Racing in Tour de France is my career’s ultimate target, says Jean Eric Habimana

Jean Eric Habimana at The New Times head offices in Kigali on Tuesday. Ismael Sekamana

RWANDA’s celebrated youngster Jean Eric Habimana has emphasised that he has set competing at the famous Tour de France as his cycling career’s ultimate goal.

The 18-year-old, the reigning national champion in the junior category, is fresh from winning bronze medals with junior Team Rwanda – in Team Time Trial – at the 2019 African Continental Road Championships in Ethiopia this month

Habimana, who rides for Skol Brewery-sponsored Fly Cycling Club, first came to the limelight two years ago when he struck three – two silver and one bronze – medals at the 2017 African Continental Track Championships in Durban, South Africa.

He was the first, and remains the only, Rwandan rider to ever win a medal in track cycling.

“I love this sport, and it’s my dream to graduate from amateur cycling and turn professional. My ultimate target is to race Tour de France one day, but that starts with getting a professional team to be signed at,” Habimana told Times Sport in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

Not only did he win bronze with Team Rwanda at this year’s African championships, Habimana also helped teammate Renus Byiza Uhiriwe to scoop gold in junior men’s road race at the continent’s biggest cycling event in Bahir Dar.

Rwanda finished third in overall classification, only behind Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Regarded as one of the most exceptional young cyclists in the country, Habimana is a two-time winner of the year-round Rwanda Cycling Cup in junior category, and is determined to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Samuel Mugisha, Joseph Areruya and veteran Adrien Niyonshuti.

 “There is a number of local cycling heroes I admired while growing up, and that’s how I ended up in the sport. Convincing my parents at first was not an easy task, but I hope I make them proud when they see me representing the country and winning medals in various competitions.”

Veteran Niyonshuti is the first and the only Rwandan rider to ever ride for a UCI World Tour team, while two former Tour du Rwanda champions Mugisha and Areruya feature for Italy-based Dimension Data and French side Delko Marseille Provence, respectively.

“I am happy for what I have been able to achieve so far, but it’s not even one per cent of what I dream of as an aspiring professional rider. I am a strong believer in hard work, I want to do something that no other Rwandan rider has ever done before,” said youngster Habimana.

Courtesy of Skol, Habimana was part of the six-rider Fly Cycling Club’s young team that spent one month in Belgium competing in a series of races in July 2018 – the first trip of its kind by any local cycling team.

The brewery company is also the main sponsor of Tour du Rwanda and Rwanda Cycling Cup.