Ruhengeri is gorilla country, 100 kilometres away from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, where tourists flock each year to see the mountain apes in their natural habitat. It is a cycling country, home to an unlikely sporting fairy tale, which will weave its way to the Commonwealth Games in two weeks. Team Rwanda gets much support from the audience and are treated as heroes, though they will likely leave Glasgow without a medal.
The team’s coach, Jock Boyer, a former American professional rider, was invited to the country by Tom Ritchey, to generate interest in cycling. The coach revealed that he was supposed to be in Rwanda only for three months but extended his stay. He is also regarded by his riders as a father figure. Most of his cyclists had horrible past. The start rider, Adrien Niyonshuti, suffered the loss of six brothers in the genocide. 60 members of his family lost their lives in total. Luckily, he escaped as militia men approached his home. Niyonshuti does not remember his dreaded past but bears both mental and physical scars from that day. He took up cycling to forget the dark days. Though, he has lost most of his family members, cycling has been a positive influence on him. His story and that of the team has been made into a documentary, Rising from the Ashes, narrated by the Forest Whitaker.
All the riders on the Rwandan team live and breathe cycling. Another rider, Hategeka, owes his life to cycling. On his first meet with Hategeka, the coach revealed that the rider was on a welded Eddy Merckx bike. He revealed that he was an orphan when arrived in the camp. Recalling his childhood days, he revealed about his struggle to survive and how cycling gave him a new lease of life. Cycling gives him immense joy and acts as a source to forget the pain and agony of yesteryears.
The Rwandan cycling training centre is a hub for cycling of all types, and includes a BMX track. This initiative receives financial support from the government, overseas sponsors and cycling’s governing body, the UCI.
Featuring in the table is not a big concern for Rwanda, being in Glasgow for the event is all that matters. We are really looking forward to seeing these guys race.