Team Rwanda makes an impression at Colorado Classic bike race

World Today

Most sporting events feature an underdog, to whom some fans are drawn – and they cheer them on. At a bike race in the U.S. state of Colorado, Team Rwanda earned that distinction.

These racers are from a country without any real cycling tradition, but have earned a name for themselves.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

The Colorado Classic bike race is days away and these cyclists are squeezing in some last-minute training. “We’re a bit of the underdogs here. We don’t have the fancy trailers, we don’t have the big budgets,” Team Rwanda marketing & logistics director Kimberly Coats said.

The group of six is 14,000 kilometers from home and about to compete in one of the top events on the cycling calendar.

“It’ll be the first time they’re racing at this level. They definitely have the motors. It’s their efficiency and race tactics and not wasting energy in their biggest challenge,” Team Rwanda coach Jacques Boyer said.

It’s been a steep climb for them.

“This team represents a lot more than cycling. It represents changing a whole country through the bike,” Boyer said.

Team Rwanda’s story was documented in the 2012 film “Rising from Ashes,” which showed how, not long after the country’s genocide and with the help of former pro cyclist Jacques Boyer, this program was built from the ground up. It was powered by athletes from impoverished backgrounds, with none of the advantages that cyclists in places like the U.S. or Europe have.

“You could see how much hope the bike gave them because it was their way out,” Boyer said.

It’s been a long, hard road, with lots of obstacles and setbacks. “We need to show it’s about cycling, not about genocide,” Team Rwanda cyclist Bonaventure Uwizeyimani said.

Private donations enabled Team Rwanda to make it to Colorado. A nutritional supplement company also pitched in. It plans to study these athletes’ physiology. One goal: helping them improve their performance. “What are their special needs and what products and counter-measures can we bring to the table that will help work specifically for them,” Thorne Research Vice President of Business Development Wes Barnett said.

When race time came, four of Team Rwanda’s six riders completed the four-day event. One ended up in 47th place.

More races are on the horizon for these cyclists, for whom nothing has come easy.