Inaugural Colorado Classic welcomes Team Rwanda elite team with Olympians, Rwandan national champions
DENVER — Team Rwanda Cycling has accepted an invitation to participate in the inaugural Colorado Classic, marking its first appearance in a Union Cycliste Internationale-sanctioned race of this caliber in the United States, organizers announced earlier this week.
Team Rwanda was founded in 2007 by a group of cycling industry legends and friends after watching some amazing raw talent compete at the first Wooden Bike Classic in 2006, held in Rwanda. Since then, this group has exponentially grown the sport of cycling in Rwanda, a country torn apart in 1994 by genocide and one that has never a cycling force on the continent.
“Part of our vision for the Colorado Classic and the accompanying Velorama Festival is to highlight ‘the power of the bike’ to bring people together, improve health and build stronger communities,” said David Koff, CEO of RPM Events Group, the organization formed to put on the race, in a release. “Team Rwanda Cycling is an amazing example of how bikes can help transcend differences and transform lives. We are extremely pleased to host them in the return of pro cycling to the state.”
Cycling comes to Rwanda
Team Rwanda was initially coached by Jock Boyer who, in 1981, became the first American to compete in the Tour de France. With assistance from the Rwandan government and the Rwandan Cycling Federation, Boyer and partner Kimberly Coats have grown the team to the point where it now fields more than 35 cyclists — men and women — in all levels and disciplines.
“We have assembled a team of professional cyclists who now race competitively on the international stage and, in so doing, have become strong ambassadors for Rwanda,” Team Rwanda founder Boyer said. “They give others, both nations and people in conflict, hope.”
Team Rwanda’s first six years were chronicled in the award-winning documentary “Rising From Ashes,” narrated by Forest Whitaker. That film culminated with Team Rwanda’s Adrien Niyonshuti — a Rwandan native who narrowly missing out on one of seven Olympic road-racing spots awarded to African riders — qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games in mountain biking.
Most recently, Joseph Areruya, who came up through the cycling program, won a stage at the 2017 U-23 Giro D’Italia, marking the first stage win by a Rwandan at a UCI race.
“I feel that the Colorado Classic is more than just significant — it demonstrates a new chapter for Team Rwanda,” Boyer continued in the release. “Ten years ago we came to America to race our first races and we were ‘neophytes.’ Now, we are coming as legitimate competitors who have earned their place in the professional peloton. We have come a long way and I am excited to return with a ‘new’ Team Rwanda.”
Team Rwanda coaches plan to have their athletes compete in at least one U.S. race as a tune-up for the Colorado Classic. The team will begin its high-altitude training in Colorado on Aug. 1.
The team’s contingent in the Colorado Classic is led by Jean Claude Uwizeye, 23, who competed at the 2016 World Championships in Doha, Qatar. It also features Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, 24, the current Rwandan National Champion.
The team’s inclusion in the upcoming Colorado Classic means 15 high-level men’s teams are committed to the Aug. 10-13 stage race. Courses announced last week show riders will cover 313 miles (503.5 km) and endure more than 20,000 feet of intense, high-altitude climbing on stages held in Colorado Springs, Breckenridge and Denver.
“What we have here is a two-way celebration,” said Papa M. Dia, president of the African Leadership Group in Aurora, in the release. “We are excited about Team Rwanda coming to compete in the Colorado Classic. And, at the same time, we think they will be excited to see so many of our smiling African faces along the race routes, cheering for them and beaming with pride.”
Dia hopes the race will encourage young African Americans to pursue cycling at any level, from road racing to mountain biking.
The Colorado Classic is sanctioned by Union Cycliste Internationale and designated as a 2.HC race, which is the highest category outside of World Tour races. It will be the highest-level stateside race in which Team Rwanda has competed.
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