The recently held 14th edition of the Tour du Rwanda was the sole representative of African cycling on the international stage following the cancellation of the La Tropicale Amisa Gonbo in Gabon.
The race held on February 20-27 was also one of the only two African races ranked 2.1 by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
The fans may not have been aware of this but they cheered the competitors at each stage, probably just glad, like me, that the competition happened at all, Covid-19 notwithstanding.
This year’s tour was the first major sporting event in Rwanda where large crowds were allowed since the beginning of the pandemic and successfully pulling it off is further proof that the country is ready to host the 2025 UCI Road World Championship.
This year’s tour has proven that African cycling is alive and kicking. Stunning vistas, passionate crowds and world-class athletes have shown the sport’s potential for growth here.
Final stage victories
As President Paul Kagame flagged off the riders for their final stage in Rebero, south of Kigali, the venue was abuzz with thousands of spectators who had taken to the streets and the rooftops.
As the final day of an intense week, the day’s action did not disappoint.
The atmosphere spurred on the riders and Rwandan Moise Mugisha, who races for South Africa’s ProTouch team, stormed over the finish line to take the stage victory.
Mugisha’s win came as no surprise. On home soil, he had proven himself throughout the tour, getting several stage wins and the “Best Climber” jersey. There was some extra motivation at this stage, however. After the final stage, I watched the blushing Mugisha admit that the president’s support and presence encouraged him.
Mugisha was not the only Rwandan who did his country proud. Eric Manizabayo, who was awarded best Rwandan rider, and Eric Muhoza, made their mark on the international stage.
Other Africans also dominated the tour. The overall winner was Eritrea’s Natnael Testefazion, from the Italian club Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli, who took home his second tour victory after winning the 2020 edition.
Some stages brought out the love of the sport and the riders from their home fans. For example, on the third stage of Kigali to Rubavu, the crowds were all for Eric Manizabayo and Samuel Mugisha as they traversed their home turf in Nyabihu.
Musanze district fans also did not disappoint. It’s no wonder the district is regarded as the home of the national cycling team and hosts the Africa Rising Cycling Centre.
Each year, the tour has grown in popularity and scale, with more world-renowned riders taking part. To make a competition involving 95 cyclists from four continents possible in the middle of a pandemic, institutions like the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) and the Rwanda National Police were actively involved. At every stage, protocols were put in place to prevent the risk of contracting or spreading the virus, such as mandatory PCR and rapid tests.
All I can say is: Bring on next year.