Adrien Niyonshuti on the question of the diversity of the Tour de France: “The biggest obstacle is to obtain a visa” | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW
Cycling enthusiasts were amazed. Alongside the many European amateur cyclists, who this week tackled the legendary Tour de France climb to L’Alpe d’Huez on their expensive branded carbon bikes, was Adrien Niyonshuti. Rwanda rode a yellow single-speed bicycle.
Niyonshuti was applauded for his gesture. The former professional runner and Olympian, a charity cyclist, needed an hour and 28 minutes to reach the summit. Today’s top Tour pros reached the summit in just 39 minutes and 12 seconds. But Niyonshuti was riding a bike twice as heavy as the pros.
“It’s as heavy as an e-bike, but just without the motor,” the 35-year-old told DW with a smile. “As a professional, unfortunately, I have never been on the Tour, but it’s great here,” said Niyonshuti, who clearly enjoyed his experience and was able to talk about cycling in Africa to many Tour fans.
Rwanda Cycling Academy
At home in Rwanda, Niyonshuti is a hero. In 2012, he was his country’s flag bearer at the 2012 Olympics in London. He was the first black participant in an Olympic mountain bike race. After his professional career in the MTN Qhubeka and Dimension Data teams, he founded a cycling academy in his hometown. Around forty riders are currently training at the Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy, including many children and teenagers.
“It’s not about whether they’ll turn pro later, it’s about education. We pay school fees for kids whose families can’t afford it. We buy textbooks and toys . It changes their lives,” Niyonshuti said.
“In cycling there are so many things you can do. You can be a good massager or a good rider or a good mechanic or a trainer. Ultimately it’s about helping to develop the culture cycling in Africa.”
To this end, Niyonshuti is not only active in Rwanda, but also in Benin, Sierra Leone and Togo.
The tipping point of his social and sporting identity was a bicycle as simple as the one he used to conquer the serpentines of Alpe d’Huez: a bicycle from the Qhubeka Foundation.
Bikes that can change lives
“When I participated in the Olympic mountain bike race in 2012, my team manager MTN Qhubeka asked what they could do for Rwanda. I told them ‘I don’t need money, I’m already a pro'”, recalled Nyonshuti. Instead, he suggested that Qhubeka create bikes for kids who typically couldn’t afford them. In a number of containers, Qhubeka delivered around 600 bicycles.
“These bikes have made such a difference in Rwanda,” said the former pro – and even in his own family too. His son and his nephew have bicycles.
“My nephew has become a great cyclist. He has raced the Tour du Rwanda twice and he is only 21. Last week he won a race in France.”
Eric Muhoza is his name and Niyonshuti believes he will turn pro one day. He also thinks that in the future one of the members of his academy will participate in the Tour de France. For talented cyclists in Africa, the challenge is great, Niyonshuti told DW.
“The biggest hurdle is getting a visa, even if you’ve signed a contract with a team.”
While European pros who want to participate in the Tour of Rwanda can buy their visa at the airport, African cyclists who want to participate in European competitions “have to queue in front of the embassy” according to Niyonshuti.
“You wait three to four weeks and in the end you don’t even get a visa. Even your team leader can’t solve the problem.”
During his career, which ended in 2017, Niyonshuti missed four races due to visa issues, including the Tour of Britain. He recalls that his teammate at the time Daniel Teklehaimanot also had visa problems. Teklehaimanot is an even bigger star in Africa. In 2015, the Eritrean took part in the Tour de France for the first time and even wore the polka dot jersey at one point. But even he couldn’t participate in some races in Europe, either because his residence permit expired or because he didn’t get a visa.
Daniel Teklehaimanot is one of the most famous African cyclists
In 2015, Merhawi Kudus joined Teklehaimanot on the Tour. In 2016, three black runners from Africa took part in the race around France. After that, the development of diversity in sport stagnated. In 2017 and 2018, only the Ethiopian Tsgabu Grmay participated, while in 2019 his compatriot Natnael Berhane was involved. In 2020 no black runners from Africa competed and in 2021 only South African Nicholas Dlamini was present. This year, no one is involved. Niyonshuti is sorry to see this and sees blame with the teams.
First African Championships
Niyonshuti hopes the 2025 Road Race World Championships in Africa will spark new excitement in African cycling. The championships will be held at the Rwandan home of Niyonshuti, and the 35-year-old has promised excellent organization and a tough championship course.
Many have reservations about Rwanda as a host due to civil war and mass murder in the 1990s, said the former professional cyclist, who himself lost many relatives during this time. But that, Niyonshuti said, is a thing of the past.
“Rwanda is a good country, a clean country. No war, no battles. You are free there. You can do whatever you want during the day and walk everywhere at night. It is a safe country , just like some of the best countries in Europe.”
In 2025, many current Tour de France riders will discover Rwanda. Politically speaking, the very first championships in Africa are a milestone. One can only hope it won’t be as much of a flash in the pan as the few highlights of African cycling so far at the Tour de France.
This article has been translated from German.