Rwanda’s most successful cyclist Adrien Niyonshuti has said he is excited ahead of his return to Tour du Rwanda this year, making his first appearance in the annual UCI Africa Tour race since 2013.
The highly anticipated 10th edition of Tour du Rwanda gets underway Sunday with Stage 1 in Rwamagana District, Eastern Province – and will run through August 12 across the country.
Niyonshuti, 31, who is the only Rwandan rider to have ever raced at UCI World Tour level, will feature for South Africa’s amateur side Sampada Cycling Team.
He joined the South African side early this year following a nine-year stint with Dimension Data for Qhubeka, another South African side – based in Italy.
During the nine years, Dimension Data upgraded from a UCI Continental team, to a UCI Pro Continental team before landing a World Tour licence from the International Cycling Union (UCI) in 2015, making it the first time an Africa cycling team gained a licence to race at the highest tier of professional cycling.
The last time that Niyonshuti raced in Tour du Rwanda was in 2013, at the time with Dimension Data – formerly MTN Qhubeka. He finished in ninth position then and was the second best Rwandan rider behind Jean Bosco Nsengimana finished sixth.
“I am very excited to be back, it’s been a very long time – nothing can beat the feeling of riding at home again. I am very much looking forward to the race,” the five-time Rwanda national champion said in an exclusive interview with Times Sport on Thursday
For the first time, Tour du Rwanda will start in Rwamagana, Niyonshuti’s home town, to acknowledge their contribution to modern cycling in the country.
This also marks the first time that the race starts outside Kigali.
“I was also very impressed with the gesture by the cycling federation to start the tour in my home town, it means a lot. Also the fact that my return will unfold in front of our home fans will make it incredible. But, at the same time it’s very unfortunate that this is happening without coach John (Jean Baptiste Rugambwa, who recently passed away), he made us who we are today,” Niyonshuti said.
Rugambwa, who was among the co-founders of Les Amis Sportifs de Rwamagana, died on July 22 in a motorbike accident in Rulindo District while on his way home from Rubavu in a Tour du Rwanda’s build-up race.
“I think this will be the right time to pay my tributes to him for what he has done for me and the entire cycling community in Rwanda,” he noted.
The 56-year old Rugambwa was instrumental in the establishment of the club and rise of some of the most successful riders that the country has produced, including Niyonshuti, reigning Tour du Rwanda champion Joseph Areruya, two-time Tour du Rwanda winner Valens Ndayisenga, Jean Claude Uwizeye, and Jean Paul Rene Ukiniwabo to name a few.
Niyonshuti won Tour du Rwanda in 2008, a year before it got affiliated to UCI Africa Tour.