By Kimberly Coats –
In 2006, Jonathan “Jock” Boyer landed in Rwanda. He came at the behest of Tom Ritchey and a donated plane ticket to help Tom run a bicycle race in a small Rwandan village. There was no big plan, a plan after the bike race, just do the race and go home and back to his life. Jock spent the next decade in Rwanda developing the Rwandan National Cycling Team.
The first Wooden Bike Classic was won by a young man wearing a much too old helmet with the strap fastened around his chin just below his lower lip. That young man was Adrien Niyonshuti, an incredible cycling talent. Together Jock and Adrien changed the world of cycling in Rwanda and beyond over the next decade.
In spring of 2007, Jock returned to Rwanda and began testing riders and by March had selected the initial five members of Team Rwanda Cycling. Two of those riders, Adrien and another cyclist, Rafiki Uwimana, headed to South Africa to race the Cape Epic. Adrien and Jock were partners, and by the end of the 8-day grueling mountain bike stage race, they were 23rd in their category and 33rd overall amongst 468 teams who finished. The cycling world took notice.
In 2008, Jock spoke with Douglas Ryder, who at the time ran a South African Continental Team, MTN Energade, and Douglas took Adrien and another Rwanda, Nathan Byukusenge. Adrien would stay with this team in all its variations eventually becoming the first Rwandan to race for a World Tour Team, Team Dimension Data.
During the early years, Jock rode and trained with the riders and slowly began to develop legitimate competitive cycling in Rwanda. By 2009, the original five had grown to 12-15 cyclists attending regular camps at the team’s home base in Musanze, Rwanda, a small town in the northern part of the country. Jock also added staff, a French mechanic by the name of Maxime Darcel, and a volunteer who became the Director of Marketing and Logistics, Kimberly Coats. The team slowly began to see small results, but for every little win, there were exponentially more obstacles.
In 2009, with the support and vision of the Rwandan government, the first UCI 2.2 Tour of Rwanda launched. Rwanda would see a home town winner until 2014, however, the race grew year over year as did the fan base and support.
For the first time in history, in 2010, Rwanda hosted the African Continental Road Championships. This was the Olympic qualifying race and a strategic plus for home country advantage. Adrien, who had been training, racing and living in South Africa was primed to become the first Rwandan to qualify for an Olympic cycling event. Unfortunately, a mechanical on the last lap caused him to miss the winning break, and the slot went to Dan Craven of Namibia.
However, just a few short months later, Adrien qualified at the 2011 African Continental Mountain Bike Championships held in South Africa. He became the first Rwanda to qualify for the Olympics in mountain biking. It was a massive victory for Rwanda and put Rwandan cycling on the map.
When Adrien raced in London in 2012, he became the first Rwandan and first black African to finish an Olympic Mountain Bike event in the Games history. The road for Adrien was long and filled with loss and heartache. Adrien is a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. He lost six brothers and 60 family members in a span of 100 days in 1994. To come from such desperate tragedy to the glory and achievement of the Olympics was nothing short of miraculous.
Adrien and Jock’s story of finding each other and making it to the Olympics is told in the 2012 award-winning documentary, Rising From Ashes.
Slowly, Rwanda began to move up the ranks in the Africa Tour. Year over year, the team started to secure stage wins. The Tour of Rwanda expanded and attracted more international teams. The team continued to grow, clubs formed, and young people who rode bikes now realized they could ride bikes professionally. They wanted to be the next Adrien Niyonshuti!
In 2014, a young man from a small town in Rwanda, who had tested with Team Rwanda Cycling three times before he was brought onto the team, became the first Rwandan to win a stage at the prestigious Tropical Amissa Bongo UCI 2.1 race in Gabon. Bonaventure “Bona” Uwizeyimana used to see Team Rwanda training along the road by his house and would jump on and ride as long as he could. He would come for regular testing camps but was always on the bubble. One day, he sprinted with Team Rwanda for the prime in a local village and won. Bona came to camp and never left. Bona later raced for the feeder team for Team Europcar. He is the current Rwandan National Road Cycling Champion (2016 & 2019) and in 2018 became the first Rwandan to win the Tour of Cameroon. Bona is now the team captain of the first Rwandan UCI Continental Team, Team Benediction Excel Energy.
At the 2014 Tour of Rwanda, a Rwandan finally took the Yellow in the General Classification. Valens Ndayisenga, a protégé of Adrien Niyonshuti’s cycling academy became the first Rwanda to win the home race. After the victory, the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, invited the team for an exclusive reception where he committed a fleet of new national race bicycles and earmarked our compound, Africa Rising Cycling Center, the permanent home of Team Rwanda Cycling.
Valens later went on with Bona to ride for Team Dimension Data Continental. He also rode for Team Tirol out of Austria and POCCL out of France. He repeated a win at the Tour of Rwanda in 2016 when he was riding for Team Dimension Data Continental.
In 2016, Adrien returned to the Olympics in the road cycling event in Rio and his compatriot from the beginning, Nathan Byukusenge, qualified for the XCO Mountain Bike event at the age of 37.
The Future of Team Africa Rising
By 2017, Jock Boyer and his now wife, Kimberly Coats, were poised to relinquish the day to day operations, funding and support of Team Rwanda Cycling to the government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Cycling Federation. The plan was always to build the team, infrastructure, and culture to eventually turn it over to Rwanda.
Rwanda became the success story from which to build Team Africa Rising. As Rwanda came from nowhere to the top of the Africa Tour other countries began seeking our support. Team Africa Rising started working with countries, teams, and cyclists requesting our assistance. Our goal is to assist in developing UCI Continental Teams and to promote women’s cycling on the continent. In 2019, Africa has seven UCI Continental or higher level teams versus three in 2018. Rwanda, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau have their first Continental teams in the history of the sport.
In 2020, Team Africa Rising is working to bring the first Pan Africa women’s team to races in Holland and Ireland, along with assisting Nigeria in launching their first UCI Continental Team.
Battle of the Gravel
Team Africa Rising also works on the grassroots level supporting and advising programs in Sierra Leone and Togo and with the national team of Benin.
Team Africa Rising is a 501(c)3 non-profit supported by grants, donors and people buying merchandise and participating in one of our fundraisers. Our largest fundraiser it the 50 Mile Ride for Rwanda held for 13 straight years in Southern California. This event has raised over $1 million since 2007. Based on the long-running success of the Ride for Rwanda, Team Africa Rising is developing another ride, Battle of the Gravel in Savery, Wyoming.
Battle of the Gravel will feature some of the members of Team Rwanda and possibly other African cyclists we work with on the continent. The event will feature three distances 21, 50 and 106 and will traverse 95 – 100% gravel roads for all three events. Team Africa Rising along with Boyer YL Ranch, Jock’s boyhood summer home is hosting the event to raise awareness and funds for the cyclists on the African continent. The event is also supported by the Carbon County Visitor’s Council to introduce tourists to this spectacular area of Wyoming.
Join us on Sunday, September 15th for the Battle of the Gravel, race your heart out, enjoy the fantastic roads and scenery and support the young men and women of Africa in the pursuit of their dreams.
For more on Team Africa Rising, see: https://teamafricarising.org
Battle of the Gravel 2019 Event info:
September 15 — Battle of the Gravel, Savery, WY, South of Rawlings, WY, The race will start and finish at the Little Snake River Museum. Riders will start between 7 and 9 am and return to a BBQ, band and brews on the grounds of the Museum. 95 miles, Kimberly Coats, 307-383-7778, 530-744-8773, [email protected], battleofthegravel.com
Kimberly Coats is Director of Marketing and Fundraising for Team Africa Rising. After living in Rwanda for 8 years, she returned to the US in 2017 to focus on providing opportunities for cyclists throughout Africa and building on the foundation of Team Rwanda Cycling.