Rwanda cyclist’s rocky road to success
Jean Bosco Nsengimana worked as a bike messenger as a teenager to take care of his family and never imagined that one day he would win the Tour du Rwanda.
He dropped out of elementary school as a young boy when his father died and soon took any job he could find to make ends meet and support his mother and two younger siblings.
Every day was a bustle, the 30-year-old told AFP.
But as he drove through his hometown of Musanze in the rolling hills of northwestern Rwanda, his dream slowly began to take shape.
“Our house was by the road and I often saw professional cyclists and admired them,” he said.
In 2010, he modified his large bicycle designed to carry goods and passengers and started training in hopes of getting a place on the Rwandan Tour du Rwanda team.
A few months later, he approached the team’s coach, Felix Sempoma, who promptly rejected him, saying he was too thin to pursue a career in cycling.
Nsengiman was not frightened.
“I rejected him over and over again, but he insisted each time that I check him out and see,” Sempoma told AFP.
“Honestly, I didn’t think he had what it takes, but his passion made me give up.”
He joined the team in 2011 and finished in sixth place.
Four years later, he won the tour.
“Cycling has made me very happy,” he said.
“I got married, built a new house for my mother and for myself.”
He also began appearing in advertisements and used the funds to open a small shop run by his wife.
Since then, the father-of-two has become a regular competitor, and his story has inspired other young people from poor families to try to break into the world of professional cycling.
“He is… the one all young cyclists look up to. Winning the Tour of Rwanda is not easy and he did it. We are all proud of him,” Sempoma said.
– ‘No Regrets’ –
Launched in 1988, the Tour du Rwanda is known for its challenging terrain and scenic routes that showcase the stunning landscape of the Great Lakes country.
Over the years, this annual event has attracted top international riders and helped raise the profile of cycling in Rwanda.
This year’s race, which featured the great British cyclist and four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome, was won by Eritrean Henok Muluberhan, who covered the 1,130 kilometers in 28 hours 58 minutes and one second.
Despite its growing popularity, cycling in Rwanda still faces significant challenges, including a lack of infrastructure and limited access to high quality equipment and training facilities.
“International cyclists have better training conditions and more tournaments than we do,” Nsengimana laments.
“We only have one tournament every month here in Rwanda, but we need more tournaments… so we can reach the level of other international cyclists.”
No Rwandan rider finished in the top 10 this year, with Nsengimana finishing 40th.
The cyclist, who has also competed in continental competitions in Algeria, Cameroon and Eritrea, admits his best sporting years are behind him.
“I do not regret anything. I had an impressive career and now I can continue to work as a coach for young players,” he said.
He noted that he has a lot of advice that he can give.
“You don’t join cycling by focusing on money,” he said, urging young riders to “be patient.”
“First, love your job, the rest will come later.”
strength / amu / gv