By Jeffrey Stern
For the first time ever, Team Rwanda, coached by former professional cyclist of Santa Rosa, California, Sterling Magnell, traveled halfway around the world just for the chance to make history.
During the second week of August, a team of six riders that have been training under the guidance of Magnell and founder of the team Jock Boyer, tackled their first UCI 2.HC sanctioned race in the United States, the Colorado Classic. The competition jump was significant from local and Africa Tour races the team had competed in over the past few seasons, but they held their own.
“What an honor and a privilege to spend today with Team Rwanda,” said Magnell pre-race. Coming from the cycling hot bed of the Bay Area, Magnell knows talent when he sees it. The dedication, kindness and pure joy are elements from the young riders that might come as the biggest surprise. It’s odd to not to find them with grin to grin smiles on their faces at all times of the day.
With a mission to not only recruit, train, and compete in international cycling competitions, but also share knowledge with the next generation of athletes and coaches for sustained growth across the nation. Ultimately, Boyer and Magnell see bringing the program to other African nations as a way to help rebuild build communities with histories of conflict through the sport of cycling.
The team fared pretty well during the Colorado Classic competition too, with four of six riders surviving to finish the grueling high-elevation, four stage race in the Rocky Mountains including Jean Cloude Uwizeye finishing 47th out of nearly 100 riders. Didier Munyanez finished 25th during the Stage 3 circuit in Denver and Jean Paul Rene Ukiniwabo took 6th place in the young rider classification (riders under 25 years old).
Considering the new environment, atmosphere and long journey not only from Africa but from the horrific 1994 genocide that plagued the country (many of the riders were young children then), their accomplishment carriers an even bigger meaning.
Rwanda President Paul Kagame believes so much in the good the Team Rwanda is doing for the country and its people that they’ve stepped up support for over 35 men and women cyclists across all levels and disciplines training in collaboration with Rwandan Cycling Federation (FERWACY) under the guidance of the Ministry of Sport and Culture (MINISPOC) as well.
Although a few riders have graduated onto the bigger World Tour stage and European racing, the heart and focus of the program is growing these young men and women into leaders in their own communities, Team Rwanda included.
One of Boyer’s dreams when founding the program was to have Rwandans coach and mentor their own. His dream came true in 2017 – after competing in the Olympics last year in Rio, Nathan Byukusenge, an original member of Team Rwanda from 2006, retired to become a coach for the program. A selfless act for a person with as much talent as Byukusenge, realizing the greater good of spending his time mentoring the next crop of up-and-comers.
In just a decade Rwanda has become somewhat of cycling hotbed in the country of Africa, supported by the people, cycling world and government. “It is time for us to step up and give you what you need to continue your success,” President Kagame said.
It’s this circle of support that will see cycling in Rwanda, Africa and beyond continue to touch lives, rebuild communities and provide inspiration for generations to come.Tweet Print