The name says it all: when the Africa Rising Cycling Center (ARCC) officially opens in Rwanda on June 15th, it will also be opening up enormous possibilities for the continent’s promising cyclists.
Sixteen houses, a fully equipped service course, Rwanda’s 1st BMX pump track, an education center, an organic vegetable garden… ARCC is aiming high and wants to share its facilities located in the northern Musanze district, at 2000m altitude.
“The centre is self-contained and everything is on the spot,” explains Jock Boyer, former professional, founder of Team Rwanda Cycling (TRC) and national coach. He is the one who, in 2007, discovered Adrien Niyonshuti, now a professional with MTN-Qhubeka and Rwanda’s flag-bearer at the London Olympic Games. With the new ARCC, Boyer means to continue the incredible development of cycling on the African continent and attract teams from further afield.
“Other African nations can use it as a training center, and European teams can come for high altitude training and good weather at the end of the European season,” he says.
ARCC will also be the training base for Team Africa Rising, a conglomeration of the national teams of Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia. As well as uniting African countries though cycling, the aim is to eventually field the first entirely black-African team in the Tour de France.
Training cycling professions
Courses will also be organised at the center for commissaries, mechanics and coaches. For example, after the Tour of Rwanda in November, team mechanics will stay back for a 10-day course given by Alex Roussel, master mechanic at the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland.
Boyer’s partner Kimberly Coats, affectionately referred to by the athletes as “old lady”, explains: “We want to be able to offer something to other African countries. Our biggest motivation is to teach others to do what we do and to give the National Federations credibility.”
The ambitious project is the result of a close collaboration between Team Rwanda Cycling, the Rwandan Cycling Federation (FERWACY) and the Ministry of Sport & Culture. Jock Boyer also underlines the important support he receives from the Union Cycliste Internationale. “In the past we have always had incredible help from the UCI and we wouldn’t be here without that.”
Although the official opening of Africa Rising Cycling Center is still one week away, Team Rwanda Cycling took possession of the premises on March 17th. After one month of renovation work and sorting out certain (major) “issues” such as electricity, the first training camp could get under way mid-April. By the end of the year, the new center will have hosted 35 week-long training camps.
Life skills classes for the athletes
Yoga, English lessons and life skills classes are an essential part of the athletes’ training. The talented cyclists, some of whom are illiterate and none of whom have more than 6 years’ schooling, learn basic skills such as how to apply for a visa. Because those who make the grade to train and race abroad, need to be prepared for the huge culture shock that awaits.
“An athlete from Eritrea who goes to Europe already has six to ten things working against him,” says Jock Boyer. “He needs a visa, he doesn’t have a credit card, and he can’t call home for money or help because he’s the one supporting his family. When we help these riders, we really become part of their lives.”
Until now, the athletes have been training Monday to Friday and returning home for weekends. However, as major races such as the Tour of Rwanda approach, they will stay at the ARCC to, in the words of Kimberly Coats, “keep them focused, eating properly and drinking clean water.”