Cycling: Team Rwanda’s pioneering legacy

Team Rwanda Cycling did not begin with a grand mission to produce one of the top national teams in Africa. It did not set out to launch the highest rated, most prestigious race on the continent. Team Rwanda Cycling never thought the work we did would rebrand a country on the international stage. We were a couple of Americans, lots of supporters, and five courageous, committed, and traumatised cyclists. 

Each of the five original members, Adrien, Abraham, Rafiki, Nathan, and Obed, had lived through the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and were forever changed.

Adrien Niyonshuti (L) and Nathan Byukusenge (R), two members of the original Team Rwanda, represented the country in Mount Bike at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympic Games, respectively. Sam Ngendahimana

These original members of Team Rwanda changed the way the world viewed Rwanda. It was no longer a country of tragedy but rather a nation of reconciliation, hope, and inspiration. This was never clearer than in the historical performance of Adrien Niyonshuti qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics and becoming the first Rwandan – and first black African – to complete an Olympic mountain bike event.

The world witnessed Rwanda’s present and future in a sport in which the country was just beginning to excel.

We knew these original members, besides Adrien, were never going to make it to the top levels of the sport, but they were the best at that time. Their ages were the ticking of the clock on their time in the sport. Because of this, we began training them in all aspects of the sport, knowing that someday, they would be the guiding force of cycling in Rwanda.

They learned every detail about cycling, but more importantly, they discovered the importance of their presence on the world stage within and outside cycling itself. The sense of responsibility they felt to their country, and the perception of Rwanda internationally was their guiding force.

That was never more evident than in Adrien and Rafiki’s recent trip to the US. Adrien and Rafiki attended the Ride for Rwanda and rode with over 1,100 participants in an annual mountain bike fundraiser. After the event, Rafiki joined the new UCI Continental Team from South Africa, Pro Touch, at their first US race, the Tour of the Gila. He worked as their team mechanic.

The Tour of the Gila was Rafiki’s first race in the US since 2007 as a cyclist. Numerous people remembered him from his first event 13 years earlier, and Pro Touch was thrilled with his work.

Adrien rode his first gravel race, the Belgian Waffle Ride. Over 1,700 people attended the event and Adrien finished 51st amongst all the current and former professionals. More importantly, rider after rider, acknowledged Adrien, commented about his time on the international scene with Team Dimension Data and praised him for inspiring so many people. Adrien is a hero to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

The writer, Kimberly Coasts (L), and Team Rwanda legend Adrien Niyonshuti. Courtesy.

Adrien and Rafiki represent you, Rwanda. This is your team. These riders, the first generation, along with the second generation of riders such as Janvier Hadi and Valens Ndayisenga and others from that era, have the most knowledge and experience in cycling.

Abraham Ruhumuriza is an icon, Nathan Byukusenge, an Olympian and Obed Ruvogera, the most traveled and experienced soigneur in Africa. With their experience; these riders are the key to the future success of cycling in Rwanda. Their knowledge of cycling on the world scene is vital for the generations to come. They will continue to inspire not only the Rwandan youth but those from so many other countries.

It is up to you, the public, to remember the history of this team and honour the men who made it an international beacon of hope. It is up to you to demand excellence in the continued success of your team on the road and on the international stage of public recognition. 

You have been well represented.

The writer is former Director of Logistics and Marketing at Team Rwanda Cycling

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