RWANDA’s star rider Joseph Areruya made history last Sunday when he became the first black African to compete at the 117-year-old Paris–Roubaix.
The 23-year old rides for French side Delko-Marseille Provence since March 2018.
Also known as the ‘Hell of the North’, Paris–Roubaix is billed as the hardest one-day classic in the world. Contrary to other races where strength and pace determine the best rider, what makes a rider prevail at Paris Roubaix is the sheer determination to suffer more.
Due to its famous rough terrain and cobblestones, it has been given various names such as the Hell of the North, a Sunday in Hell, the Queen of the Classics or la Pascale, which can be translated as ‘the Easter race’.
The terrain has led to the development of specialised frames, wheels and tyres. Punctures and other mechanical glitches are common, and often influence the result.
Belgian Philippe Gilbert, 36, won this year’s race after edging German Nils Politt in a sprint inside the Roubaix velodrome.
Despite finishing outside the time limit, Areruya was applauded for having managed to cross the finish line of the punishing race despite suffering two crashes.
This week, Areruya caught with Sunday Sport in an exclusive interview on what it was like to race ‘the Hell of the North’ and the experience it has left him with.
Black African Pioneer
The former Dimension Data for Qhubeka rider is the first black African rider to participate in the one-day UCI World Tour race. Following his debut, Areruya, also known as the Beast, says that his participation is a ‘clear indication’ of how Rwanda cycling has improved that riders can be trusted and given a chance to compete in such big races.
“I am still in awe. This is a race that every professional cyclist dreams to experience. It proved that our [Rwanda] cycling has really taken a big step forward.”
“A few years back, we were nowhere on the cycling map. We only raced local competitions, it was only a dream that one day we would see a Rwandan rider in such world-class races.
Now everywhere we go, you find that people konw one or two things about the ‘Rwanda cycling miracle’. Honestly, that means a lot and shows how much we have progressed as a country in this sport,” said Areruya.
Paris Roubaix: A race like no other
Hard-peddling Areruya, the 2018 African cyclist of the year, admits that Paris Roubaix is definitely the most gruesome race he has experienced so far.
“The uniqueness and toughness of Paris Roubaix is clear to everyone. Its distance is close 260km, and the most particular thing about it is that most of this distance is composed of cobblestones. The kind of our infamous ‘Wall of Kigali’
So you can imagine tackling the Wall of Kigali for over 150km, and on top of that, you’re racing with the best elites and teams in the world. It’s the toughest classic in the world,” he asserted.
When asked about his finishing outside the time limit, Areruya noted that it can’t be attributed to the pace and toughness of the race, but rather to two crashes he suffered that cost him valuable time.
“I crashed twice during the race, and in such a race, even losing 30 seconds can make it impossible to catch up with the peloton. Once you race alone, it’s pretty hard to maintain the pace and rhythm,” he explained.
Areruya says that despite finishing outside the time limit, his team was impressed with his performance and he finds it as ‘a big stepping stone’ to what the future holds for him.
“The race left me with valuable experience, even managing to finish it impressed my team. So I believe it will influence the decision to offer me another contract when the current one expires this year.”
Widely regarded as the country’s most decorated rider, Areruya is the first and only rider to ever hold Tour du Rwanda (November 2017) and La Tropicale Amissa Bongo (January 2018) titles at the same time.