A team of young cyclists tries to outrun the past.
Gasore Hategeka bought his first bicycle in 2008. It cost thirty-five thousand Rwandan francs, roughly sixty dollars. Gasore, who was about twenty years old, had worked for nearly half his life before he could afford it. Rural Rwandans tend to spend their lives within a day’s walking distance of their homes, and the bicycle is the prevalent form of mechanized transport. Gasore had grown up in the midst of inescapable violence; at least eight hundred thousand people were exterminated during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and millions were displaced or fled into exile. When he lived on the street as a child, he had caught glimpses of the Tour of Rwanda, a grueling, multi-stage bicycle race that winds through the country for a week every year.
Four years ago, a national cycling team was established, and shortly before Gasore began riding his taxi-bike the team set up its training camp, in the town of Ruhengeri. In June of 2009, Gasore joined the team. In February of the following year, Team Rwanda flew to West Africa, to ride in the Tour of Cameroon, against teams from across Africa and from Europe. Mentions Team Rwanda’s coach, Jonathan “Jock” Boyer. Most of the Team Rwanda riders had started out as taximen or cargo haulers, and only later became athletes. Adrien Niyonshuti was seven at the time of the genocide; most of the time he says he remembers too much.
“This is the land of second chances,” the coach of Team Rwanda says. The riders—Hutus and Tutsis—find that cycling gives suffering a purpose. Above, team members compete in the Tour of Rwanda, in November, 2010.
In March of 2007, Jock took Team Rwanda to South Africa to compete in the Cape Epic, the biggest professional mountain-bike race in the world. Tom Ritchey and Dan Cooper had hired Jock with the idea that Team Rwanda would serve as a complement to Project Rwanda’s coffee-bike program and, more broadly, to boost Rwanda itself as a country with a future and not just a past. In the meantime, the budget—a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year—was made up, more or less, from donations. Jock worked the riders hard in America, at the Tour of the Gila and the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, but their inexperience showed.
In 2008, Adrien won the Tour of Rwanda, and soon after he was signed on to ride for Africa’s top professional bike team, M.T.N. Cycling, in South Africa. Mentions Jock’s criminal record—he was convicted of lewd acts with a minor in 2002. For a young generation of Rwandans that is scarred by its historical inheritance, there is a need to make the idea of being Rwandan have greater value. It is far easier for Tutsis, like Adrien, to speak openly about their memories than it is for Hutus. Gasore claimed to have been untouched by history, and yet he was the only one on the team to have lost everything. Throughout the Tour of Rwanda last November, the roadside throngs appeared endless and they were not disappointed by the spectacle. In February, in a competition in South Africa, Adrien qualified for the Olympics as a mountain biker.