Pressure is mounting in Rwanda. Team Rwanda Cycling’s readiness is at a record high, as Rwanda’s annual Tour du Rwanda international cycling competition hits the road on November 16.
Fifteen teams, 75 riders, including, Germany, France, Switzerland, and South Africa, are to take on seven stages of 911.6 kilometers race on Rwanda’s mountains.
There is a sense of excitement across the country, though. 20-year-old Mark Niyokwizera can’t wait to climb a tree on the roadside to watch the race as he did in 2013.
“I want to see who arrives first in the Rwandan team”, says Niyokwizera, his mountain bike parked a few meters away. “There is no way I can miss it”, he says.
At a cold, refreshing training camp at the foot of volcanoes, Northern Rwanda, veteran Team Rwanda cyclist, Abraham Ruhumuriza, 35, chats with teammates at an after-lunch break.
“We are ready”, says Ruhumuriza, the oldest of the team of 15 members, and five-time winner of the race. “We have strength, and we want to bring honor to our country”.
Team Rwanda is subdivided into three, Akagera, Karisimbi, and Muhabura – named after the national park and volcanoes respectively, with five players each.
“We used to train and go home. Now, we’ve spent a month together in the camp”, says 23-year-old Emile Bintunimana, from Team Rwanda Akagera. “We are going to win this year’s edition”.
The team’s coach, American Jonathan “Jock” Boyer, 59, is pumped up.
“We’re as prepared as we can be…we are organized”, says Boyer.
“Everybody is really looking forward to the race. I think this year we’re more prepared than we’ve ever been”, he says.
Turkish Airline is sponsoring Team Rwanda, providing jerseys and a 40% discount on tickets and free shipment for bicycles.
“Team Rwanda is probably the most successful, well-known in all sport ventures in Rwanda”, says Isler Burcin, Rwanda Manager for Turkish Airline. “They are successful on international level,” he says.
Tour du Rwanda started in 1988. International Cycling Union Africa Tour has rated it as of category 2.2 since 2009.
Up until 2008, the race was regional, pitting Rwanda against its East African neighbors.
Winners carry home $21,600. Rwf400m ($570,000) will be spent on the tournament.
By: Didier Bikorimana