Failure by Rwanda’s foremost professional cyclist Adrien Niyonshuti to win the national title has left his plans to vie for a spot in the MTN Qhubeka team for the 70th Vuelta a Espana in doubt.
Victory in the National Cycling Championships in Huye District on June 28 would have handed the Rwamagana-born professional 40 points on the UCI ranking and a possible slot in the MTN Qhubeka team to the Vuelta a Espana, one of the world’s top three cycling events alongside the just-concluded Giro d’Italia.
Niyonshuti told Rwanda Today after the race: “Failure to win the championship will not make my task easy in the remaining competitions.
“There is always stiff competition for international races and having failed to even reach the podium will leave my chances of making it to the Vuelta a Espana a bit tricky and complicated.”
Having jetted in four days to the event, Niyonshuti was stunned by fellow Rwandans in the annual race. The South Africa-based rider could only manage a fourth-place finish in the 117km elite road race category from Kigali-Huye.
Cine Elmay’s Joseph Biziyaremye clocked 3 hours, 17 minutes and 16 seconds to lead Joseph Aleluya (Amis Sportifs) and veteran Abraham Ruhumuriza (Cycling for All) in a 1-2-3 homeboys finish.
Biziyaremye, 27, attributed his feat to a month-long training stint at the USA national team training facility in Limburg, the Netherlands. Renowned for his aggressiveness and resilience, Biziyaremye also won the 182km Rubavu-Nyanza stage five in last year’s Tour du Rwanda in 5:09:49.
Amis Sportifs youngster Jean Claude Uwizeye was fifth, ahead of Benediction’s Hakuzimana and Patrick Byukusenge as the leading peloton crossed the finish line in front of hundreds of fans.
Aleluya topped the Under-23 category, ahead of Uwizeye and Byukusenge, while defending champion and pre-race title favourite Valens Ndayisenga and Janvier Hadi finished a distant 17th and 18th, respectively, as they crossed the finish line at the same time in 3:27:45. Ndayisenga was treated for nose bleeding with 5km to go.
Niyonshuti outlined some of the many advantages that would have come with his championship win: “First, I would have had the Rwandan flag designed on all my MTN Qhubeka uniforms for international events, and that means a lot for my nation.
“Secondly, I would have been able to compete in the Vuelta a Espana, which would have earned me a possible selection in the MTN Qhubeka team for next year’s Tour de France because that’s one of the main criteria to represent MTN Qhubeka in a major race like Tour de France.”
He added: “I did my best but my plans were scuttled by sickness that I suffered prior to the race.”
Niyonshuti’s misery adds to his recent omission from the MTN Qhubeka team for the Tour de France in mid June.
He was on course to becoming the first Rwandan to compete in the world’s most prestigious cycling event when event organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) included the South African team alongside Bora-Argon 18, Bretagne-Séché Environment, Cofidis, MTN-Qhubeka and Europcar as the recipients of the five wildcards.