What most people know about Rwanda is that it is a small country located in East-Africa. Some might have heard about the horrific genocide in 1994 as well. During this massacre of about 100 days nearly a million Hutus and Tutsis got slaughtered by armed militias. The impact of this genocide on the population is still noticeable nowadays.
It was a bit more than a decade after the terrific genocide that American Jacques Boyer found his way to Rwanda. Initially providing bicycles and first aid to poor, local people, he saw the ability to reunite the population with sports, and cycling specifically. He founded the Rwandan Cycling Academy. Aiming to bring the first Rwandan cyclist to the 2012 London Olympic Games, the bicycle became more and more important for the Rwandans to forget the misery of the genocide. Team Rwanda riders became national heroes. Shining in their home race they reunited the nation and made cycling sport number one.
The passion for cycling among the society is the first thing our riders observed during the days before the race. “We have done a few training rides before the race, and it was unbelievable to see how welcome we are here as cyclists. We were joined by multiple young riders, and along the way all school kids started to run next to us and cheered to us when we passed them”, according to Wesley Mol. For Niko it was his fourth time racing in the land of thousand hills, but also he felt the love for the sport by the Rwandans “For me it was also special to see again that most of the people in Rwanda are using bicycles as their way of transport to work. We have been chased uphill by men on 20kg bikes with thousand bananas or multiple mattresses on the back. Everyone wanted to roll’ a few meters with us. Really cool!”
During the race both the organizer, and the government showed their ability to organize professional sports events. All COVID-measures imposed by the UCI and the country itself were perfectly implied in the hotels and around the race. Teams stayed in the same hotel for the duration of the whole race, multiple PCR tests were done, transfers were smooth, and very important the safety of everyone was insured during all races. In contrast to last year, spectators were allowed to stand on the side of the road again. Thousands of people showed up at the “Mur de Kigali” and other cycling hotspots in Kigali. The crowd of fans was incredible. Moreover, the spectators behaved very respectfully so there were no incidents and the race could run smoothly without any disturbances.
“I am very happy that we can race in front of fans again. They make every stage special by creating an extraordinary atmosphere and motivation that you don't find in many other races. At the same time they show their appreciation for the race towards the organizer and government by following the COVID related rules they are told to follow. I am sure that Mr. Lapartient recognized this as well, and took it into consideration, when deciding that the 2025 UCI World Championships will take place in Rwanda. I cannot think of a better place to hold the first ever world championships in Africa”, says Adne.
The Tour du Rwanda is arguably the biggest, and hardest bike race in Africa. BIKE AID sports director Anton Wiersma explains the situation for his riders: “The whole country is at moderate to high altitude. Our riders from sea level directly feel the lack of oxygen in the air. But the local riders are fully acclimatized and go easily into the red. This adds an extra dimension to the race.” The BIKE AID riders experienced this last week again.
All in all we have to conclude that it was a very successful race for the team!
The daily sacrifice for each other has rewarded the riders with winning the team classification! Moreover, Jesse Ewart finished on an impressive third place in GC in his first race with the team. After Henoks debut in Antalya, where he showed what he can do on the climbs, the Eritrean finished fifth in the GC.
Adne, Niko and Wesley have absolutely put themselves in the shadow of the GC candidates in this race and even left out great opportunities for stage victories of their own. Without their daily, hard work this final result would not have been possible!