sole Rwandan rider to have won more than one medal in the African championship. Niyonshuti scooped two bronze medals at the 2009 edition, in U23 men’s ITT and U23 road race.
Leading female cyclist Jean d’Arc Girubuntu is also the country’s only woman to have ever won a medal in African championships, having bagged a silver medal in U23 women’s ITT at the 2015 edition in Morocco. Other medal winners include former national team skipper Janvier Hadi who won bronze in U23 men’s road race in 2013, Valens Ndayisenga who won silver in U23 Time Trial at the 2015 edition and Jean Claude Uwizeye who also claimed silver in U23 men’s road race, also in 2015.
2018, a do-or-die chance for Rwanda to conquer Africa
With the recent rise to the top of the game in Africa, it is with no doubt that Rwanda is among countries to watch during the five-day continental championship. Team Rwanda also comprises of riders who are pre-tournament favourites to win medals in different categories such as 21-year-old Joseph Areruya.
Since 2014, no foreign cyclist has been able to win Tour du Rwanda, a respected UCI 2.2 category race and one of the highly rated cycling events in Africa. Now more than ever, Rwandan riders have the best shot at using home advantage to win gold medals they have been struggling with on foreign soils and yet again, cement their position as Africa’s cycling superpower.
In a recent interview with this paper, Team Rwanda head coach Sterling Magnell vowed, “Now more than ever, I am convinced that we can do much better. We are focusing on preparations, we want to improve and correct mistakes we made in past editions. We are going for gold medals.”
He added,” We have assembled the best team than any other previous edition of the competition. I trust the riders to accomplish the mission.”
Rwanda will be represented by a total 18 cyclists in the African championships, eight in men’s U23 & elite category, four in men’s junior category, four in women’s elite category and two female juniors.
Men Elite: Jean Bosco Nsengimana, Patrick Byukusenge, Jean Claude Uwizeye, Valens Ndayisenga, Adrien Niyonshuti, Joseph Areruya, Samuel Mugisha and Didier Munyaneza.
Women Elite: Béathe Ingabire, Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu, Magnifique Manizabayo and Jacqueline Tuyishimire
Men Junior: Jean Eric Habimana, Yves Nkurunziza, Barnabé Gahemba, and Jean Claude Nzafashwanayo
Women Junior: Samantha Mushimiyimana and Violette Irakoze Neza