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2019 was a really tough year. 2020 doesn’t look much easier. I’ve been coaching the Rwandan national cycling team for almost 5 years now. In the early days I marveled at my good fortune having stumbling into a job so perfect for me. It put me on my bike, and got me fully immersed in the science of extracting the most and best possible performances from a whole team of athletes. But most of all, it put me smack dab in the middle of one of the most interesting cultures and places to ever pursue high level cycling. It was a dream come true, it felt like what I was doing was worthwhile. When I see my athletes, I don’t just see a bunch of kids from Rwanda, I see myself. I WAS that wide eyed kid from the village (country.) I didn’t know jack shit about the world and the bike was my ticket out of obscurity.
It’s never been a bed of roses, every worthwhile effort has its pitfalls and hazards, but along the way, over the years, something has changed. I still relate to my boys, I still love the art of the craft of coaching and spend countless hours studying the latest science. I read the papers and listen to the lectures or podcasts to glean something new that might be useful for us. I still dream of seeing our kids fill up the roster of a top World Tour team one day, Tour de France type shit, you know? Not just one token African guy that goes and gets a participation medal at the Olympics. If you know anything about professional bike racing, you know you can’t train up to that level. You need probably fifty race days at the top level to adapt to that kind of competition. You could have all the talent in the world and there is still no possible way to prepare for being competitive without being a member of the World Tour.
I don’t wanna say that we’ve reached the limits of our abilities up here nestled between Mount Sabyinyo and Bisoke, home to Gorilla families and base of the Africa Rising Cycling Center (ARCC) but we’re definitely stuck for too long up against the same obstacles. It’s been a long time now since the national team was well funded, since equipment was replenished and true racing gear has been infused into the team. Tools like power meters, computers and components for proper fitting contact points on the bikes are sorely lacking, and have been for years. The outright supply of race worthy bikes and wheels is dwindling. Not to mention the general scarcity of bikes in the country, period.
I can’t lie to them. I can’t sit here and say “hang on, it will get better” because it hasn’t. I don’t know how far up you have to go to make a meaningful change that would actually allow someone with bike racing knowledge to make executive decisions and budget calls. Corruption is the bane of many an African federation. It’s a stereotype no one likes to talk about, but the bullshit bureaucracy that gets put in place to protect against the corruption in the first place is almost as bad. Wherever there are talented athletes, progress is getting blocked by wanna be politicians, making a career out of their positions instead of serving, if not being outright corrupt themselves. The dream seems so far off… way further than ever before. Whatever money comes along to fund new bikes and equipment is too little too late to keep up with the time it takes to develop the next generation. The sport is dying. So where do we turn? I’m not just interested in the future of the sport for the kids, I’m interested in it for all of us. Rwanda has the potential to lead the way for all of Africa. The thousand hill miracle, there’s hardly a place better suited to training and building a racing culture. We hold in our hands a precious commodity. An opportunity to make history, to build something that wasn’t here before. To create a movement that could carry thousands, even millions of Africans forward. The bike is that powerful. I want to pump as much life into this sport around here as I can, but there’s a wall of obstacles in front of me.
Give us bikes, build us a velodrome, give us programs for education for athletes serving on the national team. Imagine what we could do with 500 athletes in the country instead of barely 100… where there’s a will, there’s a way.