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Rwanda’s unlikely narrative as a cycling nation took a significant leap this week, with the tiny central African nation applying to host the 2025 Road World Championships.
Cycling has been on the rise in Rwanda over the past decade, with the Tour du Rwanda steadily gaining recognition since it first became a UCI-classified race in 2009. In that time, the event has been contested by an increasingly international field , with winners from Morocco, South Africa, the USA and Rwanda. In 2019, the race was promoted to a UCI 2.1 classification, with Eritrean WorldTour rider Merhawi Kudus (Astana) taking overall honours. The race is renowned for how passionately it is spectated – particularly the spectacular final stage in the capital, Kigali.
On Wednesday, a delegation from the Government of Rwanda visited the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, where they met with UCI President David Lappartient and formally submitted a bid to host the 2025 World Championships. If the Rwandan bid is successful, Kigali 2025 would make history as the first Road World Championships to be held on the African continent.
The UCI has long been outspoken in its push for the globalisation of cycling. The WorldTour calendar has expanded – sometimes contentiously – to include races in the Middle East and China, and the 2016 Road World Championships were held in Qatar. Meanwhile, the UCI’s World Cycling Centre, also located in Aigle, has since 2002 hosted over a thousand training camps, attended by countless up-and-coming riders from non-European cycling countries.
Concurrently, Rwanda has transformed itself into a beacon of progress on the continent. In 1994, the nation was decimated by bloody, spiteful genocide, but for a nation ravaged by such horrific recent violence, its recovery has been remarkable. Having been utterly crippled, there was little other path for the post-genocide government to pursue than rapid economic growth, carried by a young, resilient population who had hard-won experience of how bad things could get.
In this mix, cycling became something of an unlikely national passion. In 2007, American cycling icons Jock Boyer, Tom Ritchey and others helped establish Team Rwanda, a program that resulted in Adrien Niyonshuti representing the country at the London Olympics and sparked the emotional feature-length documentary, Rising from Ashes.
The Team Rwanda program, meanwhile, has since been instrumental in offering a pathway for aspiring Rwandan cyclists, with alumnis including Niyonshuti – who spent two years with Dimension Data – and Joseph Areruya (Delko Marseille Provence), who this year was the first black African rider to ride Paris-Roubaix. Rwanda is also home to the Africa Rising Cycling Centre, which is something of a regional parallel to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre. In 2018, Lappartient visited the centre, and there have since been talks about setting up a UCI-sanctioned World Cycling Centre satellite there.
Rwanda’s not the only cycling-mad African country – former Italian-occupied nations Eritrea and Ethiopia are also infectiously passionate about road cycling – but a successful Kigali World Championships bid would produce a particularly compelling spectacle.
Rwanda is informally known as the ‘land of a thousand hills’, and its capital is draped across lush ridges and valleys. The infamous ‘Wall of Kigali’, a cobbled climb that is a yearly highlight of the Tour du Rwanda, would doubtless be a major feature of the course. And the Worlds’ late September timing, falling in Rwanda’s dry season, would offer temperate, stable weather conditions.
But even more significantly, racing aside, a 2025 Road World Championships in Rwanda would mean a great deal – not just for Rwanda, a nation that’s both endured and achieved so much, but for the African continent, for fans of cycling around the world, and as a tangible marker of progress in the UCI’s attempts to globalise the sport.