Niyonshuti's Goals for 2012
Adrien Niyonshuti is the survivor of 7 siblings after the Rwandan genocide slaughter of 1994. In 2011, he was selected to represent his home country in the 2012 Olympic games riding the mountain bike cross-country event. To say his journey is a remarkable one would be a staggering understatement.
Niyonshuti began cycling when he was 16 after he received a bicycle from his uncle. In September 2006 he won the inaugural Wooden Bike Classic. But he really hit the international stage at 21 years of age when he competed in the 2007 Absa Cape Epic, riding with American former pro cyclist and Tour de France rider Jock Boyer. It was a story of hope, about to unfold. In a mid-race interview, shortly after crossing the line in Villiersdorp, Boyer said about a very youthful Niyonshuti, “This guy is amazing, he’s waiting for me – his first time in a mountain bike race and he’s so strong. He’ll go far.”
Since then the Rwandan has ridden the race 4 more times, garnering the African leaders’ jersey in 2011, riding with mountain bike legend and 2004 Absa Cape Epic winner Mannie Heymans. Heymans was equally in awe, “It was a real privilege riding with this guy. He’s as strong in his legs as his head.”
His campaign on the road is no less impressive, with two victories at his home race, Tour of Rwanda. On his first trip to Europe to compete in the Tour of Ireland, he found himself racing against Lance Armstrong. Team manager Douglas Ryder says, “Adrien’s an icon – about 70% of Rwanda know him. If he walks the streets everyone shouts out his name. If he ran for president he’d get 70% of the vote!” But fame doesn’t always lend itself to good results. “It’s not easy for Adrien in Rwanda. The trouble is everyone wants a piece of him so he can’t prepare as well as he’s used to. He wants to train here in South Africa, where he can focus.”
As the first ever Rwandan to qualify for the Olympic mountain biking event after finishing fourth in the African Mountain Bike Championships, Niyonshuti aims for a good result in what many regard as the ultimate event in the sport. He’ll participate in all of the UCI World Cup events to condition himself for the high speed of cross-country racing. “I will be doing more cross-country races in the season to prepare for the Olympics, but actually the first big focus of the year is the Epic.” He’ll be partnering up with Jacques Janse van Rensburg for Team MTN Qhubeka. “I know him well – we rode Cape Pioneer [Trek] together. We are aiming for top Africans and also top 5 overall. I think it’ll be good.”
No doubt he’ll be hoping to retain his title. He might say he’s delighted to be riding alongside the world’s best mountain bikers, but following his career’s skyward arc, he should now be considering himself one of them.