The Tour du Rwanda 2020 was Abdallah Murenzi’s first edition as president of the local cycling governing body (Ferwacy) since his election last December.
First organised in 1988 as an amateur race, it was not until 2009 that Tour du Rwanda became international, hence its inception to the annual UCI Africa Tour.
Last year, the race – widely seen as the biggest on the continent – was upgraded from 2.2 to 2.1 category in the UCI hierarchy of cycling competitions, becoming only the second African race in the category after Gabon’s La Tropicale Amissa Bongo.
With the upgrade and the switch from having it in November to February, the race started to attract high-calibre teams and riders, which, challenged the dominance of home riders after winning it back-to-back from 2014 to 2018.
For the last two editions, not even a single Rwandan rider has won a stage.
However, Murenzi is confident that the more competitive Tour du Rwanda gets, it also raises the level of Rwandan riders and “It will not take long before they conquer the race again.”
Times Sport’s Hugues Mugemana sat down with Murenzi where the Ferwacy boss talked to us about, among other items, the ‘huge success’ of the recently concluded Tour du Rwanda and its likely impact to Rwanda’s bid for the 2025 Road World Championships.
Below are the excerpts;
The 2020 Tour du Rwanda was your first as Ferwacy President, how was the experience?
Overall, the experience was very good. Before this year, I just followed the race – and cycling in general – as a fan but this time I experienced it firsthand. I learnt a lot about rules and how much effort and resources go into organising the competition.
There was no major incident in the race, and it was probably the most competitive ever. For me, this was a huge success, and I have deep appreciation for everyone who was involved.
Amina Lanaya, the Director General of the International Cycling Union (UCI) attended this year’s race, what was her feedback? And do you think it will have a good influence on Rwanda’s bid to host the 2025 Road World Championships?
She was very impressed. Mainly, she commended three things about Tour du Rwanda; the passion Rwandans have for cycling, the discipline of millions of fans who lineup the streets to watch the race as well as the roads that seem ‘perfectly made’ for cycling. Lanaya observed that we have better roads than many advanced western countries.
With such a great feedback, it gives me confidence that we can win the bid to host the 2025 UCI Road World Championships, which would make Rwanda the first African country to organise the world’s biggest cycling event.
Since Tour du Rwanda was upgraded to 2.1 category last year, no Rwandan has won a stage (not to mention the race!), what would you say about home riders’ performance this year?
I think the performance was better than last year’s, but definitely there is still some work to do.
Our rider, Moise Mugisha, finished second overall and narrowly missed out on some stage victories. He even had a chance to win the race had he not lost significant time due to a puncture in the ultimate Stage 8.
For Rwandans to win Tour du Rwanda again, what are the strategies in pipeline?
We are on the right track. This year’s showing was proof that our boys have ability to compete and win. But, of course, some improvements need to be made because it was clear that some of our riders lacked experience and exposure in big races compared to their foreign competitors.
The 2.1 category is competitive. We have to secure highly competitive races and training opportunities abroad so they can have a better competitive edge in future, starting with the 2021 race. This also applies to trainers, we need to upgrade at all levels.
With so much potential for cycling in Rwanda, what are the plans to tap into fresh talents?
We’re currently rolling out a plan to establish talent detection centres in the whole country.
There will be a talent detection center in every district and those facilities will be subdivided in 5 zones for the whole country. Additionally, three more centres of the Musanze-based Africa Rising Cycling Centre (ARCC) calibre will be established in Huye, Rwamagana and Karongi or Rusizi.
These centers will have a qualified coach with adequate equipment to nurture the young talents.
In the selection process, local races will be carried out for our technical teams to select the best candidates. From the district level, after undergoing some training, the most impressive talents will advance to the zone level from whom the best exceptional will make it to national centers.
The process of setting up the district centers is underway and they are expected to be operational by 2021.
The first intake from all the centers should be able to start showing results in 2022. We hope to produce young cyclists that can compete against the best from more advanced cycling countries.
As a result, the young talents will be equipped to race and win medals at the 2025 World Championships, should we be lucky enough to host the prestigious event.