PEDALING HOPE

Rwanda’s hilly competitive cycling is as much about national pride as it is sport

The winner, Samuel Mugisha
The winner, Samuel Mugisha
Image: Reuters/Jean Bizimana
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It’s been 30 years since Rwanda’s pre-eminent cycling event first began. In the intervening years, the Tour du Rwanda has faced numerous challenges, key among them getting canceled for almost decade in the 1990s as the nation’s political situation deteriorated.

But since 2001, the annual cycling event has taken place consistently, drawing fans worldwide, producing elite cyclists, and inspiring many across the East African nation, known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, to take up the sport. The enthusiasm around cycling in Rwanda is a story that was best captured in the 2012 documentary Rising from Ashes.

Cyclists prepare to compete during the Tour du Rwanda 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda August 12, 2018. Picture taken August 12, 2018.
Preparing to compete.
Image: REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

Organized by Rwanda’s cycling federation (FERWACY), the race has been won by participants from Morocco, Eritrea, South Africa, and the United States. Cyclists from Rwanda have dominated the game though, remaining defending champions for years at a time. This year, 20-year-old Rwandan Samuel Mugisha was crowned champion, becoming the youngest rider to ever win the race.

Cyclists compete during the Tour du Rwanda 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda August 12, 2018. Picture taken August 12, 2018.
Scaling Rwanda’s hills
Image: REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

Cycling is hardly the only sport that has taken hold in Rwanda. In recent years, the country has taken up cricket, with the captain of the national team Eric Dusingizimana breaking a world record in order to raise money for the nation’s first cricket stadium. The game was introduced by refugees returning from neighboring countries like Uganda after the 1994 genocide.

Cyclists compete during the Tour du Rwanda 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda August 12, 2018. Picture taken August 12, 2018.
Inspiring fans.
Image: REUTERS/Jean Bizimana
2018 cycling stages.
2018 Tour du Rwanda cycling stages.
Image: Tour du Rwanda

Rwanda’s government also actively promotes sports as a tool for cohesion and national integration and president Paul Kagame is also an ardent soccer fan. The country recently paid $39 million to secure a sleeve sponsorship deal with the English Premier League club Arsenal to boost the nation’s tourism.

“Rwanda (will) host big teams, world teams, those who are in big races in Europe. It means that in the presence of those teams, Rwanda will be on the map of cycling,” Aimable Bayingana, president of the cycling federation said, according to Reuters.

Samuel Mugisha celebrates after winning the race Tour du Rwanda 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda August 12, 2018. Picture taken August 12, 2018.
2018 winner.
Image: REUTERS/Jean Bizimana