This is an extract from The Road Book Cycling Almanack 2021. To read the full contribution from Peter Kamasa, purchase your first edition in our shop.
Peter Kamasa was born and raised in exile, in Tanzania. His parents, both Tutsis, had fled Rwanda before the genocide. Of the family who remained, more than 20 close relatives were murdered in April 1994. On the family’s return to Rwanda, Kamasa studied International Relations Science at Kigali Independent University. A qualified and extremely successful volleyball coach, Kamasa has now been working for over a decade as a sport journalist, latterly with the New Times of Rwanda. He has covered nine editions of the Tour du Rwanda as well as numerous other cycling events in Africa.
With or without coronavirus, the 13th edition of Tour du Rwanda lived up to its billing.
The race was initially due to be held in February but it was postponed till early May following a spike in new Covid-19 cases. Widely considered to be the biggest UCI 2.1 cycling race in Africa, this year’s edition attracted 75 riders competing in 15 teams from across the world. Known for creating massive hype and support from cycling fans at the side of the road, the Tour du Rwanda is showing signs of soon overtaking all other sports in terms of bringing joy and happiness and simply a smile to Rwandans’ faces. While football arguably remains the global community’s favourite sport, cycling is increasingly challenging that top spot and attracts the attention of people of all ages ahead of all other events on Rwandan soil.
The Tour du Rwanda is also the biggest cycling showpiece on the African continent. It continues to attract internationally renowned cycling clubs including teams that are used to big cycling events on the international calendar. The likes of Israel Start-Up Nation, where Chris Froome had just signed, as well as Total Direct Énergie and B&B Hotels – all teams that take part in the Tour de France – were committed to participating in the 2021 Tour du Rwanda.
This year’s eight-stage route took the race to all corners of the country, including four stages dedicated to climbers, two for sprinters, one for puncheurs and a time trial, for a total of 913km with almost 16,400 metres of climbing. The passages of the famous Mount Kigali would once again make the Tour of Rwanda one of the most testing races of the early 2021 season.
A victory for a Rwandan rider is a victory for all Rwandans. Cycling has played a big part in bringing hope back to genocide survivors who lost loved ones, through a memorial bike race paying tribute to the victims slain. The story of the 1994 genocide deeply touches all domestic riders who participate in the Tour du Rwanda. But at the same time, visiting riders from overseas are profoundly impressed by the way in which the country is building a united and reconciled society.
‘When you consider the atrocities that this country and its people experienced almost 30 years ago, it is incredible,’ Pierre Rolland, the star climber of B&B Hotels, observed before the race got underway.
The race began in 1988 with just three participating teams. But Rwanda was then torn apart by genocide in 1994, with up to a million people being murdered in the central African country within 100 days. In this 27th anniversary year, the peloton continues to play its part in helping the country move on from such a sad and difficult past.
It has clearly not been easy. There have been many problems a normal bike team wouldn’t have encountered. Many of the local riders have experienced trauma, having been young children during the genocide. Former national cycling team captain, Adrien Niyonshuti is a central figure in Rwandan cycling. The four-time national champion and former Dimension Data rider won the 2008 Tour du Rwanda – the final edition of the race before it became a UCI event. He also become the first and only Rwandan cyclist to represent his country at the Olympic Games more than once. Though Niyonshuti’s status in the sport is unrivalled within Rwanda, his story is tragically typical. He finds it hard to explain and can never resolve the issues fully. As a result of what happened to his family in April 1994, he suffers from profound depression. Cycling, he says, has played a significant role in helping him deal with the wounds of the genocide.