Like most African nations, the bike is enormously important in Rwanda. Most of them are made from wood, and are designed to carry heavy cargoes of coffee beans or other crops. Rwanda is a nation of cyclists, but given its history of genocide and poverty, perhaps it’s unsurprising they have never yet fielded a world class cyclist.
That’s all on the change though. In 2006, Tom Ritchey, legendary framebuilder, racer and mountain bike pioneer, along with his friend Jock Boyer, the first American to finish the Tour de France, set up an annual Rwandan cycling festival, and were astonished at its popularity.
The next year Boyer returned, with the aim of creating and coaching a national team, Team Rwanda. Now, one of its five founding members, Adrien Niyonshuti, will represent Rwanda at the 2012 London Olympics.
It’s a small step for a country still recovering from the aftershocks of a civil war that left 800,000 dead (Niyonshuti himself was the sole survivor of his seven siblings), but a significant one.
Niyonshuti raced in the 2009 Tour of Ireland, becoming the first Rwandan cyclist to ride in the European professional peloton. On August 12, he will compete in the cross-country mountain bike race.
There’s even a little helping hand from a Bristol-based company. (iL) Soigneur, the musette makers beloved of hip trendy types about town, are going to be making the Team Rwanda musettes for the race, in conjunction with XU in Paris.
Obviously a musette isn’t a traditional part of MTB racing, but the team will need to get all their essentials there, and in style too. 12 will be made for the team, and a small number will be up for sale.
Dene Percy from (iL) Soigneur said: "The Rwandan Cycle Teams story is truly inspirational and we are so proud to be able to support, albeit in a small way, African Cycling."
Here’s a rather inspirational trailer for the inevitable film of the team’s story.
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.